In discovering my preferences for black and white photography I have reviewed a lot of work online and on classic photographic books. If I were to pinpoint the work that first got me thinking about putting color aside (at least for a while), that would most definitely be the work of Jacob Aue Sobol. There has been plenty of other monochrome work that I’ve seen before and that I like, but somehow his reportage for the Leica MM (Arrivals and Departures) sparked something inside and really got me considering this alternative (and this camera as well). As much as I connect with and like shooting in color, few things come close to a powerful and striking black and white image.
So since I started shooting in monochrome I’ve hanged from this illusion. That with time, I might too create one of those images. And if I do create at least one of ‘those kind of images’ that really does it for me, then this adventure is worth it.
In looking at all this work that I used to build my understanding of what kind of monochrome imagery does work for me, all my scientific abilities sprung forward. I analyzed, categorized and found common elements across a broad range of images from very diverse genres. Ultimately the answer for me was in the histogram. All images that I liked shared one or two very distinct tonality distributions. In hindsight it’s quite obvious, but this graphical representation of tones was what hit home for me. Yet, one thing is knowing what I like and a whole other creating such images.
Photo: Birthday Girl. Photographer: Martin Herrera Soler.
Histogram of ‘Birthday Girl’ image. This image, although shot with a Leica M9 and later converted to black and white, stands among few as a reference of black and white images I have shot and liked. In this case, the histogram will reveal a ‘U’ shaped tonality distribution, with very dark blacks and very bright whites. This distribution seems to be behind most of the monochrome images I care for.
Histogram of ‘For two crackers’ image. This other shape describes the tonal distribution of the image below. It’s another color covered image, in this case shot with a Leica M8. A similar scenario, but without the very dark tones. Although generally speaking not my preference, this image still works for my monochrome taste.
Photo: Por dos galletas | for two crackers. Photographer: Martin Herrera Soler.
These are some of the characteristics of the images I like. There are other specific attributes that work for me in (beyond the formals aspects like content, composition, etc.). For example I’ve also learned that I like skin tones leaning towards the bright side, and the context leaning towards the dark tones. In a future episode I will share some other images I have made in my black and white journey. Thanks for dropping by. m.
The prior episode can be found here [Monochrom Diaries. Episode 1].