I have to share a bit about my recent trip to Southern Florida. I was there for the FotoFusion conference with Palm Beach Photographic Centre. I also spent a little time in the Everglades though I never got to the national park of that name. The Everglades is a very large ecosystem based on a flow of water that begins near Disneyworld in Orlando. I was mainly in the Eastern Everglades near West Palm Beach. The first image is of young cypress in the Grassy Waters Preserve.
Just before this trip, a friend had sent me a link to a TEDx Talk by Clyde Butcher, the marvelous black-and-white Florida photographer. It is worth watching – click the link to see it. You may remember that I am a big fan of occasionally setting up my camera to shoot black-and-white with RAW + JPEG. This gives you a B&W JPEG, a color RAW (RAW cannot be anything else) and a B&W image on your LCD so you can actually see the B&W as you shoot. I have always felt that shooting black-and-white (not just converting color to B&W) is a good discipline for any photographer and it will enhance your craft as a photographer, including color work.
So I decided I would shoot everything in black-and-white (I did color for a workshop I was leading at FotoFusion, but that was it). This turned out to be an amazing, incredible experience. I gained much from it. I have often said that B&W photography is not about the removal of color from a color image. To really understand B&W, you really need to understand how it works visually. Three contrasts are extremely important to B&W: tonal or brightness contrast, texture or pattern contrast, and sharpness contrast. None of these require color to work. They only need a contrast.
Boy, did setting discipline of only shooting black-and-white force me to see and work with these contrasts! The immature lubber grasshoppers above have a very interesting contrast with their background. Since you look at a B&W image on the LCD (and Live View is great because you see B&W as you shot), you have to deal with these contrasts directly.
That was actually hard with the alligator in the Arthur Marshall Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge. Here the contrast is mainly a textural contrast, but I liked it. This all made me start to see the nature of the Everglades in some different ways. It brought back some important memories that I had forgotten about black-and-white.
Color is obviously a key way we see the world. Color photographs remind us of that and this creates a distinct connection to what we see in the photo. Our "color memories" can influence how we see that photo and how we interpret it. When there are no colors to see, we start seeing the photo differently. We then respond with a different emotion, though black-and-white can still create an emotional response to an image.
Black-and-white encourages us to see the subjects as separate from the world and the photograph itself becomes more important as an object to the viewer. I don't mean this necessarily distances the viewer from the subject, which I don't think is so good for nature photography. What it does is more easily create an "artful" experience of the image if the black-and-white is done well.
I am having trouble explaining this very visual phenomenon in words. This photo of floating bladderwort in bloom among the cypress in Grassy Waters simply does not work as well in color. The color throughout the image distracts from the flowers and their relationship to the scene. The black-and-white creates a more direct connection of the flowers and their environment without losing the flowers. Sometimes black-and-white
can get people to move away from the realistic aspects of the subject to dig
deeper into what the photograph is really about. And to be honest, I am not sure I would have even tried to photograph this in color alone if I had not been thinking about black-and-white.
Another way to put it might be that with color, we see the color and can have our attention directed by color. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a problem when it distracts from us really engaging with the subject. Black-and-white simplifies the experience the viewer has with the subject, and when the image is carefully crafted to control contrasts, that can have a strong impact on the viewer.
I will be returning to the area next month to do some classes with the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. I have a class on Lightroom as a Darkroom (March 8-10) and a class on creating photo e-books with iBooks Author (March 4-8).