Black & White Prints
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San Francisco de Asis is a famous adobe church a few miles south of Taos, New Mexico. Its strong curved and angular forms have made it one of the most artistically reproduced buildings in the U.S. Depictions of it by Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and others are well known.
I first visited there with my friend Mark Buchner in June, 1997. The adobe was being remudded at the time. I got a few photos, but nothing too great. I visited there again the following summer, this time with my wife Francie. I had the Pentax 67 with me. As we walked around the church I shot photos as the compositions struck me.
It was late morning, the moon was setting in the background, and the sky was quite clear. This particular spot impressed me as the light and shadows seemed to come together just right. For those of you who have visited this place you will remember a string of buildings and stores line the driveways close in along the north & south sides of the church. I set my tripod against one of these buildings or on its boardwalk. I had little or no space to move backwards. I needed the Pentax 45mm ultra wide lens to make the shot, otherwise the church would never have fit in the frame.
I was shooting color print film that day. When it was developed I realized I had a very good image and I had a commercial 11×14 print made. Over the years I have looked in magazines, calendars and galleries for someone who has taken a similar shot. I have yet to see another photograph from this exact spot, but recently I finally saw one taken from near this place.
In the meantime I scanned the negative into the computer. The power lines that appear in real life at the far right were quickly removed. After that I tried my own color print to no avail, but I was unsatisfied with the representation in color. During the intervening years I would revisit the file and try again. No matter how I tried manipulating the image I could not get the colors to faithfully reproduce the colors of the scene, or at least my memory of the scene.
By 2010 my one print had faded to the point where it really bothered me. At the same time I had been spending a lot of time converting color images to black & white on the computer. I was experiencing a low success rate of transformation. For every fifty photos I looked at my sense told me maybe 10 would benefit in B&W while the rest were best in color. For every 10 I tried converting maybe 1 of the 10 looked better in B&W than color.
This is one of those very few. In B&W it absolutely jumps. I hope it jumps for you too.
The White House Ruin
(click photo to enlarge)
You have to want to visit Canyon de Chelly. It is so out of the way that stumbling onto it by chance is difficult. It is 75 miles to the nearest interstate, a tourist train doesn’t visit it, and the closest large town, Gallup, NM, is about a 2 hour drive. It is not a national park, and being in Arizona it is certainly overshadowed by the reputation of the Grand Canyon. However, it is spectacular. In fact that is probably an understatement.
Canyon de Chelly is a National Monument within the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeast Arizona. The nearest settlement is Chinle, a small town just to the west. When Francie and I visited in 2000 there were only few motels in town, and, it seemed, fewer sit down restaurants.
The lands are privately owned. Motorized access is controlled by the National Park Service. There are a few ways to view the canyons. First is via the overlooks off of the state highways. Anyone can go there with a vehicle. If you are fit you can hike to the canyon floor from some of the trails off the overlooks, then hike back.
If you want to visit up close and personal there are two types of tours. The first is in an old open army truck the Navajos call the “shake and bake” tour. The second is in the back of an open jeep, a little more comfortable, but still a shake and bake. Either of these lasts just a few hours and gets the tourist back to one of the hostelries at a decent hour.
A last option is to hire a Navajo guide at an hourly rate. To do so you must provide your own 4 wheel drive equipped vehicle because a 2 wheeled drive won’t cut it. That is what Fran and I did, hiring a guide for 8 hours. We had only one day and we wanted to make the most of it.
Canyon de Chelly is really a series of major canyons whose opening faces to the west as it flows down from Chinle Wash. Canyon de Chelly, and Monument Canyon are on the right, Black Rock Canyon is in the middle, and Canyon del Muerto, the Canyon of Death is to the left.
The only way to enter with a vehicle is via Chinle Wash. My guide asked if I had 4 wheel drive experience. I said I did. As we approached the splits to the various canyons the wash became quite sandy. Even though I followed the tracks of the shake and bake trucks for more packed down sand we slowed and the wheels began to spin. I switched to 4 wheel drive high, but we steadily lost speed and almost ground to a stop. My guide rolled his eyes in his head as if to say “another damned tourist who thinks off roading is parking your vehicle in your garage.” We didn’t get stuck, but I was glad when we hit firmer ground.
I particularly wanted to go to the White House Ruin, but at the guide’s suggestion we headed northeast into Canyon del Muerto. He explained the light was better in the afternoon at the White House Ruin. Northeast we went, stopping at various ruins and petroglyphs on the way, and passing ranches and shacks where Navajo still live and work. We made it as far as the Mummy Ruin with good photographs all the way.
By the time I had shot my photos at the Mummy Ruin 4 hours or more had already passed and I don’t think we had even traveled 8 miles. It was time to head to the White House Ruin about 10 miles away. I made it there in an hour, this time with compliments from the guide.
When we left the Mummy Ruin it was beginning to get cloudy. By the time we arrived at the White House ruin it was almost completely overcast and threatening rain. I scouted the area quickly and chose a spot to shoot. As I shot my horizontals I had a bit of sun to add brightness to the otherwise diffuse light. For the horizontals I used the Pentax 67, for the verticals I went to the Linhof 617.
It began to sprinkle and become more overcast as I was ready to shoot the verticals. Francie held an umbrella to protect the lens. Both formats yield great prints. The vertical panoramic format covers the near foreground up to the top of the cliff face including some sky, which is totally white from the clouds. I crop the photo to show more rock face above the ruins and stop just below the sky.
When I got my transparencies back I realized photographers sometimes have an inherent 6th sense about composition – or your subconscious remembers something and you imitate it. A comparison to famous photographs of the ruin show I was shooting from about the same spot as Ansel Adams in 1942. A comparison to Timothy O’Sullivan’s photograph in 1873 suggests he was standing behind and to the viewer’s right, but probably within 25-30 yards of this same place.
In his book Mountain Light Galen Rowell remarks upon the similarity of photographs in this same place (page 9), but to some extent that is dictated by the topography of the land. At that time I had not read Rowell since the mid 90’s, I did not have any copies of Adam’s photographs with me, nor did I have a copy of O’Sullivan’s print. I certainly did not intend to imitate anyone other than to visit a famous place. The photographers have decades between them and a different interpretation of the same scene yet the photos look like they might have used the same tripod divots.
During this visit my sense of composition told me to go with a short telephoto on the horizontals and the ultrawide lens on the Linhof. After comparing my compositions to the O’Sullivan and Adams photographs I have decided their use of a wider angle lens is quite effective. If I get another chance to visit the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly I will keep that in mind.
Shot with Linhof 617 Panoramic camera, 90mm Schneider lens, center weighted 1 stop neutral density filter, Velvia film. Converted to B&W.
Red Rock Canyon State Park
(click photo to enlarge)
Red Rock Canyon State Park is about 20 miles north of Mojave, CA. Highway 395 runs right through it. Motorists heading north from L.A. to the eastern Sierras drive within 200 yards of this cliff face. I shot this on the way up to a Mono Lake photo workshop.
It was about noon. I had tried shooting the cliffs at Red Rock Canyon many times, but I was never quite happy with the results. On this trip I had black and white transparency film with me. As I entered the canyon I noticed the interesting clouds and remembered this cliff faces south into the sun.
I turned into the parking lot at the base of these cliffs, set up the camera & tripod, then put a red #25 filter on the lens hoping to render the sky dark on the film.
The transparencies of this shot have much less contrast than the print. As such they have no drama. In Photoshop I separated the sky from the cliffs then enhanced each of them in turn. This was the result. I keep a 16×20 hanging in a prominent place in my office. I think it is a very strong image.
Shot with a Pentax 67 camera, 55 mm lens, Agfa Scala black & white transparency film, red #25 filter, tripod.
Point No Point Lighthouse
(click photo to enlarge)
I was in Washington State a few weeks during October, 2010. This had been a prolific trip so far. On the trip up I took the Mono Lake Evening shot (10-15-11), the Aspen with the fisheye lens (10-16-11), & the Old Building Kent OR (10-17-11) which are shown elsewhere on this website.
On October 24 I had nothing planned so I went exploring for some Washington State lighthouses. I drove from Tacoma up to the top of the peninsula facing the Admiralty Inlet. I arrived there late in the afternoon, maybe 3 or 3:30. The light was not yet warm, the wind was really blowing, and it was in the high 40s. I parked the truck near the lighthouse, bundled up against the wind and cold and went hunting for some shots.
This was 8th of the 52 I shot that day. A few of the others are good, most are trash. I recall I thought nothing much of this composition at the time, preferring others instead. This composition was part of a bracket of 3, the others being 1/80th & 1/60th of a second. From here I immediately moved on to what turned out to be less interesting photos. Originally in color it shows two people fishing in the middle distance out by the rocks. The color shot showed very little detail in the sky.
Once on the computer this one seemed to have a little more appeal. As an experiment I converted the photo to B&W with Nik Silver Efex 2 software, used the full contrast & structure mode, & a red filter overlay. The clone stamp in Photoshop easily blotted out the two small people on the rocks. The walls of the lighthouse facing the sun have little or no contrast, but don’t seem too obvious to the eye. I lightened the deep shadows in the foreground and there it was.
By now I’ve had some interesting comments on this. One person told me they liked the shot because of the dramatic sky, then added that they never even noticed the lighthouse. I didn’t quite know what to reply.
Shot handheld with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 35 mm on the 24-105mm f4 lens, ISO 200, F 11 aperture, 1/100th of a second exposure, Skylight filter.
This was shot July, 2011 on one of two visits I made to White Sands National Monument. An underexposed color version in a horizontal format appears in one of my posts. This was shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with the 24-105mm lens and a UV filter. Particulars are ISO 200, the lens was at 24mm, f/22, 1/200th of a second exposure. It has been converted to black & white via Silver Efex Pro 2.