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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Shades of Grey: Part One

Most of the time I shoot in colour, typically as landscape photography lends itself to showing the natural world in vivid Technicolour (wait, we've progressed past Technicolour... right?), however sometimes circumstances lend themselves better to monochrome.

We all complain about the weather, whether it be too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet. Usually if it's not ideal outside we'd all stay indoors. Certainly in terms of photography, grey overcast skies are arguably the worst (for me) as they offer poor light, little contrast, nothing of interest and will dull the colours of everything around you.

But this should not keep you (as a photographer) indoors. The weather is constantly changing, potentially offering new opportunities of light and scenery. Besides which, if the landscape is persistently uninspiring there are always other options. As a basic you could always look at improving whatever images you have captured in a post-production suite like 'Lightroom 4'. Personally I prefer to capture an image as close to perfect (bearing in mind there's always room for improvement) in-camera and so will minimise the editing of my images.

Alternatively you could either focus on macro photography and delve into another (smaller) world altogether. Or you can switch your camera settings to monochrome. Doing the latter will neutralise all colour (obviously) but will also stretch your creativity by limiting the palette you're working with.

Of course there are far more occasions to use monochrome than just bad weather. I will always switch to monochrome, for example, when I'm shooting street. My intention being to use texture, shape and pattern as the focus of those images rather than hoping a bright and vivid colour doesn't misdirect the attention of any viewers.


In September last year, I was walking through the City of Truro; a lovely City which to me feels more spacious and calming than most other cities I've spent time in. On my way back to the car park via the Lemon Quay subway I found a busker playing in the shelter of the subway. Unusually though, while most buskers play the guitar this one was playing the violin (and well too to my ear, I even left a tip).

I had my camera with me, my D3100 with the standard 18-55mm kit lens, and I decided to perch myself at the opening to the subway, on the opposite side to the violinist. It was a bright day and the sun was blaring at the subway's opposite opening creating quite a bit of contrast, but more importantly (for me at the time) the busker was being back-lit by the natural light.

I was aiming for a silhouette shot with the busker as the main focus (although back then I couldn't have described my intention so succinctly as just). Being a busker I figured he wasn't going to move anywhere in a hurry and so I had time to stop and experiment. I began shooting, gradually extending my focal length. I found the 55mm focal length was perfect. Well maybe not perfect, as I did have to crop out some undesirables that were within my frame (like an abandoned shopping trolley). 

I didn't move position to circumvent such problems. I doubt I subconsciously wanted to avoid spooking the violinist by getting to close with a camera. More likely I was happy with my perch, bearing in mind foot traffic passing frequently by, and I knew I had a crop tool on my laptop.

Nikon D3100, Nikkor 18-55mm @ 55mm, 1/50s @ f5.6, ISO 200

I had taken multiple shots, each as a single shot rather than continuously firing, with different levels of exposure. I knew from the in-camera reviews it was the lesser exposed images that were more what I was after. Showing more of a contrast between the subway shadows and the brightness beyond. I even liked the reflected light from the puddled water down the one side. It added a texture to the image (I felt). After a while I figured I'd captured enough shots and moved on.

Once uploaded, I cropped the most favoured image, (removing the offending shopping trolley) slightly increased the contrast level to properly make it a silhouette, and then I was happy.