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The love of black and white

The thing I love most about photography is how subjective it is. One image can have so many opinions, evoke different feelings, emotions and meanings to the individual.

I often find the images that speak to me most powerfully tend to be in black and white, not always but it definitely adds another element to the image that really makes me feel something.

When I look through my viewfinder I sometimes know instantly if it will be a black and white image, I can see the finished picture in my head, that is a really special thing and something I get excited about. An example of this is my image titled ‘Spotted’. Watching this poor female Leopard forced up a tree for hours as her meal was devoured by Lions below, meant I could really think about the type of image I wanted to create. She was changing position constantly but I knew I had to be patient and hope that eventually she would sit somewhere in a clearing and look directly at me. As I took this image I knew it had to be converted to black and white. The dense foliage of the tree leaves and rough texture of the bark would only be enhanced by this medium and those piercing eyes in the centre draw you in and reveal this beautiful animal who so effortlessly sits, hidden in the tree.

Shooting always in colour gives me that flexibility not only with the decision between a colour or black and white image but also gives me the freedom to play with different tones within the black and white spectrum. Converting a colour image to black and white successfully is not as simple as it might sound, it often requires a lot more work, trial and error with split toning and contrast. It can take many hours and often requires coming back to the image at a later date with a fresh eye.

Black and white can look cold, giving off blue hues which can be the desired effect for some images, it can also have more of a warm tone, giving a sepia look which can really transform an image. My image titled ‘Family’ was one of those lucky shots that I wasn’t planning to get but presented itself in the field. I was looking to get a herd of elephants in a long line against the vast, empty Busanga plains. This herd was walking towards me, I could see they had youngsters, it was a lovely family group but I could not see the image that I wanted coming together. I waited patiently as they passed me, still primed with my camera and taking pictures as they walked. If I wasn’t going to get the image I wanted I would at least want to document what I was seeing before me. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed the images on my computer that I saw the potential in this scene. In colour it was messy, a herd grouped together, the background had trees in it that were distracting and the colours were not very pleasing to me but once I had converted it to black and white and played with the hues to create a warmer tone, it transformed. For me, it told a story, the long, exhausting journeys these giants take, the family bond, the connection between every single elephant, the protection and care they give each other and with the trunks up, giving a real sense of character. It’s a very special image to me and the title ‘Family’ just seemed to capture the whole feeling in one word.

Longevity is also something I think about when creating images now. If someone likes an image, has a connection with it and puts it on their wall, I want them to still feel that connection in years to come. Black and white often stands the test of time, it is a powerful style that can bring drama and emotion to an image.

It can also help isolate a subject so that the focus is on that individual or a particular detail. 'The New King' and 'Majesty' in my view could only be black and white. The stare from this young male lion is intensified by the black and white conversion, it adds a sense of authority and confidence which only enhances the story behind the image. This Lion had recently taken over a pride in the Musekese area of The Kafue National Park, his scars show the result of a victorious battle and the size of his paws and forearms as he walks suggests he will grow into an impressive male.

Elephants taken from a lower angle often make for an effective picture. This elephant was on the banks of the Kafue river and being in a boat on the water meant I could achieve this angle. There was a groups of about six individuals but I knew I wanted to isolate just one, this lovely elephant turned towards me before leaving with the group, the shape of the trunk was just right and by converting the scene to black and white it really brought out the detailed texture of the skin and turned the sky to white making it a clean image.

Black and white can be so effective in photography and apply to many different scenes, it has a classic and timeless feel and can really have an impact on the viewer. As I refine my own photography style I find I am using black and white a lot more, it fits into the fine art genre so well and pushes me to be more creative.

Next time you are viewing or purchasing fine art photography take a closer look at monochrome, it might just speak to you more than you think.

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