I’ve noticed that lately (=past few months) I’ve been doing a lot of (=a few more than usual) black and white pictures. It has gotten me wondering if something has changed with me, because I’ve never really had any appreciation for b&w pictures. Which is kind of strange actually, because if my goal is to simplify my pictures, then wouldn’t it be logical that I would also eliminate the colour from them? But the answer to that is that I’m a nature photographer. Most of photography (if you don’t like the generalisation, then read it as ”most of my photography”) is actually documentary; what sets photographers apart from each other is how we document it. For me, colour is an essential part of nature. I don’t think I’ve ever even considered converting any of my flower pictures to b&w, because what is a flower without its colour? The botanist in me wants to portray the flower, the only tricks I will use are a careful selection of background and foreground, DOF and composition. That’s flower photography 101.
So back to this b&w issue then. Since colour is so important to me, the only times when I’ve converted a picture to b&w, it has happened out of necessity, not out of inspiration. In other words, I’ve had a picture I’ve otherwise liked but where I just can’t make the colours work. Use greyscale, problem solved. So why are so many of my recent favourite pictures b&w? Just a coincidence of having a lot of colour issues recently, or a shift in my thinking?
I decided to put this to a test. I couldn’t have picked a better day for it for sure, a typical November’s day with sleet, rain, drizzle, fog, low clouds, icy lakes and creeks and low light. I drove to one of my favourite places, the Svartån creek with old pine forest, rocks, cliffs and all kinds of mosses and lichens. Normally I visit this place to shoot the waterfalls, but this time I was set on exploring the forest instead. A good choice, because I found that the cliffs around the creek were covered with wet ice; it would’ve been stupid dangerous to venture on them when they were so slippery that you couldn’t even stand still on the cliffs without your feet starting to glide. So there I was in the forest, with a goal to find b&w pictures – not something that I will convert to greyscale as an afterthought, but something that I know even beforehand that I want in b&w. It was a good exercise and I spent a lot of time exploring the place, which gave me a great opportunity to reflect on this b&w issue. I came to the conclusion that my photographic preferences haven’t really shifted. I think what has happened is that I have learned to accept b&w as a creative option, so it has become a tool in my photographic toolbox just like DOF or background control or the shutter speed. But one thing hasn’t changed – I still don’t think that b&w is a ”one size fits all” option. The best way (only way?) to use it is when it brings out something in the picture that colour can hide. But let’s face it, how often does that happen in documentary style nature photography?