My photography, I thought, had largely evolved over time to inky, contrasty, b/w shots, usually close up, and fairly minimal in composition.
Nine years on from buying my first “proper” camera, a Nikon Coolpix P300, after a few years of Sony camera phones, I was pleased with where I’d reached.
But then I went back and looked at some of the images I made with the Coolpix nearly a decade back.
And found that I had quickly settled on a pattern of using the camera’s on board high contrast mono mode, to make close up shots, fairly minimal in composition.
It seems I got it pretty right the first time, and perhaps the hundreds of cameras I’ve had and used in between, haven’t taught me as much as I thought they might have.
But then comes the question, where did/does this preference come from?
Despite also enjoying summer flings in full colour with my CCD sensor DSLRs, this mono output is more abundant.
I don’t recall taking many b/w shots when I was using phone cameras, I nearly always just used them to point and shoot and never post processed to alter the colours, or anything else.
So where did my penchant for moody, intimate black and whites originate?
I think I can break it down fairly simply.
I prefer b/w because it strips away extra levels of detail, and decisions to be made.
In the final image, it makes it easier for the viewer to focus on the raw essentials of light and shade, texture, composition, depth of field.
And whilst shooting, it simplifies, even purifies the photography experience for me, makes it somehow cleaner and more direct than when shooting colour.
So this explains the choice for b/w, but why the higher contrast and inky blacks?
I guess I just like drama. To accentuate what is already interesting (to me), to give it greater weight, higher impact.
And perhaps, to take it a little further from reality.
I rarely go out with the mindset of wanting to capture true colours or the same depth of field as my eyes see, ie the photograph my eyes would make. I already have my eyes and my memory for that!
I love that we can encourage our cameras to see things we cannot see, to seek out the secrets, and emphasise the overlooked.
Shallow depth of field.
Increased saturation and contrast.
Super close focus (I don’t know about you, but my eyes start to blur when text is closer than perhaps 10cm, but my favourite close focus cameras go down to just 1cm).
With photography, we are limited to an extent by the scene in front of us.
A sketch artist can take a pencil and paper and draw absolutely anything from their imagination. A musician can play any series of notes they choose. Or indeed anything in between.
(Aside – a musician once said to me “it’s all equal for musicians when writing songs, we all have the same scale of notes to choose from”. Which I always felt was a rather silly thing to say, given the incredibly vast range of instruments and music in existence. I don’t imagine many of us listen to our favourite music and consider it only an arrangement of basic notes. Most of the music I like doesn’t even have singular notes anyway, but layers and swathes of interwoven sound. I digress.)
So with photography we can use our cameras as an instrument to shape the “reality” in front of us.
For some this means taking a shot of nature’s beauty, then processing it to look like it’s dated CGI with hyper saturated colours. Each to their own.
For me, this re-imagining of reality usually involves the aforementioned elements – b/w, higher contrast, close up, shallow depth of field.
I think another factor is wanting to create something timeless, or not attached to a specific time.
When I used to write poetry by the bucket load, one of my core rules was to not use any contemporary reference that would date the writing. I wanted poems that sounded like they could have been written a hundred years ago, or a hundred years hence.
It’s similar with photography.
If we look at something like billboard or magazine advertising over the years, distinct colour palettes and typefaces and styles emerge that allow even the casual observer to have a good guess at what decade they were from.
By using b/w from the outset with photography, I feel we can further muddy these waters, make our work less dateable, and more timeless.
Lastly, one of the reasons I photograph, aside for myself, is to share what I consider beautiful with others.
And often this does seem to be something as simple as a decaying leaf, or a rusting screw, or the vein like structure on the surface of a bee’s wings.
The kind of things we don’t see – we can’t see – if we’re bustling through life constantly just trying to reach the next destination, meet the next deadline.
So in that sense I hope I can encourage people to slow down and look more closely at what’s often right there in front of us, if we’re willing to look closer.
How about you? How has your photography style evolved (or, like mine, not!) over the years?
As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
Thanks for looking.
Share this post with someone you think will enjoy it using the buttons below.
See what I’m up to About Now.