Getting your BEST B&W image!
I wish to share some images and thoughts from the Leica M Monochrom B&W ONLY camera system. I know that it is NOT FILM and a very expensive camera system, but it comes as close as you can get in a wonderfully usable B&W only system!
Most people will take a color image then convert it to B&W in post processing but it will never be the same as actually shooting in B&W with a digital or film system! Yes you can get close but you loose the amazing gradations and tonality that is part and parcel to world class B&W images.
The Pier on the top, is in the Outer Banks and is a 4 min exposure using a Leica Elmerit 28mm lens and the creek below is is in the New River Gorge in West Virginia. It is Dunloupe Creek and a 8 second exposure using the AMAZING 50mm Summilux lens. As you can see, the graduations and clarity are simply amazing. The water takes on a distinct Platinum tonality!
Why am I showing you these? Well at the end of the post I will give you a link for 2 videos where a Fuji X100T and a Leica M are compared for street photography and for a discussion on the Leica M B&W. The videos are quite entertaining and shows why sometimes a more expensive camera can be worth the money…
It can be very hard balancing the desire between camera systems and affordability, but sometimes, with SPECIAL cameras the money takes a back seat. I own 3 Leica camera systems, and 1 of them I could have done without (Leica M240), another is an amazing film system (Leica M7) and then there is the M Monochrom. The Monochrom is scary amazing with crazy good B&W output to even consider shooting color then converting. I have NEVER considered the money spent on it to be wasted! In fact, I am considering selling/trading the M 240 but will keep the Monochrom and M7 film body along with most of my Leica and Voigtlander glass.
For me shooting in B&W is a soul centering event. I take it very seriously and slow. When you consider how working in Monochrome strips away the confusion of color leaving the soul of the image then you can understand why I am looking for the very best way to capture the best possible image.
- Shooting in color then converting to B&W works but is a compromise and will only give you a compromise image.
- Shooting in film generates a purest form of B&W image and by far is the best way to do it but requires extensive time for setup, capture, development, wet scanning then printing! One roll of 120 film in the 6×7 format will generate 10 images. Processing takes about 45 min then it has to go into a film dryer overnight. Lastly, comes wet mount scanning which can take 1/2 hour per exposure. Now, I do not scan every image, I choose the very best images from the roll (usually 3 or 4) and only scan those. All in all there is about 8 hours of work involved with that single roll! It is a slow process to be sure but very fulfilling and leaves me with a great sense of inner peace.
- Now, along came the M Monochrom camera from Leica, a full frame 19 mega pixel sensor with NO COLOR FILTERS over the image wells. This means that there is no anti-aliasing filter, and no brayer array. So effectively you get a 19 x 3 megapixel image (no brayer layer means every pixel well generate a true monochrome data value different from its neighbors!) which is crisp and has film like gradations that are difficult to differentiate from a film negative!
Aside from doing all of this in film (which I still work in all of the time) the M Monochrome (or its sisters) is the ONLY GAME IN TOWN! Hence, the cost of the system takes on new meaning since it is such a specialized digital system!
Sometimes I will put the film away and take out the Monochrom system. It is not quite the same as film in the overall process but it certainly is when the finished products are compared!
This is something to consider…
Here are the video links:
Sometimes we just have to stand there taking it all in!Ahh, have you ever had one of those defining moments in life where you KNOW that you are witnessing something truly special that touches your soul? Well that is exactly what this was for me. We had been on the road for almost 11 days on a trip from Rapid City thru Wyoming and Utah. Our last stop of the trip was supposed to be in Zion National Park but we had to cancel due to terrible rain and flooding in the park. We extended our time in Arches which was really nice but it was not until I stood here in Bryce National Park at the Sunset point looking down into the canyon that I realized that I had made a mistake… I should have added onto the time there. We only had ONE day to explore Bryce and it was very nice there with many great vistas and rock formations, but this image at the Sunset Point was the defining moment for the entire trip for me. Understand, that I am NOT talking about either of the photographs captured and shown above, but rather the moment for me personally standing there taking it all in, becoming one with the scene, no camera, no thoughts of photography only the experience and impact of witnessing the greatness of the scene. I stood there for a good half hour drinking it all in and I will remember the emotional impact upon me for the rest of my life. Yes… it was that powerful.
There is some serious food for thought in this last statement. In these days of rapid fire digital photography don’t you think that we can quickly loose sight of what it is that we are trying to create in our art? Shooting in film slows you down which aids in the creative process. This is not to say that we cannot do this with our digital systems because we can and I do, but rather most of us who practice this art tend to “hurry, capture and move on to the next thing!”It was almost as if it was an afterthought that I actually took my Sony A7rii with me up the trail to the overlook and took a few images which were actually quite nice in color, but after the sensory overload of the scene I could only think of one thing, B&W and FILM. Yes, I could convert the color image above to B&W in post processing and do quite a good job of it but NOTHING can compare to what I can create with film! So, it was a bit of a walk back down to the car where my wife and 7 year old grandson were resting because of the long drive to get here, but down I went with only one task, to trade the digital for a TINY B&W film camera, the Olympus XA. The XA is the worlds smallest 35mm rangefinder camera. It has an amazingly sharp lens with easy focus, but the key is the fact that it is pants pocket (not those bulky cargo pockets but regular ones), it is light and handy.
I took so much camera equipment on this trip that the only space I had for a film system required that it be tiny. Against all of my experience I threw in this tiny camera along with just 5 rolls of Kodak Tmax 100 film and off we flew. I am so glad that I did now but having said this it is only fair to share that this was a colossal mistake. I should have made room for a medium format (120 6×7) camera and taken out a lens or two for the Sony. I have learned my lesson and will never repeat this mistake. Don’t get me wrong, the XA captured an amazingly detailed and sharp image. I love how it turned out. The Kodak Tmax 100 film along with the Perceptol developer generated a image (yes small) with tiny grain and great sharpness. Am I happy with the result? You bet! Would I have been happier with a larger 120 negative, OMG YES!! Can I have a do over please? Yes, I know, not to much of there ever being a chance for that.
So lets sum this up a bit shall we?
- SLOW DOWN, take the time to really look at your subject! If you do this your chances of creating a world class image will greatly improve.
- Look closely at what is in front of you, take the time to feel its emotional impact upon you and only then bring out the camera and with your skill and insight to the scene make the camera (nothing more than a tool) capture what you saw!
- Think in both color and B&W. Remember though that B&W removes the clutter and confusion of normal color work. In my opinion, B&W allows you to capture the soul of the scene! So yes, take color but also take B&W, you might be surprised at how well you can do.
- If you are working in digital only, during post processing work color first completely, save the image THEN process for B&W generating all of the mood that you possibly can!
Ok, this post is done. Get out there, shoot and create, but slow down and think about what and WHY you are doing it!
Or… What I Did On My Summer Vacation!
Warning, LONG post…
Travel Photography… Say it, let it roll off your tongue, think about it! I bet that the first thing that comes to mind are images from National Geographic, fine, super saturated color photographs that could take you anywhere in the world by simply looking at them! You know the kind, they enabled you over the years to travel vicarisly around the world just with the magazine and its images!
But is that what travel photography really is?
What is the intent of travel photography to document a place or a trip? Is it designed to tell a story on an individual level or to the masses?
Well for me, it is a combination of the two. Most importantly, the images are to refresh the memories of the trip. But there is a real market out there for well done travel photography whether in print publications, web, advertising or fine art prints. It can be quite profitable if you work at it and can step back and look at your own images in terms of the above markets. Even the housing deceration market has room for this type of photography provided that you can simplify your work to show colors and contrasts over locations.
For this trip, and pretty much all the time when I am shooting digital, I exclusively use the Sony 42 mpix A7rii camera system and the new Sony A6300 for high speed work with Sony G lenses or Sony Zeiss lenses. They are very well suited to this type of photography and give you enough (42 mix) resolution to get amazing images yet still have room to crop!
The drive for this post was a recent two week trip out West with my wife and 7 year old grandson Jordan who I am teaching film photography and darkroom processing to (photographically, I had grand plans for him this trip). Given time I plan on turning him into a photographic GOD for something fun while making sure he is a Rocket Scientist!
We flew into Rapid City, SD and picked up a one way rental car and our first night in a long string of hotels.
Day 1. Rapid City layover and rest.
- Day 2. Pick up rental car and drive to Mt. Rushmore in the morning and then the Devils Tower in the afternoon. Continue on 1/2 way to Codie, WY.
- Day 3. Famous Hot Springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming then an afternoon visit and guided tour to the most successful dinosaur dig on our continent.
- Day 4. Codie WY for several stops including the famous old west town and the Codie Rodio.
- Day 5-7. Yellowstone for 3 days in a park lodge.
- Day 8. Leave Yellowstone, drive thru and stop along the way in the Tetons finishing in Jackson WY.
- Day 9. Drive just north of Salt Lake City in the town of Herbor for a 3 hour train ride around the valley.
- Day 10-12. Drive to Moab for 3 nights and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks with extra boat and jeep rides thru the park as well as Dead Horse Point State Park.
- Day 13. Early morning drive to Bryce National park for 2 days of Bryce National Par
- Day 14. Drive to Salt Lake for flight home on day 15.
So as you can see there was a well thought out family plan for travel and location visits! But, I also had a plan, my photographic plan!
So lets talk first about my TRAVEL photographic equipment plan. I wanted to travel light (yea right). No backpack, rather a small rolling camera case that would fit into the over head of a small commuter plane so that I would not have to check it. I would not have room for a film camera… Dang!
So here is what I brought along:
- Sony A7rii camera body
- Sony a6300 camera body for Jordan
- Sony 24-240mm one lens does it all for Jordan
- Sony 24-70 Zeiss f/4
- Sony 70-200 G f/4
- Tamron 150-600 for those exotic animals I expected to see
- And yes… A Olympus XA 35mm film camera (but it is the worlds smallest rangefinder) with 6 rolls of Tmax 100
- Filters, ND for long water falls and polarizers for all of the rest in 67mm and 72mm.
- Batteries an chargers (both cameras used the same)
This was a good plan (or so I thought) until our very first stop at Mt. Rushmore where Jordan informed me that the 24-240 was too long and heavy. Oh well, I took that and gave him the 24-70.
RULE ONE: No camera plan survives first contact with a 7 year old!
Ok, so at least the part of the photographic plan of me being able to NOT check my camera equipment worked! (I did put all of my insulin and supplies in the camera case just to prove my need to have the case with me but did not need it).
RULE TWO: A super zoom really works best when you have to carry lots of glass around while traveling. See Rule One, Jordan did me a favor here!
Yes, I know that one would not normally trade a light 24-70 Sony/Zeiss f/4 lens for a 24-240 f/3.5-5.6 Sony super zoom but I have to be honest, I was VERY impressed with the super zoom! It was not really that much heaver but it was longer. I NEVER put on the 24-70 after that.
Things to look for on a cross country western trip:
- Landscapes & Vistas
- Unique rock formations
- Wild colors
- Unique photographic visions
Querimony: To Questionably Moan & Complain!
I expected great things of Yellowstone and that showed in the number of days there as well as staying in the park. Yellowstone is HUGE, so much so that you have to allow for HOURS of driving time from location to location. The roads are all good, 2 lanes with adequate pull offs. BUT having said that there are rules of behavior in pulling off and rules for how you treat the wildlife. I cannot tell you how many people (especially foreign visitors) who would jump out of the car (still in the road) and run off into the fields right up to the wildlife. To say that this is bad behavior is an understatement. It for one, keeps others from being able to photograph the wildlife and two puts the peoples lives in grave danger that approach the wildlife! Yet this happened almost every time wildlife was near the road. The park rangers had simply given up on trying to educate people who would not listen. They spend most of their time dealing with the MANY dreadful traffic accidents that happened every day. The traffic jams were terrible whenever an animal was near. Sometimes this was due to the animal being on the road but most of the time it was because people parked right in the middle of the road who left their cars.
I am going to share a few of my favorite images from Yellowstone with you. It is a good cross section of what you can expect to see while visiting!
I would travel again to Yellowstone but in the spring or fall in order to see more of the wildlife there. I realize that in the heat of August even the animals would move to higher locations in order to reduce the heat. The only wildlife I really saw in abundance on this trip were Buffalo, Elk and Antelope.
Moab, Arches & Canyonlands National ParksThe Moab area offered some of the most amazing locations of our trip. I had thought that nothing could beat Yellowstone, but Moab came very close. There are 3 offerings here, the Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the Dead Horse Point State Park. ALL three are must see locations. For me Arches was the best, but honestly, we spent time exploring all three in detail (well sort walk detail). We also paid extra for a boat trip on the Colorado River thru Canyonlands for a low view and a back country jeep tour to see area and arches not available to the general public in Arches! If you get here I advise that you do both side trips.
So…. I had this vision stuck in my head of a parked line of freight train box cars parked in the high desert with a mesa behind them. I found myself looking to the sides of the car as we traveled endless miles through Wyoming and Utah. Finally my wife asked me what I was looking for and when I told her she made a point to help me look and stop me when we came upon them. I know that out West there are ultra long stretched of road. Most are 4 lanes with lots of traffic. If you see that special scene make sure that you safely stop so as not to irritate the 7 year old in the back seat, pull safely off to the side of the road as you watch for the perfect compositional setup and get out and shoot it! DO IT!
RULE THREE: There are NO GO BACKS! If you see a subject or scene on the side of the road immediately stop and shoot it!
Bryce National Park
To say that Bryce National Park is anything less that amazing is an understatement. It was right up there with Arches and Yellowstone in amazing views, colors and the wow factor! This is the location that I would choose to visit again to try some different styles of photography. The colors of the Hodoos are simply amazing and full of wild colors and contrasts.
RULE FOUR: Revisit those scenes and compositions as many times a possible!
While in Arches, my 7 year old grandson decided that he had enough nature and vistas after driving Arches all day long. I took them (at my wife insistence) back to the hotel and went back out to Arches and drove it again in different light conditions and the 2nd time there were clouds in the sky. This made for much better images that I would not have gotten if I did not go back out again!
Final thoughts on what makes travel photography great!
Now as you have seen here, I presented this trip as a travel log. Attempting to document the many wonders of the high plains in the west. For images that have the possibility of selling you need to:
- Pay more attention to your editing, scene selection and composition.
- You must re-visit local scenes several times in order to get the best light and clouds.
- You MUST shoot with your best equipment in order to produce high resolution images for future publication.
- In your post processing you must choose only your best images and throw the non used images out.
- Be your WORST critique and select only what you would consider to be world class images. Case in point, the image above of the Court House Rocks in Arches. Yes it is a nice image but the lack of clouds in the sky reduce its impact to the point of it being a weak image!
This type of travel photography is more difficult that personal travel images traditionally done by the millions of photographers who roam the country. These types of images are still travel photography but basically serve to show and remember your great trips! They will include more family member in the scenes, less care about the total compositional elements because those are simply not as important to the memory of the trip and locations! They are just as important, but will not generally generate income from sales and publication.
Colophon: Very Important Lessons Learned:
- NEVER, and I do mean NEVER plan a 14 day photographic trip with a 7 year old and expect him to be excited beyond the first week. I would have been better off leaving the A6300 and 24-70 f/4 at home thus lightening my load and giving him MY camera when he desired to take a photograph!
- Make SURE that you explain to the said 7 year old that “NO! There are places that not only will there be no TV but also no internet! (I was able to get around this most of the time with my iPhone as a hot spot for his iPad!)
- Build in several fun days (as viewed by a 7 year old) that includes things like movies, water parks and so on! This is a small price to pay for 7 year old mental health and will refresh his young mind and keep it open for those wonderful scenes you travel to!
- How can you get those great travel shots when your walking is limited? As a cranky 63 year old man, make sure that you plan photographic stops THAT YOU CAN DRIVE TO! We (actually my thoughtful wife) did this ahead of time thus insuring my mental health and happiness at the stops we made!
- Take the time to occasionally stop at nice restaurants that actually serve wine and beer (this will assist with the mental healty of said wife!) Happy marriages are NOT built and fast food places in a rush!
- If you desire to shoot medium format film, you damn well better plan on space for the camera and film! Regrets upon your return will leave a sour taste in your mouth!
- Be flexible, very flexible. This will leave you happy in the hotel at night!
- Take your pain drugs! (See #7)
- If you see a photo subject on the side of the road STOP! There are no go backs! (see RULE THREE about this very thing and really your wife know this and will support your urges to stop in the middle of nowhere!
- Wildlife… What wildlife? How did I miss all the great shots of wolves, coyotes, and bears? I was in Yellowstone for heavens sake! The lesson here is to make sure you check the season for high animal activity. I have listened to my photographer Son talk about so much wildlife in Yellowstone that it was not safe to drive! I guess he should have mentioned when he was there! Oh well. I AM happy with what I actually did see (Buffalo, Antelopes, Elk and Prairie Dogs)
- Stop at EVERY overlook in every park. You will be happier having done so (and vicariously so will your wife). You will hate yourself when you return home only to have a photographer friend tell you that the one overlook you skipped was the only one you should have stopped at!
- If you find a scene that is magical for you revisit at a different time of day. This is VERY IMPORTANT and promote photographic health for those who have heeded these magic words.
- Would I do it all over again with a 7 year old? YOU BET!! But I would plan differently. If I take any of my grandkids I need to remember that it is their vacation as well. This means that you build in days doing fun stuff for their age also!
Please let me know what you think of this long post! I welcome all feedback.
My favorite image from my visit to Georgetown today…
Stormy Seas… Calm Dock…
I had to sit in the Georgetown gallery today. On my way there I stopped at Stormy Seas, my favorite shrimp boat in the area. I had the Leica M Monochrom with me and the Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 mm lens on it as well as the FRANKEN-VIEWER which enables me to compose the image with ultra-wide lenses on the Monochrom. Did I mention that the Leica M Monochrome is a B&W ONLY camera system? The sky had this amazing gradient across it going from dark gray to bright silvery light on the horizon and the water that you could slide across… Oh My, the water was so perfectly smooth and mirror-like that I stood there stunned with camera in hand just hypnotized at the magic and taking it all in. But alas, I only had a minute to spare so I took 3 differently composed images at -1ev, f/11 and 1/1500s. This is the result: a simple, well balanced image, so full of tonality that it is dripping from the bottom all over my feet….
Enjoy while I clean my shoes…