Photography began as a monochromatic system. This because of the fact that the technology did not exist to create color images until much later. Looking at the history of photography, many call the early days out as a black and white period, although this is not a true representation of the art form. These types of images don’t necessarily need to contain blacks, whites and tones of grey. There are processing techniques such as cyanotype which produces an image with tones of blue and white or the classic look of the sepia which introduces hues of orange into an image as well. Some of the processes of creating a monochromatic image have histories dating back over 150 years, making a monochromatic image a classical form of photography. Regardless of what era a photograph has been created in, for some reason there is a timeless characteristic to the monochrome style of imagery.
There is a growing trend in photography to head back to its roots of monochrome. I think photographers are discovering how easy it is to work with any type of image in the digital darkroom, thus the final product can be any form of creative expression that one can dream up. Gone are the days of chemical baths and refrigerators worth of varying film types purchased in bulk ready for any occasion. My personal mission is to experiment with most of the images that I capture to get the best and most creative look possible out of all of them. This may include of course monochrome, color, and other more obscure styles such as bleach bypass.
As you know, in the past weeks I have been writing about my experiences in China–a trip that challenged most of my emotions and experiences thus far in my short career as a professional photographer. Some of the locations in China have lent themselves to the creation of a series of monochromes. This has in part been because of the gray weather and light-blocking pollution that was a mainstay for most of the seventeen day trip. The other side of coin is that there is an old world history to China. This is a place that has a record dating back thousands of years as compared to the United States’ hundreds. This history just screams black and white to me.
There are other reasons for my monochrome hang up with China. I created my first black and white photograph a couple of years ago in Castle Valley, Utah. The image was a byproduct of a contrasty, hazy scene, but it opened the doors for me to see monochromatic images in a new light, sorry for the play on words. There is a power to black and white. It is a simplification of your composition, simplistic tones to bring your viewer right into the heart of the matter. There is a such a graphic communication of the design elements as well. Lines, textures, shapes, and patterns stand out in a simplified rendering of monochrome. Thus, a perfect opportunity for me to highlight a final and yet an additional side to the country of China.
I know there might be some of you out there wondering what the actual method I used to create these images was. Today photographers can create a black and white image with the drag of a slider or the click of a menu option. There are more options than ever before in the monochromatic arena, but I have decided that Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in available for Aperture, Lightroom, and Photoshop is my creative weapon of choice. All of the images in this post were created using it. There is a simplicity to the Nik interface that I just get and within that interface multiple preset options that allow me to easily preview what I am about to convert. They have also created a selection system by which a photographer can add control points to any location on an image that automatically generate masks based on the users pixel selection. This method works almost flawlessly to generate targeted masks in half the time it takes to make selections in Photoshop.