Woman Reading

One of my favorite Paul Simon quotes was “everything looks worse in black and white.”   While I’ve never been a believer in making monochrome images for their own sake, sometimes an image has some indefinable quality in black and white that makes it the better choice.  Making monochrome images does not automatically infuse a photograph with any magical qualities, and they are certainly don’t become “artistic” just by removing color.  Each image is unique, you have to do what’s best for that single image.

When I look at the candid and street photography I’ve done over the last year, some common themes emerge. One of the big ones is that taking a lot of time composing the shot, adjusting the camera settings and waiting for exactly the right moment does not seem to help.  Many times the best shot of the day was the one taken instinctively. See the scene, bring the camera up and click the shutter. Don’t over think the shot, let the subconscious make the artistic decisions.

This frame was shot following exactly that instinctive process. Even so, it didn’t quite work for me. So it went on the back burner. When I came back for a second look much later I noted the focal length, in this case a 75mm equivalent. Longer than I would usually shoot since it tends to compress the scene.  Most of my street stuff is done with my little Nex-6 with the Zeiss 2/35 Biogon. That combination is effectively 52.5mm, a decent “normal” focal length. But once in awhile a scene comes along where you just need more reach for the setup you are given. In this case the setup was a restaurant in a semi-rural area just before 3:00 in the afternoon. One thing I’ve noticed about photography is that you often wind up eating at odd hours. This shot is a classic example, the lunch crowd had gone and there was just myself and this woman left in the dining room. I had my camera out reviewing the morning shots, she was behind me, over my shoulder. She had finished lunch and was studying some files. A quick look and the “why not” decision was made, I got the zoom out to the max, turned and took a quick snap. Shot a single frame, and done. That’s one of the cool things about candid photography , you either get the shot the first time or you’ve missed it.

Another reason I had this frame on the back burner for awhile was the color. With the yellow wood and dark red wall, there was not enough contrast pop. The color dominated the scene. When I took a second look at the file a few months later, I got to thinking about Paul Simon, who gave us the classic line “…everything looks worse in black and white.” Mr. Simon was proven wrong in this case. Using a PhotoShop BW adjustment layer worked wonders. It took some romancing of the various color filters, and some fine tuning of the contrast curves to get the right look, but the final image had the overall tonal quality I was looking for. Worth taking the time for that second look.