Seeing mono

I’ve never hidden the fact that my images are all extensively post-processed. I’ve written about it several times. Which doesn’t mean I fundamentally alter the nature of the original captures or distort the reality I witnessed. But I do enhance it. I do make it fit into my perception, an interpretation of what I had in mind when I took the shot in the first place. To me this is what photography’s all about, beyond choosing the moment, the angle, the exposure… It’s a holistic process, all a means to an end. Besides, we’re always spinning reality in some way, no matter how honest we pretend to be. Otherwise we’d be nothing more than glorified security cams.  I can generally anticipate the final processed look of a digital image the same way film photographers could predict the effect of their chosen film stock and lab process. They knew what loading Kodachrome was going to mean. They knew how pushed Tri-X would turn out, how it would affect the end result and they shot accordingly.

I routinely read comments on various blogs extolling the purity of film vs digital based on the lack of file manipulation. I guess these people have never seen the extensive instructions for an Avedon print or Ansel Adam’s various interpretations of a single negative. Processing images is as old as photography itself.

That said, I’ve been experimenting with the X-Pro1’s black and white mode for a few weeks now and in certain cases the resulting images are the closest I’ve ever come to SOOC (straight out of camera).

It was Kevin Mullin’s post a few weeks back that turned me on to the X-Pro1’s black and white mode. I’ve always preferred shooting everything in color because of the added tonal control when converting to monochrome - access to color channels, white balance etc. When I first got my hands on the X100 last year I experimented with the monochrome simulations (I had originally intended to use it almost exclusively for black and white photography, treating it almost like a film camera) but quickly came to prefer the results of color conversions.

This time it’s different.

Last year I was shooting with the OVF 95% of the time. Now, I also make extensive use of the EVF. Never saw that coming. And the great thing about the EVF? Not only can you shoot in monochrome: you can also see in monochrome. Looking at the world pre-processed… Man, is it ever addictive.

I’ve created a variation of the camera’s basic monochrome preset that accentuates contrast, getting me closer to what I usually do in post. Here’s the setup:

  • Highlights +1
  • Shadows +2
  • Dynamic Range DR100

Yes, I’m probably compressing the data and very possibly losing detail in the process. I’m clearly pushing it. I don’t care. Monochrome is for personal work, I make my own rules. If I feel it’s mission critical or I’m nervous in any way, raw+fine saves the day. No worries.

Thing is, looking through the EVF with this preset activated is like framing reality as a finished print. Black and white is about contrast, shape, geometry. Our brains process visual information differentely when color is absent from the equation. We find other patterns to cling to. So I like to believe I may not be shooting the same way either. Or at least shooting certain subjects I may have dismissed before, simply because of how I’m seeing them.

Most of the monochrome pictures I’ve posted lately have been shot this way and then processed with VSCO Film 01 in Aperture 3. The ones below are no exception.