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Wednesday, 19 April 2017


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I'll stick to black and white for photo essays.

Keep coming back to this one. Never disappoints.


"Less than a thousand" photobooks, if it is not too much less, doesn't sound small to me. I would estimate that is approaching 20 m of tall shelves. Where do you put them all. And how easily can you find them?

"It was Carl Weese who said to me way back in the mid-'90s that B&W was already essentially perfect—true—but that digital was the coming of age of color."

You have mentioned this in the blog multiple times, and I took it to heart the first time I read it (here) because, it is, yes, true! I have even exchanged correspondence with Carl about the exact quote, and although he admits saying something to the effect, he apparently doesn't remember the exact phrase, either. I still use it when teaching black and white, however.


Mike, if you can offer for sale Darkroom, by Lustrum Press (Ralph Gibson) I'll love you forever. I had a soft cover version of this book and I almost worn it away. One day I threw it out and I have regretted it ever since. Even though I now shoot digital, I still miss that book.


There are some nice examples of black and white tonality in these photos by Nobuyuki Kobayashi - https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2017/mar/22/nature-photography-nobuyuki-kobayashi-japan.

Incidentally, the Guardian is becoming a very interesting source of photos.

Mike, your pictures are great examples to calibrate our eyes but it's difficult to find them in different posts. Maybe you could consider puting link (for example on the left side of the blog) to gallery of your B&W pictures? And maybe link to color pictures, too? :-)

Some images require color to work well (e.g. s carnival midway at night). for some images, color is a distraction and needs B&W (e.g. many street scenes). For many it can go either way. DIgital makes the decision so much easier than with film. No more carrying two cameras, or makng internegatives in the darkroom. Now versions in color and B&W can be viewed side by side, and the choice made. For many photographers, the question is how to choose, and how to adjust B&W tonality for the best effects. Hopefully you will cover this in detail. So far, very good.

Clyde Butcher is a master artist. He is known for his black and white landscape photos of uninhabitable parts of Florida. Until recently, he used 8 X 10 and larger view cameras and black and white film. He's older now and mostly shoots digital black and white. He's a super nice guy and has a brilliant way of seeing. I know his books are available on Amazon as well as from his studio/gallery in Venice, Florida.

Amazon Canada is offering the Dave Heath book for a deal still at CDN$61.73


My personal gold standard for B&W printing in books has always been Howard Bond's "Light Motifs." It's a selection of his photos of cathedrals and churches in England. Printed by Gardner/Fulmer Lithograph in 1984, the images have perfectly rendered highlight and shadow detail with exquisite mid-range contrast. They are also printed in a warm brown tone which resembles the old Agfa Portriga Rapid paper, in a good way. These reproductions can stand up to the actual prints of most first-class photographers. I've never seen better than these.

Another book of the same vintage, 1985, and also printed by Gardner/Fulmer Lithograph is Linda Butler's "Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy." Butler's images are softer in contrast and more open feeling, but printed with great depth and richness.

A more recent book is Don Worth's 2005 "Close to Infinity." Published by Photography West Graphics and printed by Duel Graphics, Inc., this one is close to the epitome of west coast B&W. Deep blacks, sparkling whites, and nearly 3D in visual impact, "Close to Infinity" is close to perfect.

Honorable mentions are Walker Evans "First and Last" and the four volume Atget set from MOMA. All of these are about as good as they get for me.

I remember commenting on a previous article of yours concerning your disdain of current black and white photos. I pointed my website to you, and you said, "you understand tonality". Thanks for that, and thanks for this short series on black and white tonality.

Ansel Adams' Examples is one of my favorite books. The background information on these images is solid gold. It's a great how-to and photo book in one.

I wouldn't call a thousand book library small! I have no idea how many books I have, preferring to keep multiple bookcases scattered throughout the house.
Sadly, I have been in homes where there are no bookcases, or indeed, books at all.
I try to avoid those people, but try to cultivate friendships with people who keep their books and music (albums, preferably) on display!

Wow! I am impressed at how the price went up in a single day for your suggestions -the bargain offers being obviously taken by your readers. You are having a minor Parr-Badger effect on the market!

Really appreciating and enjoying this series of articles. Looking forward to learning a lot. I bought the David Heath book when it was recommended, happy I have it now.

On a separate but related point, I photograph in colour more than B&W, and am now wondering what you would consider are good references for colour. Any suggestions?

Hi Mike;
This is a good series. Thank you.

This stuff begins with a negative or file. When working with film, zone placement is fairly straightforward. As for a full set of values, photography, like other arts, shouldn't be restrictive (Man Ray's Rayography).

In the digital world, (to my mind) there are two camps: The image capture camp and the printing camp. I like pigment printing technology; it gives me greater control and richer values in a rag paper print than I got with silver or dye transfer. To me, the image capture camp is murky and unknown with new cameras and sensors every year. In the film days, if you didn't like the sensor you could easily change it for a few dollars. Now the film comes imbedded in the camera and you're stuck with it.

I did my color film work primarily with Kodachrome 64. When exposing it I worked from the top down. Metering for the highest values and judged what the areas of the scene receiving little light would look like. With black and white film I do the opposite. I measure shadow values and adjust for highlights in processing. When working in digital black and white, I treat the exposure as I would a color transparency exposure, working from the top down. With studio lights, I photograph a white card and look for a spike in the histogram. Recording image values in digital capture (black and white) is completely different from the way values are recorded on B+W film. The color digital and the color film reversal process are more similar.

Digital camera BS:
For me, gaining a good command of any current serious digital camera is a challenge. When a camera (sensor) is reviewed and it's reported Dynamic Range is said to be 14 stops, I'm not sure I know what that means. I know 14 should be better than 12, (RedCamera now has a 16+ DR sensor
http://www.red.com/products/epicw-8k?utm_source=red.com&utm_medium=homepage_slide_epicw&utm_campaign=Resolution_Matters )
but where are those extra stops? Above neutral gray or below, or spread evenly over the range. No one talks of distribution, as per your highlight contrast vs. shadow contrast comment Mike. Does that sensor respond to all lighting situations similarly? Will the distribution be the same at 6000 deg K as it is at 2000 deg K? It takes me some time to learn a sensor. I can't do it in a day or two. Maybe the Tech reviewers are smarter and more knowledgeable than I am. But, until I see the values printed on paper, to me, the Tech babble is just that..
Fuji's new X-Trans sensor seems really good for B+W work (Fuji marketing says they more closely emulated film). Many agree on this. That's not scientific/Tech data, that's an artist's opinion(s) and of greater value to me when selecting a camera to test. How do I extrapolate that kind of information from a DxOMark Report?

From images I've seen, Sony's IMX-193-AQK sensor is of interest. Some report it's used in the Nikon D7200 (a camera I might buy), while others say the D7200 uses a Toshiba HEZ1 TOS-5105 sensor. Does any TOP reader know for sure?




Conspiracy theory: As I recall, the earthquake in Japan closed Nikons sensor foundry along with Sony's. Was there a supply problem for Sony sensors forcing a switch to Toshiba? How would I find out? I can find the beginning SN for the change in Nikon's switch from a plastic to metal take up fork in the F100. How do I find out which sensor really lives in a D7200? And, if there was a change, when did it happen?

Digital cameras are like laptops. If you find one you like, in a couple of years the manufacturer may no longer support it. Batteries and compatible memory may be tough to find. You're forced to buy a new camera. This technology was a gift to camera makers.

To be able to previsualize really well with a digital sensor I need a lot of time with it. I need to know its nature. When working with B+W film, I don't give it any thought, it comes quickly after some years at it. I don't make friends with my digital gear. I have old Nikon film cameras that I still use a lot. They're old friends. Digital cameras are around for a year or two and by the time I begin to know them they are gone... before they quickly deprecate to salvage value. They aren't friends, they're just visiting tools that are hard for me to get to know.

I think film, scanned and pigment printed or silver wet printed, is a more suitable medium for black and white photography than anything digitally captured. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some wonderful digital B&W images - but, nothing film couldn't do as well.

Some qualities can't be adjusted in post production.

First, the story about Kent is why I hang out at this joint. Heckuva a crowd at this place! Second, you keep driving me to purchase books! I'd complain, but, books!

One of my favorite aspects to photography is that the medium defines the art in so many ways, and how the decisions made by(and for) the artist define the end result. Tonality isn't always totally controlled by whim; if you're shooting for newsprint your choices are more limited than if you're putting on a gallery show, or printing Palladium. So diving through a lot of collections helps to get a sense of what possibilities exist that I've not been exposed to - digital spoils you a bit with an illusion of endless choices, the reality being there are so many possibilities you quickly limit yourself.

At your suggestion I bought the recent reprint of Koudelka's Gypsies. Best prints I've seen in a book.

So many books, so little time. And money. Great reading about Kent Reno. You don't hear much about pilot-photographers. The ones I now are not very good. Myself included...

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