I Am My Own Student, Or How I Schooled Myself

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So many a moon ago (I’m going to start measuring my life in moon cycles, just for giggles) I taught a digital photo 101 course at a local community college. Working with the students was a really good time, as most everyone who has worked with students will attest too.


I would get my students going, a few weeks worth of shooting, then I would force them into a month of black & white only imagery. I did this in part because I grew up on good ole’ black & white Tri-X, and later many other black & white emulsions.

I thought it was educational to learn in black & white. It simplifies an image to a more graphic construction. My students always hated it for the first 2 weeks or so, then a few, not all, but some, would fall in love with it. They also became noticeably better shooters during this time. In part because they were starting to hit the steep part of the learning curve, but also because many used color as crutch. The color in an image was used to create the image without as much composition. When they went to black & white it really forced them to compose, to think more about it. (It took me a few semesters to figure this out, and why this was happening.)


I have been digital for about 6 or 7 years now. Rarely have I shot film since the switch. I have a few times, but probably not even 30 rolls. (30 rolls = 1 weekend) I have also had to start thinking about everything as possibly making page 1, or another color page, so I have to think in color for that. On top of that, I don’t adjust my own images for print (a decision I see as increasingly bad and hope to get changed this year) so I don’t see what my images look like in black & white, at any point.

Then, a few weeks back, I got an infra-red camera. This is essentially a black & white only camera. So now when I shoot with that camera I look at the LCD and see not color, but black & white. I forgot how much I like, no, love, black and white. I forgot how it affects my thinking.

So guess what I figured out in this process? I’ve started using color as a crutch, just like my students did at the start of their semester. Isn’t it always about going back to the basics? Luckily, happily, and in way that is providing me with great joy, I found a way to deal with this, or at least have a little fun. (Remember when having fun used to be getting drunk? Now it’s in creating a little different. And I’m happier this way too.)

I can set my cameras to capture images, from the get go, in black & white. This means when I review images, I see, black & white, shades of gray, when I’m trying to decide how to change an image. This seems to be helping me simplify, and work more directly, compose better, my images. (Yeah, these images aren’t anywhere near my normal subject matter. On the other hand, life is slow right now, and when I want to relax I go take scenics photos, because really, what did you expect me to do? Not take photos, and call that relaxing? Hah!)

“But what about your need for color imagery,” you may ask? For the shooters amongst you, I do only raw captures, all the time. For everybody else, the files my camera make contain all the color info, it’s just the preview image and default, but changeable, conversions settings that are black & white.

So I can think black & white, and my designers can have whatever they need, and we can all change our minds later. Everybody wins, which is the best thing around, with “Josh Wins!” being a very close second.


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