What kind of subjects lend themselves to black and white film? Can you decide beforehand and try to see the world in black and white, as I started out trying to do, or do you decide afterwards, as most people do when converting digital images to black and white?
This is the continuing story of my experimentation with a totally mechanical Nikon F SLR loaded with Ilford HP 5 Plus black and white film. I wandered through the streets of Washington D.C. looking for subjects and came upon this bust of noted Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov outside of the Russia House restaurant on Connecticut Avenue.
I worked hard on this one to try to compose it and shoot it in an interesting way and I like the way that it turned out. It turned out that focusing manually is tougher than I thought, even with the visual assists in the viewfinder of a film camera, like the micro prism. I was definitely out of practice and I worried that all of my images would be soft and out of focus. This image reassured me that if I am careful, I can get relatively sharp images and capture details like the texture that you can see on the hands and the head of the statue.
Eventually I made my way to the National Zoo and last week I posted some digital shots of some of the animals that I encountered there. The zoo posed a big problem for me in getting a proper exposure, because there was a mixture of harsh midday sunshine and shadows. As I looked over my negatives, I realized that I need to meter more often—I took a series of shots of lions that were sometimes in the sunshine and sometimes in the shade and overexposed many of the shots.
However, one of my favorite images of the roll of film was this one of a female lion that was properly exposed and captured a good amount of detail. At this point in the day, I had switched to a Tokina 80-200mm lens to give myself a bit of additional reach.
So could I take the kind of wildlife/nature shots that I normally feature with a film camera? It would be tough to do so, but this shot of a Monarch butterfly suggests that it would not be impossible. The pattern of the Monarch is so well-known, that most of us can imagine its orange and black coloration without actually seeing the colors. This is the only one of my black and white images on which I did a significant crop, and you can see how the background has become a bit grainy.
For folks who are interested in the process, I developed the film with Ilfosol 3 developer, a general purpose developer. I exposed the film as though it were ISO 200, instead of the box speed of ISO 400, and learned that pulling the film like this is likely to lead to lower contrast (while shooting it at higher speeds will tend to give more contrast). I scanned the negatives with a Canoscan 8400f scanner as TIFF files and did a few adjustments in Photoshop Elements 11.
So what did I learn? I learned to slow down and be more deliberate as I contemplate my shots; I learned to look past some of the colors of the world and search for shapes and lines and contrast; and I leaned the value in producing my images in a manual, hand-on way, leading to a greater sense of ownership of those images.
I learned a lot, though clearly I have a lot more to learn as I continue to explore this new/old area of photography.
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.