It seems that I am no different from the rest of the city of Chicago in that since the Cubs have reached the playoffs this October, I have been very distracted. Whether you’re a Cubs fan or not, you can’t ignore the historical significance, at least from a sports point of view, of what the Cubs have done thus far, and with any luck will continue to do as the playoffs continue into the World Series. And so I’ve been watching a lot of baseball. It’s been a bit exciting.
So back to this weekend. I had a great shoot on Friday with a tremendous friend and muse Melissa Muñiz who was in town for a few days from California. I’m always inspired when I work with her and this evening was no different.
One of the frustrations I’ve had with shooting digital, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, is that I’m stuck with the color image. Since I really like B&W, it’s not just as easy as turning the color off on the digital file and expect it to look like fine art black and white. It’s the same reason I wouldn’t shoot color film if my intention was to make a B&W image. The chemicals on the color film react in a way that to me, muddies the crispness of the image when I try to print it in B&W.
So I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting and reading and research, but up until this weekend, I would say that I’ve been fairly unsuccessful. As I said before, just clicking the grayscale button in photoshop does not create a pleasing B&W photograph from a color digital file. Without getting into the technical details, a color digital file is actually made up of three channels, red, blue and green. They are actually recorded in the file as three B&W files. So by looking at each of these files individually, it’s surprising to see what each color channel “sees.” It’s also interesting to see what increasing and decreasing the levels of each color does in relationship to each other in the B&W color space. Here’s an example of a digital file I took in August up in Canada that is my first successful conversion of a color digital file to B&W.
This to me looks like a real B&W photograph, not a color digital photograph with the color turned off. I’m happy with it. Maybe today or tomorrow I’ll post more of the work I did over the weekend with Melissa. It was really fun and we both sat down afterwards and since the digital files were instantly available, we went though them all and played with color and made some B&W using some of the new settings I had been experimenting with. It was really a great experience, and I’m not sure what time she ended up heading back to her hotel, but it was quite late and I was exhausted, but very happy.
This week, I’ll process the B&W film that we also shot at the same time. And it will be interesting to see what those images will be like. In the past, I felt that digital might be a bit of a compromise. This is the first time though, that I feel my skill in working with digital has improved to the point that I can make a better comparison of shooting with film or digital. Working with digital in many respects is EXACTLY like working with film in that, only half of the process of making an image is the moment you click the shutter. The other half is making the print in the darkroom and all of the decisions that can be made there involving contrast and tone and dodging and burning. Except now, the darkroom is Photoshop on my computer. And the second half of the image making process is no less important here than it is in the print world. An obvious lesson, perhaps. But I think it’s easy to be swayed by idea that digital is faster and instant and easy. If you’re goal is to make an average image, it is. But if you want to make fine art, it’s a skill like any of the other disciplines.
I’m very excited to have made that connection this weekend.