Revelation XXVI

Can you effectively present a project or body of work that contains both black-and-white and color images? It rarely works, but in rare cases it can.

The problem is that color and black-and-white images appear to be from different times or even different worlds and sometimes both. They’re so different from one another that presenting them together breaks the continuity of the larger story being told (Even a collection of separate poems creates a larger story, albeit with a much looser narrative and context than an essay.) and it undermines the suspension of disbelief required to imagine that a small two-dimensional image accurately represents our much larger three-dimensional world. Viewers end up paying more attention to the way the images are presented and our attention is deflected away from their content. We spend time and effort trying to figure out a pattern between images that are color and images that are black-and-white and the reasons why they’re different from one another, which is wasted if there aren’t any. “It looks better.” isn’t a strong enough reason to break continuity and suspension of disbelief. If there is no reason that contributes to the content of the series, then it’s a few small wins for individuals but a big loss for the team, and we leave the work feeling confused and frustrated. (“I don’t get. Is it me?”) For these reasons it’s best not to mix color and black-and-white images. Instead, present them separately.


Insights Members can login to read the full article.
Email:

BWphotographers_425

You can learn a lot just by looking at great photographs.

Want to learn more about black and white images?

Start by studying these five photographers.

010_Steiglitz

Alfred Stieglitz explored the softer sensibility of platinum with muted blacks, very full highlights, and a surprising range of tints.

View 12 Great Photographs By Alfred Stieglitz here.

02_adams

Ansel Adams epitomized the modern sensibility with deep blacks, bright whites, and a full smooth range of tones in between.

View 12 Great Photographs By Ansel Adams here.

01_BrettWeston

Brett Weston moved modern photography towards abstraction with extreme contrast often eliminating shadow and sometimes highlight detail.

View 12 Great Photographs By Brett Weston here.

01_Witherill

Huntington Witherill advances the classic modern sensibility into the contemporary by achieving extreme separation in even the deepest blacks and the brightest whites, often side-by-side.

View 12 Great Photographs By Huntington Witherill here.

10_Tenneson

Joyce Tenneson has explored many high key black and white palettes over her career - neutral in her early years, semi-neutral tints mid-career, and more recently gold-leafed.

View 12 Great Photographs By Joyce Tenneson here.

View more 12 Great Photographs Collections here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


Insights Members can login to read the full article.
Email:

05.highsaturation

One of the most distinctive features of a visual artist's use of color is their use of saturation.

Many photographers are often asked, "Are you a black and white or color photographer?" (Curiously other visual artist's are rarely asked this question.) While many people who ask it don't mean it to be, it's a loaded question. There's often a latent assumption that you can't do both well. In fact, work with one can strengthen work with another. Moreover, the question suggests that black and white (and shades of gray) are not colors, when in fact they are very specific colors - neutral colors. And, the question does not address with any specificity how a photographer uses more saturated color. Curiously, this question is rarely asked of painters and filmmakers. A more useful question might be, "How saturated is your palette?"

There are essentially six distinct levels of saturation - neutral, semi-neutral, reduced saturation, fully saturated, highly saturated, and super-saturated.

01

Neutral colors are characterized by a lack of saturation. Neutral lie along the luminosity spine that unites all hues. (Equal parts of complementary colors mix to create neutral colors.) At any one luminosity value there is only one truly neutral color. Using neutrals is comparatively simple, as two other variables (hue and saturation) in color are reduced to the same values (zero); it's an economy of means. To appear luminous neutral images typically employ significant contrast in luminosity to compensate for it's lack of hue and saturation. With a few exceptions, neutral images generally present a radical transformation of the way we see. Many people associate it with dream states, whether they dream in black and white or not. It is often thought of as elegant, if not conservative and restrained. The luminosity component of color aids in judging levels of illumination, spatial relationships, and volume. Formal qualities and qualities of illumination become a particularly significant concern in neutral images. Neutral images are often associated with antiquity or of timelessness.

02

A semi-neutral colors contain trace amounts of saturation. Values cluster around the luminosity spine within a small radius. Semi-neutrals do not include truly neutral colors. Semi-neutrals function very similarly to neutrals with additional complexity. Spatial relationships may be subtly accentuated by the slight addition of hue. Iridescent and lustrous color effects can also be achieved.

03

Images with reduced saturation use low levels of saturation. Values cluster around the luminosity spine within a larger radius but do not achieve full naturalistic saturation. Though not fully presented, the hue of elements within a composition becomes apparent. Similarly the ambient color temperature can be suggested. Spatial relationships can be more clearly delineated through hue. Hue becomes a significant concern in compositions, though it may or may not be a primary concern, depending on how it's deliberate reduction is handled. Images with reduced saturation often do not appear realistic. They appear somewhat restrained, limnal, neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. Many people associate reduced saturation with the past, particularly the recent past.

04

Fully saturated images are the most representational images. Color can be used to make elements in a composition seem similar or different depending on the degree of contrast of one or more of its elements - hue, saturation, or brightness. All three elements of color can be used to describe qualities of form, space, and light. Often, to preserve a realistic appearance, luminosity contrast is lower than in neutral and semi-neutral palettes. Fully saturated palettes are relatively energetic. They have decidedly contemporary connotations.

05.highsaturation

Highly saturated images use a generous amount of saturation, without becoming unrealistically saturated. Hue becomes a dominant preoccupation. It may vie for becoming the primary focus of attention with subject, spatial relationships, or qualities of light. Highly saturated images are energetic. They have contemporary, generally expressive, and sometimes youthful connotations.

06

Super-saturated images use extreme levels of saturation. Realistic representation is generally not a concern. Colors often appear unrealistic. Additionally there is a tendency for colors to posterize, with abrupt transitions between different hues. Hue becomes the dominant concern, over subject or spatial relationships. Super-saturated images tend towards flatness. They are highly energetic, expressive, and sometimes associated with altered states of consciousness.

01.saturation.level

You can use the Color Sampler Tool in Photoshop in combination with the Apple color picker to graph color and identify the level of saturation of one or more images, either yours or someone else's. See (list url for graphing color article) to find out how.

To lend unity to images within a single body of work it can be helpful, and in some cases necessary, to limit your use of saturation. Many artists will use just one level of saturation. While it is extremely difficult to present a wide array of saturation levels within a single body of work (though not a single image), for instance both neutral and saturated images, it is possible to present images that employ more than one level of saturation if they are closely related, such as reduced saturation and fully saturated or fully saturated and highly saturated palettes. As variety in saturation level rises it becomes more difficult to have separate images be seen as related.

When you think of Ansel Adams' photographs you think of neutral images rather than highly saturated ones. When you think of Matisse's paintings you think of supersaturated images rather than neutral ones. Think of your use of saturation as an essential component to defining your own signature style.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more with my free color resources here.


Insights Members can login to read the full article.
Email:

Artist’s often use consistent palettes for separate bodies of work, some use a consistent palette for a lifetime. This not only makes their work more readily identifiable, it also clarifies the nature of the statements they make. When an artist does this color becomes more than attractive, it becomes a message.

Joyce Tenneson has done this masterfully. Her typically airy palette both light and desaturated give her nude or near nude portraits a distinctive look. The delicacy of her palette not only makes a statement about the more sensitive nature of her subjects but also reveals her own sensitive approach and relationships with her subjects. Her high key palette suggests a concern with spirituality, perhaps more strongly than her occassional inclusions of painted light.

Tenneson often portrays figures in ways that defy conventional representations of the body, selecting alternate body types or ages, posing them in uncharacteristic ways that create expressively complex distortions, and including unusual props.

In Kristin Hands In The Air, the woman’s lack of hair gives this image an edgy undercurrent. Viewers would not be wrong to guess that the woman is struggling with illness. As with so many of Tenneson’s portraits, this image strips away the daily concerns of persona and fashion to show a deeper character in her subjects, tenderly but unflinchingly revealing both their fragility and an uncommon strength in these fleeting moments of grace made more durable by the act of photographing them.

Find my comments on other Masterworks In My Collection here.

Learn more in my digital printing workshops.


Insights Members can login to read the full article.
Email:

Subscribe

Get the RSS Feed  

Subscribe by Email