Friday, December 14, 2012

Enjoying a great style of picture-taking

In a recent conversation with a fellow photo enthusiast, the subject of black-and-white, or monochrome, pictures surfaced. Not surprisingly, she said she particularly enjoyed that type of photography.

It was not something I hadn't heard before. In fact, I'd need several scores of hands and fingers to count the number of times fellow photography enthusiasts have extolled the virtues of monochrome pictures.

And I concur.

The conveyance of imagery in grey tones is a powerful way to express a vision, and expression is what this and all forms of art is about, right?

Like most photographers who ventured into this craft 15 or more years ago, I cut my teeth on black-and-white film. Taking two photography courses required for my journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I was able to live out the process from start to finish.

It began with threading the Kodak Tri-X 120 film into our class-issued Yashica-D twin lens reflex cameras (left), which captured images on 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" (or 6x6cm) frames, much larger than 35mm film for the single-lens reflect (SLR) cameras which were growing increasingly popular then. (It wouldn't be until several years later that I fully appreciated the fact that I had trained on a medium-format camera. That became apparent when I used my first 35mm camera at a job editing a weekly newspaper in Columbus, Wis.) Of course, with the Yashica-D cameras, we would have only 12 frames on each of our Tri-X 120 rolls, compared to 24 or 36 on the rolls of 35mm. So we quickly learned to compose carefully; there was no "do over' opportunity like there is today with digital technology.

We also learned to develop our film and make prints in the photo lab, using enlargers (my first exposure to dodge and burn) and print chemicals.

All of this "history" flashed through my head last night, while photographing the annual Christmas pageant at at my granddaughter's school. I came upon several situations where I suspected use of monochrome would be ideal when I got the pictures home and up in my editing software.

Today's post is dedicated to that monochrome art form, leading off at the top with a youngster whose expression reflects the tedium he probably was feeling while waiting in line with classmates for their turn to march onto the stage to perform. Another frame of him (below), taken about 25 seconds after the one on top, has him interacting with the classmate in front of him in line just a split second before the line began to move forward and head toward the stage.

You'll notice most of the shots below are devoted to one family. The reason for that largely is because of convenience. I was seated on a tiered aluminum bench, and they were directly ahead in my line of sight in the auditorium. The opportunity to exploit the linear and selective focus composition -- and my hope to catch the small child on the one woman's lap looking in my direction -- kept me after various shots of them. This was one of those instances when having and using live view proved to be a great tool; it made my picture-taking far less conspicuous, thereby rendering far more natural compositions. I simply rested the camera on bended knees -- well away from my eyes -- focused through the LCD screen and held the shutter button halfway while I kept watch on the family with my eyes (not the screen) for optimum moments to trip the shutter.

All of these shots in this post, in fact, were taken this way. So in addition to using monochrome (these were converted to B/W in post-processing, by the way ... they were not taken in monochrome), I also used the same vantage point and methodology -- the LCD live view screen -- to compose.

The two girls immediately below the family are my granddaughters; the older first-grader was performing in the pageant and waiting in line, the second, her 3-year-old sister, just decided to mug for the camera while sitting with us on the aluminum benches. But she didn't stand very still, and the combination of that and the more inferior light condition where she was situated complicated focusing, taking its toll on sharpness.

The last two girls below, again, were waiting in line for their turn to take the stage. The penultimate frame was another of those in extremely low light, complicating focus without the aid of a tripod or drawing attention by focusing manually. The very last one looks like she was praying, but she wasn't. The position of her hands the way they appear is a coincidence.

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