A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture


Paris airport architectural detail in black-and-white

Photography is about a two-dimensional composition. It is made up of lines and areas. Especially in pictures of architectural details, colours can be distracting from the beauty of the lines, the sharp designs. So with a little post-processing, these simple pictures of the Charles de Gaulle airport, made with an iPhone, were transformed into a play of black-and-white.

Besides, taking pictures was a great way to break the boredom of waiting for a connecting flight. The world is our playground; let’s use it!


DIY-photos in magazines: authentic or trite?

A weekly had asked its female readers to send in their best pictures of their husband (partner, or whatever politically-correct term you want). Many sent a picture of hubby in bed with a cat. Maybe those were the pictures that made these readers happiest. But if you then make it into a policy of your magazine to use only pictures made by its readers instead of professionally-made photos, will you get ‘authentic’ content or just trite DIY-pictures?

This discussion I read about in my newspaper got going because a magazine for young parents wants to use only illustrations it gets from its readers. The main argument from the magazine’s editor is that in this way the pictures will be more authentic and ‘de-glamourised’. I can agree with their point, and also with the other point they made, namely that small children are so spontaneous and that parents can capture those moments better in natural situations at home than professional photographers who always intrude into the natural situation.

An old example from my own experience (scanned from an analogous photo): a pro would not have got that relaxed-curious attitude from my daughter.

A professional photographer made the counterargument of triteness, using the anecdote of the hubby & cat pictures. Amateur photographers simply lack the imagination and the vision that a professional photographer brings to the scene.

Looking at (too many of!) my own pictures, I must agree with the counterargument, too: my pictures may be too conventional, not surprising enough. Or just made too lazily, as when I do not want to take the trouble of getting down on my knees to get a better perspective, or when I do not want to set up a tripod to get better sharpness.

And I also agree that getting the imagination and vision is largely a matter of training. But I don’t agree that only professionally-schooled photographers have that training. A lot of advanced amateur photographers have that too. Sometimes my own pictures are not too bad, and I see others’ which are much better, also among my internet friends—no professional would be ashamed of them!

Finally, there is more to photographic vision than training; maybe there is such a thing as talent. I’m thinking, for instance, of my own daughter, who without any training sometimes went out with her simple compact camera and then shot really good pictures. But she too has her share of conventional, boring pictures—a bit more training or experience would help! She has her own DSLR now… Still, here comes a little example of what she made from an inspired day in a museum.

Stairs and shadows: irrestistible

No comment or explanation needed, as far as I am concerned.

Culture Fair in the Public Library (2)

Just a little memory of the Culture Fair: the girl did her best on the guitar and although her trio of two guitars and a singer was not the star of the night, they did entertain with some decent pop songs. And they gave me a nice picture in black-and-white.

How a Classic was Made: Moon over Hernandez

‘Moon over Hernandez’ is one of Ansel Adams’s iconic landscape photos, and in this videoblog by Marc Silber of the Digital Photography School, Ansel’s son Michael tells a little about how the picture was made. It was a shot ‘at the spur of the moment’, a single negative at intuitive exposure settings (he couldn’t find the exposure meter!) because before Ansel could make a second one, the light in the foreground had faded. In our digital age, we could have made a dozen photos, bracketed for exposure…

But the real point was how different a straight print from the negative was from the final black-and-white print: all kinds of darkroom magic was used, for instance to make the sky darker (Adams’s later prints were even more dramatic than his first published ones) and mask some clouds at the top. The video showed a whole ‘storyboard’ that Ansel used for a graphic depiction of all that he wanted to do when enlarging the picture–much like the different steps you would have in Lightroom, or like the different layers you would use in Photoshop.

The main lesson for us, black-and-white landscape photographers: interpret your pictures afterwards when processing it at the computer, to get the result you want. There is not a single-best conversion from the red, blue and green pixels that make up your sensor data into the black-and-white you are going to print, and ‘highlighting’ certain areas of your picture through software adaptations is allowed–maybe we can make our own classic!

Mediterranean colours: Sun on the Stairs

Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo

Been on a trip to Istria (Slovenia, Croatia, on the Adriatic coast) last week and just recovered from it–physically OK again and photographically still very impressed. It all shouts colours. Even the photos I envisaged as black-and-white ones look better in their original, colour form!

Sunflower patterns

Harvest of the sunflowers. Most are to be kept for the birds, coming winter (if we are advised to feed them again; at the moment, because of a contagious bird disease, we’d better not stimulate their getting together). But birds don’t wait: some of the flowerheads were already mostly eaten (first picture).

For photographers (and mathematicians!), sunflowers are irresistible because of the patterns that the seeds make in the flowerhead. And as usual: patterns come out better if your eyes are not distracted by colours, so the second picture comes in black-and-white.

Dundalk, earlier this year

Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo

When selecting photos for the camera club’s next meeting, I stumbled upon this one. I had forgotten about it, and won’t show it there, but still I think that the play of hard but curved lines is kind of neat, especially in black-and-white and, even more especially, because the curves and diagonals of the empty street are contrasted–maybe you should even say they are ‘broken’ by a few verticals coming from the bottom of the picture. First there is the lantern, which still belongs in the man-made hard landscaping. But then there are the three young trees. Still leafless (it was early spring), and vulnerably small. The black-and-white makes the picture a bit ominous, to my mind: will these little trees survive? Yet the natural forms against the hard lines seem to say that nature will not be subdued! And if you then look closely, there is more of nature in the picture: more planting at the bottom, and some wild grass (you cannot call it a lawn) in the top-right corner. There is hope.

Every so often… you just have to take that picture

“Every so often, you turn a corner and there it is–a great photograph.” That is how Guardian photographer Eamonn McCabe summarised his fascination with (black & white) photography. He felt inspired by a book of the same title, Every so often, by another photographer, Raymond Moore. It’s a matter of (quoting McCabe’s column in August’s Black+White Photography again): “just enjoying the process of looking”. I agree, and whished I had a camera built into my eyes: you just click your fingers (that is an allusion to a recent song by Daniel Lohues, of course) and then it’s stored in your memory. So even when I don’t have a good camera with me, sometimes I just have to take that photograph–as this one, in the streets of Athens, in 2007. What did that junk do in the street? Why is the passer-by looking at it, or beyond it through the window? Never mind the technically bad quality of the photo, use that little old compact (as in this case) or even your phone’s camera. Point and shoot–to keep wondering whenever you see the picture again about a moment you otherwise would have forgotten.

Hazy Sunday morning

Hazy Sunday morning
Originally uploaded by DFW-Photo

Found the new issue of ‘Black & White Photographer’ with quite a few landscape pictures (almost all of seaside locations on the British isles). That inspired me to play in Lightroom with a picture of earlier this year, and which has some water–no seaside in my neighbourhood, a ditch is all you can find here! But then again, with a few wild ducks and the haze of a Sunday morning in spring, what more do you need?