Monthly Archives: May 2013

Do You Prefer Images in Black and White or Color?

Sylvia's Tree (black and white)

I thought I was done with this image, I really did.  When I created the color version of it awhile back, I thought the colors were so compelling that there really was no need to explore other interpretations.  I was (and remain) very happy with that result.


There was a another interpretation of this image in the back of my mind.  An interpretation of a black, silhouetted form against a bright, almost glowing background.  An interpretation where color wasn’t the dominant feature (indeed, not a feature at all).  An interpretation that emphasized the sharp, black lines of the tree against the soft, textured layers of the sky.

I really tried to ignore this vision.  I generally don’t like to have two versions of the same image floating around, and the color image is quite nice.  But I just…  couldn’t…  get it…  out of my head.

And so here it is – “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”

Do you have a preference for black and white versus color?  I suspect most people do.  Rarely do I come across a photographer whose work is evenly balanced between the two.  Even when I do, to my eye, one of their bodies of work usually is stronger than the other – either the color over the black and white, or vice versa.  It’s hard to move seamlessly between these two worlds, because they really do emphasize different visual languages.

To me, color is about, well…  color!  Muted colors versus bright colors, contrasting colors versus similar colors, limited color palettes versus every hue in the spectrum.  For a color image to work for me, color really has to be its own, independently compelling compositional element.  It’s not enough that the image happen to be in color.  Rather, color has to be there for its own purpose, to make its own statement.

Black and white, on the other hand, is about all the other elements of composition:  line, shape, form, pattern, texture, and their arrangement to create relationships of rhythm, proportion, balance, and weight.  To me, a good black and white image really feels designed, where all the compositional elements are arranged just so to make a compelling, unitary whole.  And, of course, black and white is superlative for communicating that most essential of photographic qualities, the quality of light.  Diffuse or defined, high key or low key, dramatic contrast or glowing midtones, striking silhouettes or saturated detail – black and white, to my eye, communicates the nature of light in a way that color cannot.

I like a good color image, really I do, and as mentioned, I think “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” is quite nice.  It definitely fits my own personal criterion of color being its own, independently compelling compositional element.  When all is said and done, though, I think I prefer “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”  I find it to be a very different image than “Sylvia’s Tree (color),” and in the end, a somewhat stronger image overall.  Since, as mentioned, I don’t generally like to have two versions of the same image floating around, I’m taking “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” out of my image galleries and replacing it with “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”

You may have noticed that I have not included “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” in this post.  That’s because I really think these two versions do not look good when placed side by side. To my eye, they each seem to cancel the strengths of the other.  Those who are interested can see “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” here.

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 3


Black Trees Triptych

In my Three Images in Three Days concept, I’ve been talking about using multiple images to make single presentation formats.  Here on day three, I’ve used the two images from my previous two posts and a new image, “Black Tree No. 3,” to make the triptych in this post, “Black Trees Triptych.”

My previous post mentioned the idea of employing visual cues to create relationships among multiple image panels, using a diptych having a center-weighted composition to illustrate this point.  The compositional considerations obviously change much when going from a diptych to a triptych, adding a layer of complexity but also opening up expanded visual possibilities.  Here, I’ve tried to create an overall sense of movement from left to right across the three panels, both by placing the right-leaning trees at each end of the composition and through some dodging and burning. The left-right movement also is helped, I think, through some implied diagonal lines created in the clouds.

While a pure left-right movement can be compelling, it can be even more powerful to break this rhythm by placing an interrupting element in the line of movement.  I’ve tried to do this in the middle panel with the tree that leans slightly to the left, hopefully introducing some tension into the composition to add to the visual interest.

Of course, the broader point is that there are many compositional possibilities when working with multiple images.  I hope I’ve illustrated that over these last three blog posts.  I do believe that each of the individual images I’ve been working with – the black trees nos. 1, 2, and 3 – are strong enough to stand on their own.  But given the similarities in these images, they’re naturals for combining in the diptych and triptych formats, and I believe those diptychs and triptychs stand on their own as individual works in their own right, too.

If you’re a photographer, I encourage you to look through your archives for images that can be combined into multiple image presentations.  It’s lots of fun, can yield some pretty interesting pieces, and is a great way to set yourself apart from a crowded field of conventional, single-frame imagery!

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 2

Recent Work

In my previous post, I talked about my belief that photography is especially suited to multiple image formats, such as diptychs and triptychs.  To test this theory, I’m posting Three Images in Three Days and exploring the diptych and triptych formats.  For day two, here is a diptych made from the image in the previous post, “Black Tree No. 1,” and the second image in my Three Images in Three Days concept, “Black Tree No. 2.”

As mentioned, I believe the inherent realism of photography contributes strongly to making photographic diptychs and triptychs unitary and self-contained works.  However, to really make the diptych or triptych format successful, I also think it is important to create a strong relationship between the panels.  One way to do this is conceptually, wherein the panels may not look much alike but may be bound by an underlying concept.  For example, a diptych about trees might show an uncut California Redwood in the first panel, and log in a sawmill in the second panel, to make a conceptual point about unsustainable wood harvesting practices in old growth forests.

Personally, I prefer using visual elements to create a strong relationship among the panels.  It may be enough simply to have similar or complementary visual subject matter, such as the similar black trees and grey skies in each of the panels here.  However, visual elements can be used more creatively.  Here, for example, I tried to place the elements to create a center-weighted composition of the two panels.  I arranged the panels such that the right-leaning tree in the right panel is balanced by the slightly left-lean and large left branch of the tree in the left panel.  More subtly, I burned the tops of each panel such that they tend to darken toward the center of the diptych.  My hope is that I’ve created an overall, single movement within the diptych that tends to radiate out from the center toward the edges.

Of course, there are many ways to use visual cues to relate the panels of a diptych or a triptych.  Tomorrow, I’ll explore this concept a bit further.

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Three Images in Three Days: Black Tree No. 1

Recent Work

Cameras have the power to generate a lot of output very quickly.  Unlike a painting, which can take days or weeks to complete, a finished photograph can be (although not always should be) finished in a comparatively short period of time.  This is one of the inherent properties of the photographic medium, and it can be a curse and a blessing.

It’s a curse when you think about the huge, huge, huge number of pretty mediocre photographic images out there.  The subject of the image in this post is a tree, so let’s just consider the number of people in the world with cameras and the number of trees that are being made the subject of photographs.  It shouldn’t take long to conclude that by sheer numbers alone, you will end up with quite a number of unoriginal and repetitive snapshots of trees.

However, the relative ease with which a camera can produce a lot of images is a blessing when this property is used creatively.  One way to do this is to use multiple photographs in the creation of a single presentation, such as a diptych or a triptych.  Combining multiple images in a single presentation like this leverages the high output capability of photography to create works that arguably uniquely exploit the capabilities of the photographic medium.  It is, of course, true that painters and other artists can produce diptychs and triptychs as well, but I would suggest that it’s just not quite the same – the inherent realism of photography binds the panels of a photographic diptych or triptych much more closely than a painting, creating a more unitary and self-contained work.

Over the next three posts, I thought I might put this theory to the test.  We’ll start with the image in this post, “Black Tree No. 1,” and see how things develop!

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Shoot the Icons!

Recent Work

I’ve encountered a line of thinking in landscape photography that argues against shooting iconic scenes or locations.  The thought seems to be along the lines that you will never be able to capture an iconic subject as well as the photographer or photographers who made it famous.  Who’s going to capture the Yosemite Valley as well as Ansel Adams?  Or the California coast like Edward Weston?  If a subject has been captured many times by many photographers under many conditions, what can you possibly add to the accumulated body of work that will be new or interesting?  Isn’t anything that you do simply going to be repetitive or derivative of what others already have done?

No, I say.  There are many reasons and much value to be gained from shooting the icons.  It’s probably fair to say the mountain in this image, “Longs Peak, Rising Clouds,” is an icon of Colorado’s Front Range.  Do a search for Longs Peak on Google Images and you will find countless images of it.  Here are a few of the reasons why I don’t hesitate to shoot it again (and again, and again!):

  1. No one sees the world quite like you do.  Everybody has a unique vision.  The subject matter of an image is just the building blocks by which this vision is expressed.  If people get in trouble shooting the icons, it seems to me it’s because they’re simply trying to copy what’s been done before.  Every subject, big or small, iconic or mundane, has limitless possibilities for interpretation and expression.  If you’re in touch with your own vision of the world, it will come through uniquely regardless of your subject.
  2. Shooting the icons trains the creative mind.  If you’ve ever been to an art museum, you’ve probably seen art students practicing sketching the masterpieces of the collection.  As photographers, it’s probably not very profitable to set up your camera in a gallery and shoot someone else’s photograph on the wall.  However, it is valuable to set up your camera and shoot the iconic landscape, in the same way that it is valuable for artists to sketch copies of masterpieces.
  3. There is no preemption in art.  Just because Ansel Adams became famous for his images of Yosemite, and Edward Weston for his images of the California coast, does this mean other photographers are preempted from ever shooting there again?  Of course not.  Did authors stop writing literature after great works by Tolstoy, Dickens, or Hemingway?  Did composers stop writing classical music after great works by Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven?  Every artistic field has limitless opportunities to be explored, and the potential of iconic landscapes are not exhausted by the great photographers who have worked there before.
  4. Icons are marketable.  Yes, it’s true.  People relate to well-known, iconic landscapes and may give your work a second look if they recognize the subject.  It may or may not be an important consideration to you, but it’s something to think about.
  5. Why not?  Especially for digital photographers, there’s really no downside to trying your hand at the icons.  In fact, I might suggest that any opportunity to practice with your camera, especially when faced with the challenge of capturing a well-known, iconic landscape in your own way, is good practice for your photography skills!
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