Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Assignment 3: Monochrome

This assignment is all about the monochrome image. I struggled to find a topic that I thought was suitable, interesting and executable. I decided in the end to follow the documentary tradition (with it’s long history of using monochrome). I live near a local community farm, which grows organic produce and also is involved in educating people about permaculture. Both paid staff and volunteers are integral for the running of the farm, and I wanted to document how they go about their daily tasks.

I chose to photograph on a day when I knew there would be people working hard at the farm. I started in the nursery (where the plants start their lives!), capturing volunteers and staff hard at work potting plants and moving them around. I then followed the ‘work for the dole’ coordinator (dole is unemployment benefits) out to the planting area where she was working with a small team. I decided to avoid capturing full-frontal portraits in order to maintain some degree of anonymity for the people, although they were all OK with me photographing them. I was more interested in their tasks than them per se.

I tried to create images that I thought would work in monochrome – strong lines, texture and variety of shapes and shades were the main interests. My camera was set on monochrome so I could view the results on the LCD if necessary. I try to limit this looking and just get in amongst the scene. I only shot with one lens, my 24-70mm which gives a nice wide angle shot and can get fairly close in if necessary too. With ample daylight around I could leave my ISO on 100 for most of the shots and generally used manual mode, trying to ‘expose-to-the-right’ as much as possible, pulling back highlights when necessary in post-processing.
I was keen to capture the ‘sense’ of the place, and since the garden/farm is awash with colour (particularly when combined with the blue sky!), I felt like monochrome would allow me to focus more on the workers and their tasks at hand. I searched for interesting angles, getting low to the ground, climbing higher on mounds of dirt and using a range of camera angles in order to maintain variety. I feel like the set of images represents well some of the activities of the farm, but it is by no means comprehensive.

I certainly feel like the set of images is much stronger in monochrome than in colour. The colour tends to focus the eye on the wrong things, for example, in this image, the eye is drawn to the bright red crates, whereas in the monochrome version, it is much more subtle, and the eye searches out and finds the person hidden behind the tree, watering.
Colour version

Monochrome version

In terms of the processing, I first converted the images to monochrome, and made my selections (using the star process), giving me about 25 images I wanted to consider for my project.
Final chosen images
I then optimized the images in monochrome (exposure, black and white point adjustment) and applied some universal changes such as increasing the clarity. I initially tried increasing the contrast using the tone curve, to medium contrast. However when analysing the images I found them to be too harsh.
Medium contrast image
As a result, I decided to use a lower contrast method. I reversed the tone curve so that it was the opposite shape to the medium contrast curve (raise darks/shadows and lower lights/highlights), giving the images a low contrast appearance. I found this to be much more appropriate – the images were ‘softer’ looking, but still retained some of the gritty nature of hard shadows formed by the harsh midday Australian sun. I think this low contrast tone curve on the naturally hard images produces a good result. The more subtle grey scale is more appropriate and asthetically pleasing.
Lower contrast image
I then selected my final 12 images to be printed at the local printers (first at 6 by 4 size to check them out). Of these, I highlighted the best eight, shown below on a board. The two on the top right were rejected at this stage as I didn't feel they were strong enough for the final submission.
Printed proofs
I have some doubts about including only one portrait orientation image in a set of otherwise landscape images but I have decided that it is OK. After receiving these prints I made further updates to my images - lightening a couple, tweaking the levels of green/blue contributing to the final B&W and also adjusting the crop slightly. I then had them printed at 6 by 9 size and have mounted them on white card to send to my tutor. They look quite good in my opinion, but I admit I don't know a lot about printing technicalities and this is something I will need to do some research on soon.

The final selection of six images is discussed below:

Photo 1
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/2.8, 24mm, 1/60sec, ISO 100
A volunteer pots out young seedlings ready for sale in this image. I have chosen a wide angle of view in order to capture the seedlings in the foreground but focus on the worker in the midground. The shutter speed is just low enough for the hand moving to blur slightly, and the DOF shallow to keep focus on the worker. I have raised the green level to make the seedlings paler, and used the adjustment brush to slightly darken the far background which had some distracting highlights.

Photo 2
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/4.5, 24mm, 1/125sec, ISO 100
The manager of the nursery gets new stock out of the greenhouse for putting on sale in the nursery. The curved gridded roof of the nursery and rows of plants give some geometric interest to this image. I have raised the green levels slightly to make the leaves a bit paler of the plants. I also kept the exposure of the image high and just dodged the white t-shirt to make it a little darker (otherwise it was overexposed). This has resulted in an overall light bright image.

Photo 3
Plant Selection
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/11, 24mm, 1/90sec, ISO 100
Plant selection
The nursery manager discusses plant selection with the organiser for the Work for the Dole program. The signs all around pinpoint the location as the nursery and the summer heat is obvious from the attire and hats. Once again I have dodged the white t-shirt a little to prevent clipping and overexposure. I have raised the green level slightly to make the plants stand out in the foreground.

Photo 4
Ground preparation
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/8, 24mm, 1/180sec, ISO 100
Ground preparation
Working in small teams, the ground is prepared for planting by mulching and watering. This low-angle shot captures the three people working and by placing the people on the edge of the frame the viewer’s eye moves between them taking in the whole scene. I have decreased the blue level to darken the sky slightly.

Photo 5
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/5.6, 24mm, 1/350sec, ISO 100
I have captured another slightly different angle in this image – looking down onto the team putting the new seedlings in the soil. There is extra dynamism in this image created by cropping off the man on the left on a strong angle.

Photo 6
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/5.6, 40mm, 1/180sec, ISO 100
A man is hidden behind the tree watering the young seedlings, which are protected by upside down crates on the ground. I like the subtle and somewhat mysterious feel to this image, which I have created on purpose by choosing my location to photograph with the tree between me and the man. I wanted to keep him the as focus of the image by also keep him anonymous to some extent. I stood on a raised mound of dirt to raise my viewing angle slightly.

Choosing a project for this assignment was challenging. Deciding on documenting the farm and then having a successful shoot was very pleasing for me personally. By using monochrome I have focussed on the people at work, and there is no colour to distract the viewer’s eye. When I compare the colour images to the monochrome images they are definitely a stronger and more coherent set. I think the documentary genre is well suited to monochrome and I think this project has definitely been a success. It has also made me think more carefully about what would look good in monochrome, and determine some projects that would not look good in monochrome. This is all useful in developing my critical eye.

The whole project was certainly a success. The chosen images (and others that I have supplied to the farm and nursery staff) were very well received by the staff and requests for others were made also. I also feel like I have captured the ‘feel’ of the place, which is important in a mini-project such as this one.


Freeman, M. (2009), The complete guide to black and white digital photography. East Sussex: Ilex

Freeman, M. (2009), Perfect Exposure. East Sussex: Ilex

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