The two months since last I blogged here has slipped by very quickly in some senses. In photographic terms, I can’t say I’ve been particularly active, although that’s not been for the want of will. My other blog tells the story. I’ve had a pretty significant injury to my left shoulder. Pain and discomfort from this has dragged me down on several occasions, and made a number of my normal activities difficult or impossible. I missed over three months training for my track athletics activities, and I’ve had to ditch any race plans for 2017 for now, while I work on getting mended.
Another casualty was getting out with a camera. For some of the time, travel, other than on foot for relatively short distances, was too painful, and carrying or holding any of my usual cameras was difficult. What came to my rescue was having significant opportunity to use and get to know my iPhone 7Plus. I blogged my first impressions of this last time I was here.
The idea had formed in my mind just before New Year of doing something like a three month project using nothing but the iPhone. I’d also had the notion of shooting much more black and white work. Why not scratch both itches at once, and shoot some mono with the ‘phone? Simple. And it was, in some ways.
I’d done very little monochrome stuff for quite a few years, save for what boiled down to seven or eight pieces used within my recent River Medway exhibition. Half of these came from some medium format film of some considerable vintage, which I needed to use or lose. The others were from a cluster of photos that didn’t quite cut it for me as digital colour shots, but which made fantastic images when rendered into monochrome using a simple plug-in to my normal digital storage software. To give an example, one such image captured really great skies in reflection in the Medway, but owing to recent rain etc, the river itself was a nasty khaki brown colour. Turning the shot into monochrome hid that, and gave a very satisfying picture.
Shooting black and white on the iPhone offered several options to me. I already had two very simple apps on the ‘phone for shooting without colour: “SimplyB&W” and “B&W Master” I’m a skinflint when it comes to apps, and both were free, or very cheap. Both offered a minor range of post-shot tweaking. So did the option to convert a shot to black and white within the basic Apple Camera app. And, as already mentioned, I have a plug-in on my computer that can do competent mono rendering from a colour image. There are, of course, loads of apps available, claiming to offer black and white images. However, many seem to require “in app” purchases, even to achieve pretty basic functionality. There are also many with no user reviews on show. Never a good sign, in my experience.
However, remember what they say about silk purses and sow’s ears? Experience and experimentation has showed me that none of the above are particularly forgiving to a poorly-shot image (“garbage in, garbage out” as it were), but there was more to it than that.
If I conveniently set aside my confession about a couple of my recent exhibition shots, earlier in this piece, my overall view is that good monochrome images are not merely colour shots reduced to a series of greyscale tones, even if, technically-speaking, that’s exactly what they are and will always be. No, good mono landscape work, to satisfy me, has to be able to stand on its own two feet. This is obviously a bit (or maybe a lot) of a personal thing, and personally I love black and whites with expressive skies, reflections (or both!) and a full spectrum of tone from deep black to near-pure white.
So, the question, and the quest, came down to establishing whether the iPhone could give me images with the required traits, and moreover, could do this not by accident, but when I wanted a particular shot to come out as a good black and white photo from the outset. I am not, and have never been, heavily into editing my images. I tweak and crop, but don’t ever go much beyond that. There are two reasons. One is that I always think hard editing shows, either as rough work, or, as often, the opposite – images with never a hair out of place. You just never get that with landscapes! And the second reason is that I’ve mostly avoided gathering the skills to attempt much very technical editing anyway.
Shooting on black and white film is actually, I think, rather more straightforward than shooting digital monochrome. Slap on a red, orange or yellow filter for a (pretty much) guaranteed good sky, for example. This doesn’t work on the iPhone even with a dedicated b&w app, suggesting to me that it really takes a colour photo first, then immediately converts it to greyscale. I’ve hand-held filters over my iPhone lenses in the past, and this is still a piece of work in progress, by the way.
So, I’m writing this in March, and since New Year, the iPhone has been the only camera I’ve used for landscape work. And boy, am I impressed! Here’s a few examples.
I’ve a few weeks more of my #shootmoremono experiment to go. I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Spring skies in particular. Fingers crossed!
And if you’ve been here before, you’ll know I like to give my blogs a title linked in some way to music. I struggled with this, until Mr Google came up with the perfect title from a 1970s song by the band Three Dog Night.