MORE IS LESS IS MORE
A color master shot that I later converted to mono, an operation which is perfectly suitable in many occasions.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE ARC OF MY EARLY CHILDHOOD PARALLELS ALMOST PERFECTLY the photo world’s universal switch to color, with my earliest images still rendered in living monochrome, and pictures from my teens giving way to the bold hues made possible by cheaper and faster consumer films. That switch meant a profound change in how one could evaluate light and shadow through the viewfinder, because for the first time, even as you saw your subject in color, you could safely assume that your final picture would more or less look the same.
Think about it what a change that was. If your first rolls were shot in mono (as is still the case with some photo students), you actually had to frame in color, even while you trained your brain to “see” in black and white. After some practice, you might be reasonably sure of how the tonal balance of your work might register once it was rendered in shades of gray, but you couldn’t be certain until you had the results in your hand. And while lab manipulation, including processes like dodging and burning, were possible, the universe of “post-production”-oriented photographers was much, much smaller than is the case today, meaning most of us got….what we got.
The post-processed mono conversion. Would I have made different decisions had I been mastering in black and white?
Things are much easier for monochrome fans today because, not only is it simple to shoot in black & white on purpose on nearly any camera, previews on LCDs and electronic viewfinders (EVFs) allow you to compose in mono as well. EVFs are even more of a revelation for people coming from DSLR or traditional rangefinders, because you are looking at precisely what the sensor is seeing, making for a smaller gap between your conception of the shot and what you actually get. Since moving to a mirrorless camera, I have become quite spoiled by this extra measure of control. Never mind the fact that, in the Stone Age, I had to wait three days for film to be returned from the processor just to learn how many shots I’d botched. Now both the waiting and the botching are distant memories.
And we have a question from audience: why not just shoot in color all the time, and convert shots to mono as needed (see examples, above)? Well, because you have a more pronounced mindfulness about what will work in mono when you preview and plan in mono, just as you have a better record of what happened from keeping a diary during a trip than in trying to reconstruct your memories later. Or such is my experience. The point is that deliberately doing a day’s shoot in black & white can teach you patience, restraint, and how factors other than color can determine the drama or impact of a shot. But photography is all about how many different roads there are to Oz. As long as you eventually get to the Wizard, it’s all good.