Friday, May 28, 2010

Seeing the world in black and white

click photo to enlarge
When I was young I remember being told that some animals see in black and white. Bulls, it was said, weren't enraged by flapping a red cloth at them as matadors do because their eyes could not see colour: it was the movement alone that caused them to charge at people. Dogs, cats, and many other mammals, I was given to understand, saw in monochrome, though it didn't handicap them very much. At the time I can remember thinking there could be worse things than seeing the world like a newspaper photograph or a B movie, in only two "colours". Today the more widely held view is that mammals do see colour, but that their experience of the range of colour in the world nowhere near matches ours. A dog's vision has been likened to the world as seen by a red-green deficient person. However, scientists say that fish and birds have a much better perception of colour than we do.

When I was starting out in photography black and white prints were still very common, and were the medium of choice in "art photography". I began by shooting black and white alongside colour, and always found the monochrome images quite hard to visualise. Eventually, through experience, I learned to see those aspects of a shot that would be de-accentuated in black and white, and thereafter I found composition easier. I didn't always get it right, but I did more often than not. That knowledge has stayed with me through into the age of digital, and I continue to rely on it. Consequently, when I'm framing a shot that I know I want to be seen in black and white I never switch the camera so that it displays the image in monochrome, and I never take a shot in black and white, only in colour. It's not just that I can often "see" the final outcome reasonably well, its also because I may want to change my mind and have the shot in colour (and I'm too lazy to take one of each)!

Today's image is one that I knew would make a shot that I'd definitely prefer in black and white. The sunlit paving and the shadows were pretty much that already, but the illuminated green chair and the visible part of the table really stood out. However, I could see that their shadows, highlights and shapes would merge into the composition when I converted it to black and white. And so it proved. I'm fairly happy with the result.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On