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Black and White Portraits


Black and White Portraits
Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film
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As part of my recent photo shoot with my brother using 35mm and medium format film (see part 1 here and part 2 here), I decided to try something I've never done before: black and white portraits. Okay, so maybe I've converted a few digital color portraits to black and white in the past, but I've never done true black and white portraits using black and white film. I've spent the past year or so getting comfortable with black and white photography so I figured it was high-time to apply my new experience to the world of portraiture.

I think the toughest part about black and white photography is learning to "see in black and white." With our full-color vision of the world, it's difficult to imagine what something will look like with all the color removed. Sometimes, when the color is sucked out, an otherwise gorgeous subject looks terribly bland. For example, early on in my black and white ventures, I decided to photograph a landscape that consisted of a crisp blue sky over a lush rolling green hillside. In color, the scene was gorgeous. But I found out quickly that the tonal brightness of the green grass was nearly identical to the tonal brightness of the sky. That meant that both the grass and sky desaturated to almost exactly the same shade of gray in the resulting b&w photo. There was virtually no separation between the two! Without color contrast, I had to learn to rely entirely on tonal contrast.

But this lack of color contrast is also what makes black and white photography so beautiful. Without the distraction of color, the tones and shadows can pop out and reveal a whole new beauty to the scene. In these black and white portraits, I utilized lighting that created deep, dark shadows and bright, contrasty highlights so as to add more tonal contrast and interest to the image. And when I didn't have the right light source for dark shadows (like in the photos out in the open field under diffused light), I created the necessary contrast using wardrobe. A jet-black coat over a stark white shirt helped create more tonal interest in this flat lighting.

I have a new appreciation for black and white portraits. The look intrigues me and the challenge makes the successes very rewarding.

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Portraits on Ilford Delta 100 Film

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego ZooFemale Jaguar, Nindiri, at the San Diego Zoo
35mm Ilford Delta 400 film pushed 1 stop
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I'm a cat person through and through. I like cats. I "get" cats. And I'm absolutely enthralled with big cats. So when my girlfriend and I planned a trip to the San Diego Zoo, I made sure to stop by all the big cat exhibits.

Now I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer. I don't know why I'm not that attracted to photographing animals, but one thing that does light my fire is black and white wildlife photography. I mean just look at the stunning work of Nick Brandt (check out Artsy's Nick Brandt Page) or Andy Biggs. And oh man would I love to photograph wildlife with my medium format camera and a 110mm lens wide open to f/2.8 on some B&W film. Hey, a guy can dream...

I'm certainly not on the same level as Nick Brandt or Andy Biggs - they are masters of their craft - but I thought I'd do some casual black and white wildlife photography at the San Diego Zoo to try my hand at it.

I brought my 35mm camera and a single roll of Ilford Delta 400 film. I didn't take a single shot almost the entire day. Fences, mesh screens, dirty glass, and ugly, ugly light all gave me good reason to leave the camera in my backpack. But we eventually made our way to the African Rocks exhibit where we watched a gorgeous jaguar named Nindiri eat her lunch.

This cat was just stunning. Her smooth coat dotted with jet black spots, I concluded, is the most beautiful of any animal I'd ever seen. And lucky for me, her favorite eating spot was right up near the glass in a dark enclosure with soft light pouring in from the side. Beautiful animal + beautiful light = Nick's breaking out the camera for the first time all day. And unlike many of the other animals we saw, Nindiri was kind enough to face the camera.

It was a very tough shooting situation. It was ultra dim lighting that was repeatedly blocked by other patrons. And never mind their annoying red AF assist beams and on-camera flash killing the light I was trying to capture.

My ISO 400 film didn't give me a shutter speed nearly fast enough. It came out to something like 1/4 of a second, and I had no tripod. So decided to push my film 1 stop to ISO 800. For those of you unfamiliar, pushing film is a process wherein you use the film at an ISO rating higher than what the canister says, then just develop it like it's a higher ISO film. The result is a higher working ISO which allows for faster shutter speeds. The trade-off is that it results in more pronounced grain and exaggerated contrast.

Higher ISO, lower image quality. That old story...

But I was willing to make that tradeoff because the high grain can actually look kind of cool, and this was really my only option to get the shutter speed faster. So with my film pushed to ISO 800, my shutter speed increased all the way to 1/8. Still really damn slow. I had to just do my best with this slow shutter. I turned on image stabilizer, squatted down low, braced myself against a pillar and the glass, held my breath, and waited for moments when Nindiri was relatively still.

Many of the photos came out blurry from her movement, but I'm happy to say that no picture was ruined from camera shake. That's what you call a steady hand...

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Jaguar at the San Diego Zoo

Oh, and I got a couple pictures of the meerkats on our way out:

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

Black and White Wildlife Photography: Meerkats at the San Diego Zoo

New Work: The Side of the House

Side of the House in IrvineAll Images Made on Ilford Delta 100 Film
With a Mamiya RZ67 Medium Format Camera
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These pictures may not be what you typically expect from me. I'm most known for my large sweeping landscapes of coastal, desert, and mountain scenics. Most of my photos require long treks or at least moderate hiking to get in to position. But these photos here...they were taken in the side yard of my parents' house in Irvine.

I expect that these photos will not have a big impact on you. They'll probably elicit a "meh" response from a lot of my readers. And I'm fine with that (I can't always create masterpieces!). But these photos mean something to me, so that's why I'm sharing them with you today.

I've often said that it never ceases to amaze me what pictures people like and which ones they won't care about. You've probably experienced this. You have a great, amazing, beautiful photo you took that you just love. You're proud of it. You want to share it. You put it out to the world and the response is, well, deflating. Then some other photo you took that you don't much care for - in fact you almost didn't even post it on your blog - everyone swoons over it. I've sold photos where I'm thinking in my head "Wow, you want that one? That's some of my worst work." But then I try to sell a photo I'm really proud of and it feels like I'm trying to sell snow cones in Minnesota in January. Well I'm guessing these photos will fall in to that category.

I have really fond memories of my parents' home. It's where I grew up. So that alone makes these pictures special to me. But it's more than that. It's not just that it's my parents' home and that I have a lot of memories tied up there, it's more specific than that. I don't know how well I can explain this, but I'll try.

You know how certain times of day at certain locations will create a very specific feeling inside you? It's a feeling you really only get from being in that exact location at that time and it can't be articulated in words. For me, my elementary school at night has a particular feeling to it. It's probably rooted in the evening open house where we all got to run around the school in a very unusual setting - it was at an unusual hour, you could go anywhere, the normal rules and bell schedule weren't in force, and everyone's parents were there. It was so...weird...but somehow exciting.

Los Angeles at sunset, McDonalds just before dawn, my childhood friend Michael's house at high noon on a summer day, my mom's old minivan in a heavy downpour on the way home from school. Each of these time-place settings create a very specific sensation in me that I enjoy.

Well, the backyard and side yard of my parents' house in summer is the end-all be-all for what I'm talking about here. Especially on a warm evening just before sunset on a Sunday...oh man, I'm getting all tingly just thinking about it. I love that feeling. It's indescribable yet incredibly specific. That's why I like these photos. For me, they are snippets of that sensation that I can't put into words. Many people will simply see a boring photo of a fence, but I see one of my most valued emotional responses for which words don't suffice.

It's easy to get caught up trying to make photos that everyone else will love or photos that will get more sales or clients. I'm terrible about that. But it was nice to take some photos for a change that I knew would only matter to me. After all, that's possibly the finest reason you should ever take a photo.

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine

Side of the House in Irvine