About the Monochrome Project
I’ve got a passion for photography since my early childhood and most of these years I have been working in colour. Every few years I set new goals for myself and in the beginning of 2023 the Monochrome Project became my latest photography project. I’ve decided to devote at least one year to this enigmatic art style. I will be shooting at least 75% of my free work in black and white or monochrome.
It will simplify my thought process and I hope it will create a body of work with images that speak to the soul.
Monochrome photography is a timeless and classic art form and a different way of seeing the world around me. For this project I will be focussing on a few key elements. With my 35 years of experience I’m not a complete newcomer in this art form, but below you will find the points of attention that I would like to explore further the coming year.
Monochrome versus Colour
Monochromatic landscapes capture the essence of a landscape instead of an exact copy of the scene in front of the camera (although some photographers are quite effective colour artists as well).
In my opinion it’s sometimes better to capture the mood of a landscape in monochrome tones. The relation between light and subjects is a fundamental base of every image and can really make an image shine.
As there is no distraction (or story) in colour, the viewer should be presented with other elements in the image to piece the story together. This requires a minimalistic approach and, if possible, the use of negative space to enhance the impact.
Shooting Monochrome the right way
Monochrome photography is more than just applying a black and white filter to any image. There is no way that doing so will turn a mediocre image into a powerful one. I have to admit that years ago I would try this myself….
In the end that mediocre image still lacked the impact required to capture the viewer.
It’s important to recognize why one would use monochrome over colour (or why you would convert a colour image into a monochrome version)
For me personally it should enhance both the impact as the emotion in the image. As stated, this emotion is highly personal and should reflect the way that I see the world around me. It would require (even) more attention from me, to the effect that light and shadow has on me when I’m wandering through the natural world around me.
Light and Shadow
Light and shadow are the main building blocks of monochrome photography. Details can be omitted by the creation of darker details, yet intimacy can be achieved by the use of natural light on certain parts of the composition.
The darker and lighter parts of the image transform from being just “area’s” too main elements in the composition. Sometimes they even transform to subjects themselves.
Dark or blacked-out parts convey a sense of intensity or emptiness, while lighter parts reveal detail, adding to the complexity of the image. In every image natural light will play a key role in evoking a sense of drama or intimacy.
My love for light (for instance my lightpainting project from a few years ago) should shine though in every image I will create for this project.
Weather a scene is dreamy and hazy, or powerful and moody, the treatment of contrast in the image should enhance the atmosphere. Questions that will need to be answered every time are for instance: “What type of effect are you going for Mike?” “What context are you shooting in?”
Contrast as I (and probably you as well) know it it, is the balance of lights and darks in the photo. Often monochrome images are perceived stronger when there is a lot of contrast in the image.
Placing different tonal objects close to each other will make them stand out more. Their differences are emphasized, thus creating a dynamic intensity.
As in colour photography, a strong composition is a crucial factor. Compositions should be deliberate and leave a strong impression on the viewer.
When shooting monochrome, the contrast in the image and the shapes of objects set the tone and should lead the eye through the frame. Therefore shooting with a monochrome mindset, and restricting the use of colour during this project, will help me to get the most out of each situation.
As with the use of light and shadow, choosing the best composition can enhance the emotive quality of the images greatly.
Shapes and Patterns
Photo’s are a mix of various shapes, weather simple or complex. All the shapes combined contribute to the overall structure of a scene. And with the absence of colour, they play a vital role in the story.
As there is no colour, we can only recognize objects by it’s shape. Thus the various shapes should anchor and simplify the image so the viewer can identify and recognize the essence of the scene.
Using just part of a shape will often grab the attention and will cause the viewer to linger a bit longer in the image. It opens creative opportunities that I’ve come to love so much over the last 30 odd years.
As in colour photography, textures can be incredibly eye catching in monochrome. It adds tonality and variation in detail and can contribute to the overall feeling of the image. It’s a potential replacement for colour to create points of interest.
Nature is full of fascinating textures that are sometimes lost when an image is dominated by striking colours. When shot in monochrome in the right contrast, these textures can really come to life. Instead of being the background for a story, they can become the key feature of an image.
Most monochrome images that have bested time and are considered to be impressive suggest a sense of movement. Flowing water, flying birds, people moving; the camera can capture movement in ways our eyes can’t.
Intentional motion blur is a key feature to bring the scene to life and to draw the viewer into the story.
I’ve had ample experience with this point of attention in the past and really look forward into a further exploration of this evocative tool in my monochrome project.
The road ahead
Some stories are meant to be told in monochrome and I look forward to finding these stories the coming year(s). I hope to fine-tune my ability to find these stories and to choose the right contrast, pattern, shape, leading line and motion to support them. You can follow these stories here on this website or though my Instagram page.