Those who read this blog may know that I am not a fan of “rules-based” photography. There are many photographic “rules” floating around that suggest that photographs must be captured, edited, or composed in certain ways in order to be successful. One such “rule” that I’ve heard mentioned is that every photograph should have a true black point, a true white point, and the full spectrum of gray tones in between.
Enter the black point heretic.
The image in this post, “Trees in Snow, Study No. 1,” has no true black point. In fact, the darkest tone in this image is roughly middle gray, and there aren’t even many of those. The spectrum of tones in this image runs from roughly middle gray up to a true white point, and is slanted heavily towards the white end of that range.
More importantly, this image doesn’t need a true black point, at least in my opinion. I started with a vision for what I wanted the image to look like – wispy, ethereal trees suspended, maybe even floating, in a gauzy background of white snow – and edited the image to make it fit my vision for it. A “rules-based” photographer probably would have suggested making the trees darker and including a true black point there, but this would have defeated my vision for what I wanted the image to look like, by lending weight and substance to the forms of the trees that I didn’t want.
To be fair, the “rules” of photography do contain elements of wisdom. I view them as useful guidelines for effective visual communication, encapsulating what often works and what often doesn’t. For example, the idea behind having a true black point, a true white point, and the full spectrum of gray tones in an image generally is to keep the image from looking dull and flat, which is a good thing.
However, taking these rules as gospel is counterproductive, stifles creativity, and risks producing run-of-the-mill imagery, where one photograph looks just like another. If I had adhered to the “rule” of having a true black point and the full spectrum of tones here, I obviously never could have made the image I ended up with. Given a choice, I trust my eye and go with my instincts every time.