Like most photographers who have been shooting for 4 decades or more I learned the basics of my craft in a Black and White darkroom. During the first week of Photography School we learned to properly expose film by calibrating our light meters with our processing techniques. The purpose was to teach us to be consistent. Later we learned to identify the qualities of a fine B&W print and the basics of composition. Ultimately we learned to “see” through the eyes of a Photographer. And we learned to see the world in Black and White. Where others saw colors and tones, we learned to see shapes and textures. We looked for contrasting elements: big and little, hard and soft, dark and light My personal viewfinder was turned on 24/7. And now, 45 years later, I can’t turn it off even if I wanted to.
Whether I’m driving Hwy 83 to and from work or taking a walk in the park with my dogs, I’m always observing the light. And I’m constantly thinking “I wonder…what would that look like at sunrise or sunset.” It’s a series of what if scenarios. “What if I shot that at sunrise slightly off axis with a tiny hint of rim light?” Okay, maybe I don’t go to that extreme but I do tend to visualize what a scene would look like and many times I consider what it would look like in B&W. I can “see” the finished print in my mind. Sometimes I even go out with cameras looking for images that will make a great B&W print and I start seeing in monochrome mode. The image at the top of the blog is a perfect example.
I’ve driven past these chollas near Apache Junction, AZ many times while visiting my daughter and her family who live southeast of Phoenix. And every time I’ve driven by I thought to myself how they would look in Black and White and what lighting conditions would be best. I didn’t actually think “gee, wouldn’t it be great if there were some amazing thunderstorm clouds behind them” but I did narrow the choices down to either strong backlighting which is always attractive for chollas, or maybe really soft really early sunrise light. I had an idea of shooting this scene but for several years I was never in the area during the right lighting conditions.
About 3 weeks ago during my hopefully annual trip to Spring Training and a long weekend visiting with my daughter, I woke one morning to the sound of rain bouncing off the roof. When I peeked outside and saw the clouds forming this image popped into my mind. I knew I had to get up the road to Apache Junction so I grabbed my camera bag and headed out. While I was driving I was also running things through my mind: What sort of composition would be best? Would the clouds lift enough to display the way I wanted? What sort of processing in Nik SilverEfex would be best? With all this running through my mind I pulled off Hwy 50 and got set up for the shot. The clouds cooperated, I got the shot, and you see the result.
Since 1976 I’ve been trained to see through the Eyes of a Photographer. I can’t turn it off….and I don’t really want to.