Behind the Shot: An Experiment in Color

It is a little ironic that this post follows one where I talk about how much I think a black and white photograph is more artistic than a color photograph. Like I said before, I like color photographs too, and this post proves it. I live in an area that has a lot of “Open Space” land. Open Space is where a local government acquires land and sets it aside as recreation or wildlife habitat or both. So, lucky for me I have hundreds of shooting locations to pick from, all within 15 miles of my house.

I have been wanting to try an experiment using color film for awhile now. I wanted to see how slow of a shutter speed I could get in a full sun situation. I needed some clouds and water to get the long exposure look I wanted, and I knew of an open space that was five minutes from my house with a cool pond that has a little island in the middle.

An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers.
An island in this pond hosts four nests of Blue Herons keeping them safe from preditors and photographers. Mamiya 645 1000s, 45mm f2.8, Kodak E100vs.

One Sunday a few weeks ago around 3:00 I found myself with a couple of hours to burn. So I took the opportunity to get out to this location and try my experiment of long (ish) exposure in full sun. I gathered up my gear, this time it was my Mamiya 645 1000s and a 45mm wide angle lens. For film stock, I had some Kodak E100vs in the deep freeze just screaming to get out. When I shoot color film I love to shoot transparencies (slides). I mean nothing beats a perfectly exposed chrome.

Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs
Transparencies held up to the light drip with color. Kodak E100vs

Now, to slow the shutter speed down, I was starting at ISO 100 with my film. Except the film was expired in 2008, so using an ISO of 50 gets me closer to a true film speed. That helps, but not enough. I knew I wanted to use a polarizer filter, and I had a 3 stop ND filter that would stack together. That adds about 4 stops of exposure. Now it’s getting closer to what I need for an exposure around 1 sec in full sun.  To keep the sky in check I will add a ND grad filter and I had a nifty graduated warming filter to add some drama to the sky. Why not, I don’t shoot color that often.

With my gear packed up and a couple of rolls of film thawed out I headed over to the location. After parking the car and pulling out the gear I had about a 1/4 walk to the pond. I entered through the gate and started off. I was immediately met with a herd of cattle. The whole heard was on my path, standing there starring at me. Like cows do.  So I stopped and tried to waive them off. They didn’t move. Now that I had all of their attention they got curious and started to move in and surround me. They must have thought I had a bail of hay in my pocket. Before I was totally surrounded I headed off across the pasture and gave up on the path.

Curious Cows
Curious cows follow me as I head out to a location in their pasture to photograph.

Once I got to the location it was clear that I would need all the tools I brought to get the shutter speed down. I set up next to the pond but made sure I kept my distance. There are about 4 or 5 blue heron nests on this little island and I didn’t want to spook them. Lucky for me I was able to hop a crude barbed wire fence that keeps the cows out of the water. That kept them out of my camera bag while I was shooting.

The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.
The set up with the cows close behind wondering what I was doing.

So there I was all set up. My Mamiya on a tripod, loaded with Kodak E100vs rated at ISO 50, Polarizer, ND filter, ND Grad filter, and a graduated warming filter to top it off. I bracketed exposures to make sure I was going to get what I wanted.

In the end the shot that turned out like I had envisioned was shot at 1 second @ f/22. To the naked eye the water had a little wave action due to some slight wind and the clouds were hung in a clear blue sky with lots of sun. The long exposure was able to flatten out the water so it has a mirror like surface and the clouds have just a little movement in the image to add some drama to the sky. One thing to note is that this image is not digitally altered. I always strive to get everything I want in camera. Overall I was pretty happy with how the final image turned out.

My passion is for Black and White photography but sometimes I have to branch out and play around with some color.

Black and White Photography As a Visual Art Form

I love black and white photographs as an art form. I think there are few strong reasons a monochrome photograph can be considered more “artistic” than a color photograph. I’m not saying that a color photograph is not artistic, compared to black and white photographs. There are a lot of amazing color photographs that I would love to hang in my home but there are a few things that black and white photography does easily that color can not.

From the time a photographer trips the sutter release (if he/she is shooting BW film or a monochrome digital camera) the image is already an abstraction of the reality the photographer was photographing. Changing a scene or portrait from color to shades of gray makes our mind think differently about the image before us. It is an image of reality, a real thing we are familiar with, but its not real at the same time, because the color is stripped away.

Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve.
Jack-O-Lanterns waiting to scare the spirits way on all hallows eve. Mamiya 645 80mm f2.8, Kodak T-Max 100

We don’t see the real world in black and white so subconsciously our mind is telling us its not real, but something representing reality. Much like an impressionistic painting or a loose sculpture that makes our brain fill in the spaces, a black and white photograph makes us imagine what is missing.

You may hear others, that are passionate about black and white photography, comment on how black and white photos have a “timeless” quality to them. By removing the color from the image it also removes the visual queue that our minds use to give us a reference in time. Colors used in fashion and home decorating change every year. A good monochrome image will remove all of the distractions that color introduces letting the viewer focus on the subject rather than on all of the other items a color image would present.

Custom Motorcycle in black and white
A motorcyclist races by on a vintage machine. Nikon FG, 50mm 1.4, Kodak Tri-X 400.

In this image of the motorcycle rider passing by at speed you really can’t tell if it was shot last week or 40 years ago. With the rider wearing pretty basic riding gear and no other frame of reference to when it was taken gives it a timeless quality.

It’s Only About The Light
Unlike color photographs, a monochrome photographer can control what the light is doing in the final image. In a color image if you burn down an area too much it just looks like that part if the image is under exposed. In a black and white photograph burning and dodging bring up the high lights and ads shadows where there were none. It really gives the artist tools to add drama to a monochrome image that is really hard to achieve with a color image.

pine tree in the Rockies
A young pine tree gets a start among the larger lodgepole pines of the Rocky Mountains. Yashica-12 TLR, 80mm f3.5, Kodak T-Max 100.

In the image Among Giants, I saw an opportunity to capture a scene that had pretty flat light but I could manipulate the image in the dark room while I printed it, making it appear as if a ray of light was highlighting this little tree among the larger ones in the forest. This allowed me to have a vision for the the final print that takes it beyond a reproduction of the reality in front of the lens.