After too much color obsession over the last couple of weeks, actually months even, I felt it was time to go back to some monochroms to appreciate the quality of light and dark again. So I ventured back into contrasty and grainy black-and-whites.
Just deep shadows, strong highlights, and lots of grain. I mostly spot metered to get a more accurate control of the exposure and to consciously decide on the light balance and contrast. The setup is pretty simple: spot meter where you want to have your middle-grey, lock exposure, then recompose, and shoot (or sit out the right moment). I believe where black-and-white offers so much more freedom is precisely exposure. There really is no right exposure – just your exposure. (I believe this is a bit different for color where heavily over- and under-exposed shots tend to have “weird” colors). You want deep blacks and selected highlights? Go for it! You want tons of detail in the shadows – yours as well. Typically we are not aware of this wide variety of different looks that we can achieve and this is partially due to things such as matrix metering. Sure on average they will improve your keeper rate, however, they will ultimately limit your freedom of expression in terms of choosing your exposure. Matrix metering will take a nice average where you have some shadow detail and some highlight detail – but in many cases we do not want the average exposure but a selective one. Moreover, relying too much on these tools will cripple our sense of light.
Think of these shots below as exploring the limits of dynamic range and aggressive exposure. Also, most of them were shot last week on one of the few days where there was sun and I shot into the sun frequently to acknowledge its existence, hoping to see more of it soon.
Btw, I highly recommend to look into Ansel Adam’s and Fred Archer’s zone system if you are into black-and-white to understand its subtleties better. Adam’s on their invention:
I take this opportunity to restate that the Zone System is not an invention of mine; it is a codification of the principles of sensitometry, worked out by Fred Archer and myself at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, around 1939-40.
In this framework, think of spot metering as deciding where you want to have Zone V and which parts in the picture should have still distinct detail in the shadows or in the highlights.
All shots below, were taken in Atlanta, mostly around Atlantic station (yes – it bores me too), Poncey-Highland, and Old Fourth Ward.
More in the gallery.