Posts Tagged ‘black-and-white photography’

I love the way that Bufflehead ducks (Bucephala albeola) run across the surface of the water to gain speed before taking off, like this male bufflehead that I spotted last Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The images were already pretty much monochromatic because of the limited light, so I decided to do a black-and-white conversion of them.

If you look closely at the first image, you will see that my camera’s shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the motion of the water, but slow enough that the wings are blurred, which I think enhances the sense of speed. The wing tips are blurred in the second image as well and we also have a really cool reflection of the bufflehead after it has successfully taken to the air.



© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Over the last four years I have grown comfortable photographing birds, insects, and other creatures, primarily in the friendly confines of my favorite local marshland park. I am familiar with many of the best spots and I know how to use my gear to capture images when the opportunities arise.

This past weekend I stepped way out of my comfort zone when I took pictures at my brother’s wedding. It was indoors, required the use of flash, and, worst of all, involved people. I guess that it is fair to say that I am pretty insecure about my ability to photograph people. Unlike many others, I don’t routinely snap photos of people with my cell phone. In fact, I got my first “smart” phone over a year ago and have yet to take a single photo with it.

The bride asked me to take some photos, so I decided to see what I could do. One of the best pieces of advice came from my niece’s boyfriend who was seated next to me at the reception—he looked at my camera gear and told me I could afford to be bold with gear like that.

Well, things turned out better than I expected. I got some pretty good candid shots. I came away from the experience realizing that all of my hours in the field with wildlife had prepared me better for the wedding than I had realized. I’m not ready to become a wedding photographer, but I might start thinking about photographing people more often.

Here are a few shots from the reception, including a couple of my brother that I converted to black and white.






© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What kind of subjects lend themselves to black and white film? Can you decide beforehand and try to see the world in black and white, as I started out trying to do, or do you decide afterwards, as most people do when converting digital images to black and white?

This is the continuing story of my experimentation with a totally mechanical Nikon F SLR loaded with Ilford HP 5 Plus black and white film. I wandered through the streets of Washington D.C. looking for subjects and came upon this bust of noted Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov outside of the Russia House restaurant on Connecticut Avenue.

I worked hard on this one to try to compose it and shoot it in an interesting way and I like the way that it turned out. It turned out that focusing manually is tougher than I thought, even with the visual assists in the viewfinder of a film camera, like the micro prism. I was definitely out of practice and I worried that all of my images would be soft and out of focus. This image reassured me that if I am careful, I can get relatively sharp images and capture details like the texture that you can see on the hands and the head of the statue.

Andrei Sakharov

Eventually I made my way to the National Zoo and last week I posted some digital shots of some of the animals that I encountered there. The zoo posed a big problem for me in getting a proper exposure, because there was a mixture of harsh midday sunshine and shadows. As I looked over my negatives, I realized that I need to meter more often—I took a series of shots of lions that were sometimes in the sunshine and sometimes in the shade and overexposed many of the shots.

However, one of my favorite images of the roll of film was this one of a female lion that was properly exposed and captured a good amount of detail. At this point in the day, I had switched to a Tokina 80-200mm lens to give myself a bit of additional reach.


So could I take the kind of wildlife/nature shots that I normally feature with a film camera? It would be tough to do so, but this shot of a Monarch butterfly suggests that it would not be impossible. The pattern of the Monarch is so well-known, that most of us can imagine its orange and black coloration without actually seeing the colors. This is the only one of my black and white images on which I did a significant crop, and you can see how the background has become a bit grainy.

Monarch butterfly

For folks who are interested in the process, I developed the film with Ilfosol 3 developer, a general purpose developer. I exposed the film as though it were ISO 200, instead of the box speed of ISO 400, and learned that pulling the film like this is likely to lead to lower contrast (while shooting it at higher speeds will tend to give more contrast). I scanned the negatives with a Canoscan 8400f scanner as TIFF files and did a few adjustments in Photoshop Elements 11.

So what did I learn? I learned to slow down and be more deliberate as I contemplate my shots; I learned to look past some of the colors of the world and search for shapes and lines and contrast; and I leaned the value in producing my images in a manual, hands-on way, leading to a greater sense of ownership of those images.

I learned a lot, though clearly I have a lot more to learn as I continue to explore this new/old area of photography.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you ever feel a desire to step outside of your comfort zone in your photography, to capture some images in a completely different way, to return to the basics of our craft? For the last month, I have felt an irresistible urge to shoot some black and white film, something that I haven’t done in over thirty years.

When I told some folks at work that I was planning to shoot some film during a week of vacation, one of them responded by asking if I was making a movie. I patiently explained that I would be putting some black and white film into a non-digital camera. He stared back at me with a look of incredulity and asked if I couldn’t simply convert some of my digital images into black and white.

I still have some analog cameras, but most of them have some electronic assists—I wanted a truly mechanical camera. I found a Nikon F SLR with a 50mm f/1.4 lens on my local Craigslist. The Nikon F introduced in 1959, was Nikon’s first SLR, although this particular camera was produced in 1971, judging from its serial number. The camera is so basic that it requires no battery. When was the last time you took photos with a camera without a battery? The camera has no meter and I ended up using my DSLR as the meter.

Nikon F

What about film? I went to one of the last remaining camera stores in our area and bought a couple of rolls of Ilford HP5+ film, a black and white film with a “box speed” of ISO 400. I ended up shooting it at ISO 200, because it was very sunny and bright the day that I went shooting. (Using the “sunny 16” guidelines, I would have been shooting all day at 1/500 sec and f/16.)

What should I shoot? I decided that an urban environment would be more suitable for my film project than my normal wildlife environment, so I got on the metro and headed into Washington D.C. with my Nikon SLR and my Canon DSLR in tow.

I got off on the elevated outdoor metro platform at Reagan National Airport and my first shot was of the airport’s control tower. I wanted to try to find subjects with shapes and lines that would show up in black and white. (I am including some digital shots of the same subjects at the end of the post. I didn’t try to exactly match the shots, but they give you an idea of the differences in how the cameras rendered the subjects.)

Reagan National Airport

The next shot was of the Metro’s ceiling at the underground station in Rosslyn, Virginia. (You may have already seen a similar shot that I took with my digital camera and posted last week.)


I exited the Metro in Rosslyn and walked across the Key Bridge into Georgetown. From the bridge, I took this shot of part of the waterfront in Georgetown. I like the old time feel of this shot.

Georgetown waterfront

One of the first things that you see when you cross the bridge is Dixie Liquors, an old-fashioned liquor store with a really cool sign that I have always liked.

Dixie Liquors

That was the start of my adventure with film. As I had hoped, I was looking at the world with different eyes and was forced to slow down, knowing I had to input manually the shutter speed and aperture and very conscious of the fact that I had no auto focus to help me. I was also shooting with a fixed focal length lens, so I did not have the luxury of zooming in and out. Most of all, though, I was filled with uncertainty, not knowing for sure if any of my shots would come out, worrying that my old camera might have a light leak or that I would mess up the development of the film.

I’ll continue my saga in another posting or two in the upcoming weeks. As promised, here are some digital shots that I took as I used my Canon DSLR as a meter for my manual Nikon.

control tower Reagan National Airport

metro ceiling

Georgetown waterfront

Dixie Liquors

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On an overcast day last week, I came across this Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), silhouetted against an almost white sky. As I was focusing on him, he hopped to a slightly higher branch. He didn’t flap his wings at all, and I managed to catch him in mid-air.


The image was underexposed and as I played with it to bring back some of the details, I realized it was already almost black and white. It was not a far stretch to desaturate the photo and play around in black and white. In fact, it was so much fun that I decided to work on a second photo of the same mockingbird.


I think I need to work on my techniques a little more, but I like the initial results of my dabbling in black and white.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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