I love tones. I sometimes convert pictures to B&W just for fun, as a way of relaxing, like other people play "Angry Birds."
Contemplating Henry Wessel recently, I was mulling over the change in B&W printing styles in my lifetime.
It's impossible for us to see, now, how radical Ansel Adams was when he reached his mature style. It was like he'd slid the "Structure" slider* to 11. His contemporaries could barely believe it.
Now, he looks normal or on the mild side of normal.
Tones of gray, I think, are analogous to tones experienced in sound reproduction equipment. It's well known that in deconstructing audiophile tastes in sound quality, some people prefer the middle tones and some people gravitate to the extremes. "Soot and chalk," is how Adams denigrated excessive contrast. "Boom and sizzle" is the direct audiophile equivalent, a phrase that denigrates loudspeakers that push all the musical tones to the extremes of bass and treble.
Not every B&W photograph has to have "black blacks and white whites." (The English term "monochrome" might be useful here, because it doesn't have the idea of including the extremes built into the name. Although it might err in the opposite direction if you conflate the word (which means "one color") with "monotone" (which means "a sound unchanging in pitch and without intonation").
Here's a picture of Butters that doesn't contain any white tones:
(You've probably been a B&W printer if you looked at this and immediately thought, "except for the highlights in the eyes.")
I'm a midtones guy myself. I don't just like B&W, I like grays. Specific tones of gray and how they relate to other tones near them are what make B&W prints "sing."
(It's why the print is the true medium for B&W photographs. The tonal placement in prints can be precise, although they can look different under incorrect lighting.)
I don't think I got this conversion quite right. I'll look at it a few times today and then try again.
P.S. Is it just me, or do Fuji X-trans files convert to B&W particularly well? Has anyone else noticed that? (The two photos above weren't taken with a Fuji, though, they were taken with the E-M1.)
*A local contrast enhancing slider in Nik SilverEfex 2.
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Featured Comments from:
Gordon: "The one photographer whose prints always gave/give me goosebumps for their delicacy and beauty is Frederick Sommer, who seemed to ply his trade mainly in zones V, VI, and VII. Ignoring what you might think of his subject matter, I can't think of anyone who could coax more glowing beauty out of a black and white photograph than he did."
Huw Morgan: "This is a subject that fascinates me a lot and I tend to flip and flop on high contrast versus low depending on the last photography show that I saw.
"For example, a couple of years ago, I saw a show of Robert Mapplethorpe photos. These exhibited the blackest blacks and the whitest whites I've ever seen. The prints had a huge 'presence,' like listening to Wagner on full-range floor speakers with the volume turned up to 11. However, I couldn't afford the prints ($10,000 and up), so I have no idea if they would lead to visual fatigue with exposure over time.
"On the other extreme, I have a book by one of my favorite photographers, James Ravilious, who worked for many years in a remote corner of England taking subtle, gentle photographs of a vanishing country life. Ravilious took many of his photographs through a yellow filter to create prints with a silvery gray appearance, almost like infrared photography. There are virtually no extreme blacks and whites in his prints. Whenever I feel particularly harried or stressed, I like to take out the Ravilious book and lose myself in the gentle English countryside replete with sheep and cows. This would be the musical equivalent of putting on a vinyl recording of a Satie composition.
"Perhaps the key to my internal debate is that there is room for both Wagner and Satie in the musical universe and the personal listening choice between them is dependent on mood and taste. I'm more inclined to produce images on the Ravilious end of the spectrum, but that's probably because I'm older now and more appreciative of subtlety in everything—wine, music and art."