Recently, I came across an article that asked “Has digital technology ruined black and white photography?”. I believe it has, but before I explain why, I would like to discuss how black and white photographs were printed long before digital age of photography.
Every photographer strives to capture the best image in camera, coloured filters were used to create specific effects (a red filter was used to give the photograph an extreme, dramatic contrast). Other than that, the only other option the photographer had was to deliberately over or underexpose the image.
On the right is Dennis Stock’s photograph of James Dean taken in 1955. The notations on the photograph were made by a printer, Pablo Inirio. The notations represent how much lighter or darker Pablo wanted to make specific parts of the image to produce the print on the left. This level of photographic manipulation was more common than we probably realize.
Photographs made by today’s digital cameras are saved as colour images. If the photographer wants it black and white, he or she would have to make the conversion in some sort of photo editing software. Based on what I’ve seen; digital photographers stop at this point; they must feel their job is done. To illustrate my point, compare the two photographs below.
The photograph on the left is the image straight out of my camera, the photograph on the right is the same image converted to black and white. Other than one is in colour, both photographs are identical. From what I’ve seen, many photographers don’t edit their photographs after conversion. This is why I believe that digital technology has ruined black and white photography.
I believe every photograph needs some level of post-production editing. Each photograph is an individual and should be processed as individuals. All of my photographs go through some level of post-production. The colour photograph on the left should be processed differently than the black and white photograph on the right. Below is the same photograph that I processed as black and white.
Photographs straight out of camera are the photographer’s canvas. Like a painter, every stroke that is applied is intentional, and is the photographer’s interpretation of what he or she saw and felt the moment the photograph was made. Photographers who don’t process their black & white photographs differently than their colour counterparts, are doing a disservice to themselves, their clients, fans, and their art.