Bringing black and white to life
For those of us who started their interest in photography with a digital camera in their hands, taking 35 millimeter shots using black and white film may seem like a step in the wrong direction. With all the advancement in technology many find it suitable to use Photoshop or specialized filters to simply convert their digital images to a monochrome format. But as I found out over the past month, if you love photography or fancy yourself even a novice photographer, there is no place on earth like a dark room.
I took an interest in black and white photography when our resident stringer and photographer Diana Root mentioned some things that she had been learning over the past couple of years. When I mentioned that I had never developed my own film or even been in a dark room she immediately set about starting my education.
With a little assistance from Troy Hunt, who teaches photography at the College of Eastern Utah, I was introduced to the wonders of black and white photography. The artistic nature and total control of shooting, developing and printing your own photos is amazing. While Photoshop allows the user to perform an infinite number of alterations, there is something about changing a photo with your own two hands. There is something magical about placing your first negative, watching it burn into the paper and then disappear only to have it brought back to life in the developing tray. Needless to say, I was hooked immediately. And interviewing Hunt, I found that my reaction to the dark room is not uncommon.
"I got hooked on photography at age 4 sitting at my mother's feet in the dark room," said Hunt, who teaches photography at the college in both spring and fall semesters. "My mom actually worked at the Sun Advocate at the time and couldn't always find child care so I grew up in that dark room. The smell of darkroom chemistry still reminds me of home."
Hunt got serious about photography when he borrowed his mother's Mamiya 35mm when he started college, a camera she still has today. He took a beginning photography class and enjoyed the experience but subsequently advanced his skill by taking color photos because he had no further access to a dark room.
"I got so frustrated at the quality of the prints I was getting back from the lab I decided I had to find a way back into the lab," explained Hunt. "When I went back in I focused on black and white printing because the chemicals and equipment are much less expensive than their color counterpart."
What inspired Hunt in the beginning was the photography of David Meunch and Ansel Adams not necessarily because of the photos they took but because of the work they were doing in the dark room.
"I studied Adam's processes and methods," said Hunt. "He would try and express in his prints the shades that his eyes would see in the field."
Hunt feels that there are three major components to shooting black and white photos:
What a person sees and how they expose their shots.
How the photo is developed.
The exploration of the printing process.
Hunt will begin teaching his basic photography class with digital cameras this coming semester due to the large volume of interest in the medium.
"I love black and white and I hope there is enough interest in my beginning class to develop an advanced class where we can focus on black and white," said Hunt.
For those interested in giving the 35 mm a try, Brian Auer of blog.epicedits.com outlined three basic tips for getting started with B&W.
"Black and white photography, for me, is one of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of this art form we call our hobby and passion," said Auer in his Nov. 5, 2007 blog. "It's raw and refined, natural and unusual, bold and subtle, mysterious and open, emotional and impassive, simple and complex, black and white and everything in between."
Auer's three tips include:
Practice, practice, practice, Auer and Hunt both recommend trying to view the subject you are shooting in black and white. The trick they say is picking up contrast and tone while blocking out the distraction of colors.
"I would recommend picking up a Wratten 90 viewing filter that will allow you to look at the color of the world through a monochromatic lens," said Hunt.
Focus on contrast, black and white photography is not only about light and dark but all the colors in between. Both Hunt and Auer mention that a photographer can use contrast to show what is and is not important in a picture.
Focus on texture, black and white photos naturally lend themselves to texture, according to Auer. It is important to look for surfaces that have even subtle texture as it will show well in a black and white photo. Monochromatic photography is an art form that is less about perfection than feeling depth.
Sun Advocate photographer Diana Root posed a question for all those who love photography.
"Are you inspired by the classic look of B&W of the bygone era of the 1940's and 1950's with graininess, soft focus, embracing flaws of tilted horizontal lines and motion blur," said Root. "Or do you love a photo with sharp contrast, lots of detail or just the simplicity of it all. Regardless of style and preferences there is something timeless about a photo in black and white."
For more information about beginning photography classes contact Troy Hunt at the College of Eastern Utah.