Swaledale – North Yorkshire, November 2016 The feature shot above was taken on the Yorkshire Monochrome Masterclass.


Hot Hint No 3  – Perfection vs expressive value

“A technically perfect print with no soul, has no or little expressive value”.

Every day of our lives we make choices about everything from when to get up to the value system we employ. As photographers we also have many choices about how and what we do. It is said that there are no right or wrong answers in photography and can have whatever we want as long as we know what it is. This post discusses the choices each and every photographer has about how they want to present their black-and-white photography.

The advent of the digital revolution in photography brought about many advantages that before it’s inception were thought to be impossible. For example, the opportunity to record a series of pictures with differing ISO settings and still retain image quality (IQ). After silver film grain became pixels (picture elements) the photography game changed for the better and worse depending on your point of view. Many unchangeable constraints of the silver based medium are now open to revision or correction in what has now become know as post-processing. With analogue photography any mistakes or lack of judgement at the taking stage were carried though the whole process.

This new digital era has brought about pictures that in comparison to film based technology that are sharper, more contrasty and technically perfect in the conventional sense. I very often say to my clients, workshop participants and lecture audiences that digital is too everything for me. By that I mean, that the revolution has brought about digital pictures or that dreaded word images that are nothing like the way they used to be in Silver Halide and for that reason they have lost much of their endearing charm and expressive quality and value.

As photographer and printers we have choices just because the current technology allow’s us to record texture in all areas of picture brightness, that does not necessarily mean that just because it is possible it is valuable as a picture quality. It has been said that shadows of our the soul of a black and white print. It may be possible to print detail everywhere doesn’t mean you have to do it. Vision, awareness and perception are required to expedite your choice of a pictures rendering.

For those of you in the camera clubs I can hear you wailing about camera club judges saying “there is no detail in blacks”. Every picture is different and you will have to make a judgement about how and where you place shadows with and without detail in your pictures. I would suggest that medium-sized areas of solid black will not be pleasing if the total balance of the picture is upset. Very often when talking about the advanced stages of the art and craft of black and white printing, I talk about beyond the realm of technical perfection. As printers you need to get to stage where you can print detail everywhere within your picture. Once you have achieved that level of competence you are then open to bring your own vision and style to the pictures that you make.

From me, just because a picture is technically correct or perfect in its total balance this rendition may not necessarily be the most emotionally engaging or have the greatest expressive value to the viewer. Depending on our vision and style and what you want to say, the brightness of shadow detail may be increased or decreased to improve the effectiveness of the picture.

This was brought to me last Sunday when viewing a set of pictures taken in the 1960’s by Jill Kennington who was around with people like David Bailey and Norman Parkinson as a model and then a photographer in her own right. Her pictures and those of that era wonderfully demonstrated the allure of film based pictures. Some how what you cannot is is just as important as those you can see.

Perfection vs expressive value Is a feeling, I can only tell you how it appears to be right from me. There may be those of you out-there who think that technical perfection is the aim to strive for, that is your choice based on your worldview, photographic education and preferences. My choices is to make pictures that I enjoy looking at and I hope that others will enjoy them as well. My vision of photography goes beyond the descriptive to the interpretive where the viewer is left to make up their own mind about the subject matter and meaning of the picture – the subject.

Extracted from – The Dark Art – A Black and White Digital Printing Workshop Manual By Andy Beel FRPS

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(c) Andy Beel FRPS 2017


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