It was a comforting remark to hear. A phrase accompanied by a warm smile that gave me a nice feeling, knowing that things would turn out for the best.
Not that the remark was prompted by any emotional upheaval I was going through. I was listening to the weather lady giving the forecast for the coming weekend. It seemed that we were about to witness one of those rare events; good weather over a weekend in September in Scotland!
I immediately made plans for a Sunday photographic outing. Turning to the “Scotland” pages of my well-thumbed UK road atlas (“2002 edition – with speed camera locations”), I closed my eyes, twirled an index finger (one of my own) in a few circles in the air and brought it down firmly in a decisive and manly way on to the page. I had previously decided that wherever it landed would be the photographic location for the day.
In the planning phase, I had assumed it (the finger) would at least be capable of picking somewhere in the reasonably large land mass that makes up the Scottish nation. In the event, it landed offshore – in the North Sea to be precise (or not so precise, given my knowledge of the sea and anything to do with it). Quickly amending the initial plan in a decisive and manly way, I opted for the nearest accessible onshore location to the finger – Lower Largo.
Situated within 60 miles or so of my home (Wishaw) and placed neatly on the East coast of Scotland, Lower Largo is one of the many places in this country I had never visited. At least the finger had selected (well, nearly) somewhere new for me and a camera.
Next, on to the internet. First “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” was consulted. If you haven’t seen, heard of or tried this (free) bit of software, give it a try. It will give you sunrise and sunset times, direction of the sun, angle of the sun, moonrise, phase and moonset, etc etc for just about anywhere on the planet. If nothing else it will at least help you decide when to arrive and where! Might just get a few extra minutes in that nice warm bed in the depths of winter (or summer, in Scotland).
Lower Largo’s latent likelihood to supply some serious sea and shoreline shots seemed achievable (alliteration allocation accomplished amply in a single sentence – so satisfying!). So it was on to the tide tables. Once again, easy to find on the ’net – and useful to know if you’re going to have to chase the water for those surf breakers or whether you’re going to have to pay extra attention to make sure you don’t get cornered against a cliff…
Sunday morning came – I was up a couple of hours before sunrise. Wash, dress, breakfast, grab camera bag, car keys and dog, set satnav and we were on our way. We arrived just over an hour later to find the sun just thinking about appearing above the horizon and the tide rolling in – keeping perfect time with the ephemeris and the tables!
It was breezy and there was a definite edge to the wind that cut through a layer or two of clothing. But the stroll along the beach was a treat to the senses – “refreshing” would be a good description. A “windswept and interesting” hairstyle quickly followed. Not many people about – a few dog-walkers and lone early-morning exercisers, but no-one to get in the way of a scenic photograph.
The beach itself was uneventful – a few rocky shapes still managing to stay above the incoming waves. We – me and Fudge, the dog – made our way along the shore, he was sniffing around the rocky nooks and crannies (as dogs do) I was viewing the sandy world through the viewfinder (as photographers do). We looked towards each other occasionally – mainly to make sure that we were moving in roughly the same direction, albeit not necessarily together.
Late September in Scotland means that there’s no great risk of the sun getting too high in the sky for “good light” for the landscape photographer. It’s a time of year when a clear sky at dawn leaves you with at least two or three hours to search for a picture.
As is usual on any walk with a camera, eventually something catches the eye – in this case, a nicely-rounded group of nicely-rounded boulders. A quick fumble about in the bag for the 35mm lens and I risked two frames on the scene (the M9 was in the camera bag I’d grabbed and I don’t want to wear the sensor thingy out too quick). It felt like colour would be the first choice for this one – it didn’t strike me as having much potential for a black and white print.
Camera : Leica M9 Lens : Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Processing : Lightroom 4.4
A bit further on and a small rock outcrop pushing its way above the sand was the next attention-grabber. Two rows of thin, vertical plates – like the scales along a dinosaur’s spine – stood up catching the light. Covered in green algae, in the new morning sun the lines sparkled – the greens and yellows wet from the waves, catching the light rays, with the water drops reflecting and refracting sunlit spots. I swapped the 35mm for a 21mm and a few clicks later the deed was done. However, although I was shooting in colour, it was a shot that I knew immediately I would be processing in black and white. It seemed an ideal candidate for a high contrast treatment, accentuating the morning light rather than the details of the subject.
Camera : Leica M9 Lens : Voigtlander 21mm f4 Processing : Lightroom 4.4
Camera : Leica M9 Lens : Voigtlander 21mm f4 Processing : Lightroom 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro 2
We hung about for bit – me trying to get a few usable shots of the incoming tide breaking against the rocks, Fudge at my feet wondering why he was getting wet while sitting still (he hadn’t consulted the tide tables, preparation for an outing not being one of his strong points). Eventually, inspiration ran out, we finished the walk and headed for the car and home.
Back at the ranch, it was lunch, download and laptop. A few minutes in Lightroom 4.4 (which came free with the M9 – whoo-hoo!) and a touch of Silver Efex Pro 2 (trial version) confirmed to me that my preference was for a black and white version of the outcrop and colour for the boulders group.
In general, I find black and white photography – whether for landscape or people – preferable to look at. I’m not colour-blind (at least, I wasn’t when I was tested some years ago), but it feels like there’s less of a distraction when there’s no colour to be concerned about. Excluding, of course, those shots that are dependent on the presence of colour to make the point in a photograph. With a b&w shot I can get on with viewing the subject, the area, the light, the shadows, the detail, the lack of detail, etc in the photograph without worrying about colour accuracy, white balance, warmth / coolness, colour clashes / saturation etc.
I tend to moan (to myself, no-one listens) about the degree of manipulation of digital images that seems to be the accepted current norm. Radioactive colours, over-saturated, exaggerated, embellished, over-inflated – all adjectives I’ve used to describe colour shots. However, I suppose that draining all colour from a scene and presenting it as a range of light values using only black, white and grey could equally be called an extreme manipulation of the reality we saw.
So back to the title of the post – what is it that attracts us – me – to black & white? The world we live in is full of colour, it's unavoidable. Very few of us are totally colour-blind; we may have some visual condition that causes certain shades of colour to be less conspicuous than others, but not many people truly see in black in white only. Some images only work in colour – for example, when a particular shade of green grass and blue sky almost merge with each other as the same grey tone, or when the pinks and oranges that attracted the eye to a real-life scene look the same tone in b&w and lose any impact it might have had in colour. But generally, given the choice (and with no measurable data to back this up) I seem to opt for, and spend more time looking at, black and white images than colour.
Comments invited - any examples you've got would also be interesting...
PS Apologies for not posting for a month or so - that thing they call "work" gets in the way sometimes...