“If you are not passionately devoted to an idea, you can make very pleasant pictures but they won’t make you cry.”
 ~ Ruth Bernhard

For the remainder of this year, I’m going to make a commitment to Black and White Photography. Everything I shoot will be edited in B&W… or at least nearly everything. During this backpacking journey, one of my goals is to be better with photography. Yes, I am always talking about becoming better or trying to show YOU how to become better. This will never stop. I’m going to continue to be a spokesman for my craft. I love photography in its various forms and genres. There’s enough learning to last a lifetime. Here is why I am choosing B&W Photography to help me achieve this.

Art Model, Leslie ©2015 Terrell Neasley

1. The Challenge

I want to up my game. Putting limitations on myself forces me to exercise photo muscles that can become complacent when you have the ease of use of color. I am already challenging myself with the use of only two lenses. I presently travel with a 55mm 1.8 and a 20mm 1.4. I have nothing in the tele-range. I even left the 90mm macro at home.

I desire to also see light better. I’m pretty decent at judging an exposure without a light meter when necessary. I feel I need to be able to, not just measure light, but I want to see the potential and the opportunities in it. Black and White forces me to stick to the principles of highlights, the mids, and shadows. Without the distraction of color, I am able to focus more on just the light.

Art Model, Safia Sarai ©2016 Terrell Neasley

My first great challenge, back in 2005 as I began in photography, was exposing for snow without making it appear gray or blown out relative to the rest of the composition. So I learned to be better at measuring light. My second great challenge has stuck with me the most. It was being able to THINK in B&W despite what I saw in color. Before I moved to Vegas, I had the opportunity to visit for a few months (summer of 2006) the year before actually moving there in 2007. I shot a nude black woman using film on the red rocks of Valley of Fire. When I tried to process those shots, there was barely any contrast between the model and the rocks! Try dodging and burning that! I did not consider the tone over her skin nor the rocks when shot on black and white film. It was a painstaking process unless I wanted to just be lazy with bland low contrast work. That’s not me. I should automatically know what yellow, purple, or brown converts to in monochrome.

B&W work will help me with composition development through a greater emphasis on lines, shape, texture, patterns, repetition, and creating art purely via the juxtaposition of light vs. shadow. I want to be able to “see” more clearly and when I can do that, I find the opportunities for impressive compositions. Seeing the potential will help me with the patience to let a scene develop until I have the right compositional elements at my disposal.

Art Model, Safia Sarai, ©2015 Terrell Neasley

2. Learn More About the Sum of Light

This will be a study. I’m going to learn about light, the characteristics of it, how to best use it, as well as when to use it. I say the Sum of Light because I will focus more on the visible aspect of light… it’s sum totality, rather than the spectrum of light, or the color pieces created when light is refracted. In the case of camera sensors, that would relate to RGB pixels which absorbs light selectively via filters. The goal is to be able to make decisions about light subconsciously through repetition and practice. I want to be a more proficient shooter and a more capable teacher of photography by first being a better student.

3. Editing: Back to the Beginning

Sometimes when you want to start over or renew your mind, getting back to the basics of pure fundamentals is the universal start point. It’s like going back home. I started out in photography using Arista 400, Agfa100 and Kodak TMAX100/400/3200. That’s all professional grade film. I developed my film and prints in a darkroom. I made test sheets of each shot and outlined the regions where I need more light and less light… burning and dodging. You found the overall correct exposure for your prints and then mapped out the individual elements that needed the shadows adjusted or those that needed the highlights tweaked. This will help me with my edits.

Bodyscape, ©2016 Terrell Neasley

As much as I like a challenge, I also want to create advantages for myself. Without the color aspect, editing also becomes easier. Gone are the optical color-based errors that are produced from lenses, such as chromatic aberration. Photo editing tools have a much easier time finding tonal range in compositions when color is no longer a factor in brightening or darkening a subject. You get more quality work even at higher ISOs. So Monochrome surmounts RGB in edit quality and ease of use. Grain is also more tolerable in B&W.

4. Minimalism

I’m looking for a cleaner image. I started on the minimalist trail quite a while back. I’ve slowly been shedding everything. Now, I carry my belongings on my back. Backpacking is the ultimate in minimalism… just short of being a hobo. Wait… forget I said that. I see the irony, but I see myself as rather nomadic. Sounds better.

As to my work, I want less in my shot. I want my compositions to be efficient… doing more with less. A minimalist must be a master of balance in a composition and B&W will help immensely with this. You are forced to have better foreground vs. background elements. At the very least, you begin to see effective anchor points within a shot that helps create that necessary balance.

Art Model, Leslie, ©2016 Terrell Neasley

5. The Artistry

I honestly think this will help me become a better artist. I want to sell more prints more consistently. I want more exhibitions of my work. Quite frankly, I’m old fashioned when it comes to this. If the current trend says color will guarantee me more of sales and more exhibition, then… well, I’d be stupid not to consider that. However, I have lived my life being true to myself, despite trends. I can adapt, but where I think it’s important, I still favor the greats; and that, my friend, is in Black and White photography.

I love the extremes. I tend to weigh more heavily with higher contrast in my edits and those are the same type of images that catch my attention from other artists. I lean towards the left side of the histogram more than I do the right. However, I’ll dance around in the shadows or the highlights more than the mid-tones. So the ends are where I play, but I understand grays have their proper place. While I dance on the poles, I still go to work in the middle.

Art Model, Safia Sarai, ©2015 Terrell Neasley

After the love of contrast, drama comes in a close second. I’m not talking social drama, of course. Can’t stand that ish. No, I refer to the drama created in the mood of a shot via the use of shadow and in the creative use or the absence of it.

Shapes and lines are more creatively accentuated which result in better and more meaningful abstract symbolism. I can become an alchemist, so to speak because I am able to transform one photo element into something completely different. Having a 42MP sensor lets me crop in on a subject. That too, adds to the ability to create better abstract. So stay tuned. More to come on this.

Art Model, Joanie, ©2010 Terrell Neasley