We asked readers to submit examples of their B&W photography, and got a lot of responses. Here are a few examples. Thanks to everyone who participated—very sorry we could not include everyone!
Tech details and the photographer's website, if the submission included either, follow the main part of the post.
Because I'm on record as not liking infrared for my own work, I always want to be sure to give equal shrift to good infrared work by others. This fine landscape by Bryan Hansel of the far-northern U.S. town of Grand Marais, Minnesota, doesn't hammer you over the head with heavyhanded IR tones, and it also manages to be something that's increasingly rare these day—a landscape photo that doesn't look like ten thousand landscape photos you've seen before. The nice play of the actual and implied lines (it might not have worked without the line of the clouds and that angled band of dark sky), plus the symbolism of the brave little tree growing where it doesn't look like it can thrive all combine to make this a landscape that was worth a second and third look for me.
It used to be a truism that large format was excellent for describing objects exactly, and that an exact description of "the thing itself" (Edward Weston's famous phrase) had a nobility, and in some cases almost an otherworldliness, all its own. Ned Bagno made this simple but eloquent description of "Joe's Flower" using a flatbed scanner, which he then converted to black-and-white.
A great example of how straight photographs can work as art is this surreal portrait of his daughter Naomi by Richard Alan Fox of New City, New York. The face set against the negative space provided by Naomi's falling hair seems to be simultaneously a frontal and profile view, almost mimicking the manner of a Cubist portrait. The left arm with its wonderful contorted hand gesture seems almost disembodied, yet it's framed perfectly with the door jamb—note how the line of the right side of the neck also seems to continue right into the doorjamb above it. Naomi seems to be falling forward out of the frame. The languorous, theatrical facial expression and spotlighting complete the enigmatic but startling effect. A wonderful picture, one in a million, I think.
Photo by George A. Housley, Jr.
Photo by Glen Paling
Okay, I have to admit that "Mexican pelicans" as a motif for this Baker's Dozen is something I did not see coming, but you never know what's going to come over the transom. George A. Housley, Jr., has, he says, "a particular interest in images of birds flying," and took his picture of a Brown Pelican years ago in the Mazatlan area of Mexico. Glen Paling was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta over the holidays when he heard of TOP's call for work. His picture shows the rocky coast—with pelican—shot from a high-speed panga while traveling from Yelapa to Boca de Tomatlan. "Yelapa is a cool little fishing village without road access. There are no cars—all roads are cart-sized not car-sized."
Steve Buettner took this "damn interesting interaction of reflection and interior" (and I agree with him, it is) at one of the many abandoned structures found in South Park, Colorado. Why make Photoshop concoctions when the real world is so interesting?
What would a post on black-and-white photography be without at least one "street-style" photograph? It's always tough to make a really successful picture of people from behind their backs, because so many photographers are simply too shy or reticent to take pictures of people they're facing (our friend the late Michael Reichmann showed a bit of that tendency in his people pictures). But when it works, it works. Mark Gregg of Dexter, Michigan, pulled it off here.
"The Chelsea Community Fair is held each year in August and for a few years I worked on this project," Mark writes. "I can't remember the event, but most likely these kids were watching the Demolition Derby, a collision contest where only the strong survive. Favorite cars by participants were old rear wheel drive Detroit models, big Buick or Chevy station wagons out of the 1970s that could take a licking and keep on ticking. Title for this photo is 'Bleacher Boys.'"
The original in this case is a silver print from a film negative, and it's nice to have one of those in this post, too.
Mike Stone is a London, UK based professional photographer "largely working on long term documentaries with a smattering of corporate work." This wry portrait was shot in the winter of 2015 when he spent some time with a Traveler community in County Cavan in the Irish Republic. You can read the full story of the picture on Mike's blog.
I received several pictures which fell under the heading of "nature closeups," and a number of them were more ravishingly beautiful than this. But I spent a lot of time with the large body of submissions over the past few weeks, and what I often find when I do that is that the more immediately appealing pictures that present themselves to my attention right away gradually recede after repeated viewing, and, sometimes, pictures that didn't grab me on first viewing do the opposite and come forward. Some pictures just get stuck in your head.
Like Richard Alan Fox's picture of Naomi, this odd but fascinating composition by Ed Wolpov, age 71, of Bethesda, Maryland, taken at the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in Washington, D.C., seems to work in the way certain modernist paintings do. I don't think an analysis of it would do us much good, but look at it for a while, and maybe revisit it a few times—for me its shapes, complexities and arrangement began to have the same sort of distinct charm I feel from the work of Matisse, or from one of my favorites, Joan Miró of Barcelona. Ed says he photographed in film with small, medium, and large formats, but that, when he finally got his first digital camera, "after almost 50 years of darkroom processing, I finally saw the light." He works in a few different styles, namely landscape, architecture, and travel, but says he "enjoys pushing the envelope with a bit of abstract and conceptual work," mostly in black and white.
I loved the submissions sent by Lois Elling of San Leandro, California, and almost used two of them for this post (although that might have drawn some ire, given that there were so many applications for so few slots). She has a fine eye for composition. This has it all for a zoo shot—classical composition, great light, and a wonderful background. "A family excursion to the San Francisco Zoo was highlighted by a close-up visit with the giraffes to feed them. What beautiful animals they are! I was taken with the pose of this adult and young one inside the building. The light is from a large window."
I used to point out more often than I do now that we're not really looking at photographs online, just little representations of them. (Anyone who has purchased pictures from our print sales knows what I mean). This picture is really too small to see properly here, but I decided not to hold that against it. (You can double-click to embiggen, but it's still too small.) Alex Buisse of Chamonix, France, is a hardworking adventure photographer who, if his "Best of 2017" portfolio is any indication at all, is in his prime as a photographer. He took this dramatic picture "dangling from a rope on a frozen waterfall at night." He added, "it makes me a bit sad for them to be so small." I'd love to see this one 20 inches wide, and his other submission, of a hang glider dwarfed by craggy mountains, 30 inches wide.
Hans Muus of the Netherlands: "This picture is a dyptich, and the result of a small miracle: on a Sunday in April this year, just before dinnertime, I told my girlfriend I missed some essential ingredient for that night’s meal and would try to buy it in the supermarket near my house. Once outside, there was a crow in a nearby acacia tree making a lot of noise. I looked up and saw the bird, with the waxing moon right behind it. After a moment’s hesitation I went back in, said to my S.O. that though chances were slim the bird would wait for me, I really had to give it a try. I grabbed my X-Pro2, put on the telezoom (50–230mm) and hurried out again. The crow had waited for me. I set the camera and the lens and took one shot, and one second later it flew up. Immediately I took the second shot. Then I went back in to drop off the camera, and got out again to buy the groceries I needed.
"We all are familiar with the experience of seeing something without having a camera with us, and returning later to try to make the shot, but returning succesfully for a bird—it still makes me smile. The dyptich format followed naturally, as did the (very short) text, in English: 'hold!/never/a/falling/moon.'"
(As a certified lunatic as well as a great fan of crows, all I can say is that I love this.)
And finally, one more for good measure:
I have to admit that the appeal of this one is a little...specialized, I guess you'd say. In my out-of-the-way area of Upstate New York, by far the best resource for photographers is the George Eastman Museum, a full-scale international museum based in the vast former mansion of the founder of Kodak in Rochester. The original house is part of the Museum, and the heart of the house is the music room, where George used to host tea parties and where he took his breakfast every morning, serenaded by an organist from the local music school he founded, playing what was then the largest organ in the world in a private residence. But the music room is dominated by a giant stuffed elephant head...which, of course, everyone tries to photograph. And therein lies a problem, as our last featured photographer, Mark Rouleau, explains:
"Here's my submission for the B&W Baker's Dozen call for work. I can't say it's a particularly remarkable piece, except that, for me at least, it solved the Elephant Problem.
"What is the Elephant Problem? Well, anybody who's been to the George Eastman House will know that one of the first things you see is the giant elephant head in the main lobby. It is so noticeable and striking that it demands to be photographed. The Elephant Problem is that, since the subject is static, and the number of vantage points to take a photo of that elephant is limited, the number of possible photos is also limited, and there ends up being perhaps a half-dozen different shots that can be gotten, and so they all start looking the same. And on every visit I've taken at least one of those cookie-cutter photos.
"Except for my last visit, where I finally solved the Elephant Problem, at least for myself, with the attached. It may not do a lot for you, but it's a load off my mind."
It's quite possible that I like this picture because I know that house so well, and have walked up that staircase so many times. Or maybe it's because, like so many other people, I too have wrestled with The Elephant Problem! This could stand for the difficulty that faces us all when trying to find our own individual approach to photographic subjects that are too well known and too comprehensively photographed already.
Mark's solution to The Elephant Problem seemed like a nice way to end this post. It offers hope that no subject, even the badly "overexposed" ones, are ever truly exhausted.
A few honorable mentions: I'd like to thank each and every one of you who submitted work for this call. You were legion. Here are the names of some (not all!) of the people whose work it positively pained me to leave out: Donald Vetter, Peter Komar, Thomas Johns, Wayne (no last name given, but, guessing based on his email address, it might be Bruzeks), William Schneider, Stephanie Luke, Dana Thomas, Mark Johnson, John Kennerdell, Jake Schoellkopf, Dan Smith, Robert Johnston (no relation), Hugh Conacher, Robert Deegan, Ed E. Powell, Rob de Loe, Thomas Paris, Brian Schnupp, Christian Lund, John Bergholm, Anton Soliva, Randall Teasley, Bruce Walker, Phil Krzeminski, Wisawa Sripungwiwat, and Chris Fuller. And if you don't see your name here, don't despair—the goal of the final set was not just excellence, but also balance and representativeness.
Technical details and links
Bryan Hansel: "Sony A7II converted to infrared with a [LifePixel] Super Color conversion. Making the black-and-white image takes a few steps. I start in Lightroom and color-correct the image using a custom camera profile. After that I move into Photoshop and use TK Infinity Masks with a pixel output to convert it to black-and-white. After that I bring it back into Lightroom for dodging and burning and final adjustments." The shot was handheld and taken from a canoe. Here's Bryan's website.
Ned Bagno: Although he made "Joe's Flower" with a flatbed scanner, for most of his photography, Ned sold all his digital cameras and bought a medium-format film camera after reading this article on TOP back in 2012, and reports he has "shot nothing but film since then."
Richard Alan Fox
No surprise, Richard Alan Fox is also an accomplished painter (and "a retired COBOL cowboy") who lives in New City, New York and has a studio in the Garner Arts Center in Garnerville, New York. He takes pictures of his children using Olympus and Panasonic Micro 4/3 cameras using Lightroom and Photoshop to convert the raw files. (COBOL cowboys have been in the news lately as they migrate from the workforce into retirement, leaving large scale clients bereft.)
George Housley says he seldom works in black-and-white, as he feels most of his pictures work best in color. He lives near Tupelo, Mississippi, and is still using Canon DSLRs..."for which I apologize," he wrote. No apologies necessary!
Glen Paling made his Mexican pelican picture with a Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera: "I love them for their portability while traveling."
Steve Buettner made his picture in Colorado in 2007 with a Canon 30D ("my first 'serious' digital camera") and EF-S 17–85mm ƒ/4–5.6 kit lens.
Mark Gregg: Nikon F4s with ("probably," he says) the 80–200 ƒ/2.8 zoom. Tri-X film, D-76 developer. "Paper...probably Ilford or Seagull."
Mike Stone took his picture with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8, at 1/200th, ƒ/4, 200 ISO. You can see more of Mike's work at his website.
Ed Wolpov's first digital camera was an Olympus 2020 in 2000, and he now works with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Lightroom. Here's Ed's website.
Lois Elling used a Fujifilm X-E2 and 18–55mm kit lens. Here's more of Lois's work.
Alex Buisse's website is well worth a visit. "This image was shot on a D810 with a Nikkor 16–45 ƒ/4. I used my Elinchrom flash for most of this session but this one was lit by the climber’s headlamp only."
Hans Muus: "Fuji X-Pro2, 50–230mm at 205 mm, 1/125 sec. (IS and no coffee) and ƒ/14. ISO 400, LR and Nik Silver Efex." Hans has a website as well.
Mark Rouleau: "From what I can remember it was taken with an Olympus E-M1 Mark II with a Panasonic 20mm lens. I was playing with DxO Photolab at the time, which is probably why I overdid the local contrast. Conversion was probably DXO Filmpack."
Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ed Donnelly: "Really nice work by all. What a great way to head into the weekend."
Rodolfo Canet: "A glorious selection, indeed, I loved them all, but I must confess I find Mr. Wolpov's image wonderful, absolutely bewitching."
wts: "Most of these would make stunning and unforgettable covers for books and record albums."
Stan B.: "Gotta give it up for the trunk—those giraffes ain't bad either!"