Revisiting fine art Black and White Photography.
Dana Nollsch August 7, 2022
When I first got into photography, I found myself fascinated with fine art of black and white photography. Indeed that was some time ago, and much has changed with photography since then. Photography went from using chemicals to process the images to digital representations with many more possible options for manipulations.
I started to get the craving to create and to re-explore the art of black and white photography. But where to start? Perhaps portraits or landscaped or even street photography? What I decided on was low-light photography. Luckily there is the perfect place within easy driving distance from where we live.
So you ask, where did you go?
Near where we live is a lake, Donner Lake; this is a place with quite a bit of history. The Donner Party was a group of pioneers making their way to California in 1846. This group had some difficulties and found themselves stranded on the east side of Donner Lake. They had to resort to.. well .. let’s just say they made some drastic choices. So what does this have to do with low light, black and white photography? Nothing, I just like the story.
Where we did go is just a few miles past the Donner Party Memorial and Museum. So I guess there is a connection?
There are train tunnels above Donner Lake just off old Highway 40 at the summit, not just any train tunnels, but tunnels with history. In 1867 these tunnels were completed after 15 months of work. I believe there are a dozen tunnels, and the walk is over five miles round trip. These tunnels are now abandoned and serve as the playground for budding muralists, taggers, and hikers. With so many colorful murals and tagging, this sounds like the perfect place for black and white photography?
Overcoming the obstacles
I knew this would be a place where a Tripod would be needed, so I came prepared. So we started walking through the first tunnel without taking any photos, just to get the feel of the day. So much to our dismay, the second tunnel was closed off to train some rescue personnel. This forces us to scramble to overcome this obstacle, not the best of starts.
Capturing the images.
We made it to the first tunnel, where I would start my journey into the day’s creativity. I found myself getting excited as I took the first few images; the long exposure images did show promise. But as I reviewed the photos on the back of the camera, I was not satisfied.
Going over the possibilities in my head, I could only come up with one answer for my conundrum, High Dynamic Range Photography. HDR Photography is the process of combining several photos with different exposure to create an image with detail in the shadows as well as the lights. This process would be done later, so there was no way of knowing what the results would be until the final edit.
Adventures in the tunnels.
Walking a few hundred feet, stopping, and taking sets of three to five long exposure images was a bit irritating for Michelle (my wife). Each image’s average exposure was over a minute, so these stops were five minutes or more. This is an investment in time that today’s photography style does not work with. I found the process very meditative.
Finding beauty in the moment.
This day was rejuvenating, just what I needed. The creativity of the artist surrounded us as we walked. The energy of this place was palatable in our souls. A more perfect day for creativity would be hard to find. Days like these are what artists and creatives need to keep the energy they need to do their work.
The final result.
Editing the raw images to create the final images brought excitement to my heart. Combining the photos revealed the details just as I had hoped. This HDR process was perfect. Bright colors and detailed shadows looked remarkable. But bright colors was not the intent of the day. Black and white was the goal of this day.
Now the goal was to bring the images to life with a fine art black and white flavor. This was not done by pushing a button but by intentionally manipulating the variables. By controlling the intensity of the reds, blues, and greens, the final images come to life.
This series of images have shown me how to revitalize my excitement for artistic creativity. I will add more fine art black and white images to this series in preparation for a future exhibition.