Winter is a natural fit for black and white photography. The essence of a good monochrome shot is strong contrast, aided by subtle mid-stones. The low winter sun lends itself to that mix – as long as there is any sun, at all…

(460 words; a four-minute read)

The power of the high-end mobile phone camera has provided the means to carry out sophisticated photography – and post processing – in our pockets.

We can now take a shot, see it in high definition, and modify its light levels and other attributes before we sit down for that well-earned coffee.

But all that power doesn’t necessarily lead to a better photograph.

Not that long ago, monochrome images were considered more artistic and illustrative of emotions. We can learn a lot from the early pioneers of photography.

(Doris Ulmann‘s Laborer’s hands. Taken circa 1925, illustrates the power of the monochrome image to convey a moving story; in this case of the life of an Appalachian labourer. (Image Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Aspiring photographers would buy a manually-loaded reel of dedicated monochrome film, and be thrifty about how many shots they took. Today, we can reel off hundreds and simply ‘throw away’ most of them.

There is the assumption that we can default to taking colour photographs, and convert the ones that suit to black and white. This works against the principle of good monochrome photography, where careful composition, with black and white in mind, is essential.

Colour conveys ‘feeling’ that we all share. In the above shot, and in the opening photograph, the colour is replaced by subtlety of tone, as the eye follows the graduation from dark to light.

One of my favourite subjects for monochrome images is Art Deco. We are blessed in the north-west by having the restored Midland Hotel, on Morecambe’s seafront.

The sole survivor of a former era, when the British seaside, fed by the extensive steam railway network, was ‘all the rage’, the Midland is a beautiful example of the curves, shapes and shadows of that heady period. Here, the low winter sun, setting at the end of an afternoon, floods the promenade with light, casting dense and finely-graduated shadows along the curving sections of the building.

The Midland Hotel is a complete time-capsule in many respects. Much of the original Art Deco interior is also intact. I hope to devote a dedicated blog, or even series of blogs to it, when the present restrictions are removed.

My final image, below, is not actually monochrome. I like to experiment with the digital removal of colour in a just-taken image, to examine the impact of a near-monochrome image. This washes out most of the colour, yet leaves key hints of its presence. At first glance, it looks black and white… but the tiny amount of colour remaining draws the eye.

Sometimes, less is more…

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

2 Comments on “Winter walks with camera (11) : black and white

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