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Breaking the link 

The imaginary link between the scene before the camera and the expressive monochrome print is discussed by Andy Beel FRPS.

Monochrome prints are not colour pictures with the colour taken out. The phenomena of a de-saturated colour files are regularly seen in club circles. These pictures are supposedly masquerading as black and white prints.

The expressive monochrome print by necessity does not rely on the mimicry of the tonal range of the camera file. A big step forward is made when the photographer realises the tonality of the original scene is not linked to the tones of the expressive print.

Opposite – the file with global and local brightness and contrast edits.


Pictures are taken, photographs are made

Austrian photographer Josef Hoflehner makes the point well in his studies of the Icelandic coast. In his stunning work he largely disregards the mid-tones, relying on very controlled highlights and solid blacks. This is not describing the landscape as it is but elevating it to art. He is making a statement through the use of the black and white medium and the craft of printing.

Left – the file converted to a greyscale image

The keyword here is expressive. I am not attempting to record and describe reality as pictorial photographer. This is a fundamental point. The purpose of the expressive picture is to communicate with the viewer at an emotional level.  Expressive pictures must communicate what is seen and felt and not to merely describe how something looks.

“It’s where you finish that matters, not your starting point”

Andy Beel

Printing vision and style

The expressive picture also takes on an additional dimension that comes from the vision and style of the photographer. They see the unprocessed file as a print that has only been designed to its concept stage. All other design decisions are yet to be taken in the post-processing.

Right – the finished picture with split-toning.

The learning zone

As with all activities it is essential to practice in the learning zone when it does not matter about the outcome. Practising on pictures that will never be shown is a vital ingredient to improving skills. The learning zone will build skills and prevent you plateauing at medium level of achievement.

When you are in the learning zone practice breaking the tonal link between the camera file and the finished expressive picture.

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The Dark Art – A Black and White Digital Printing Workshop Manual 

Practice in the learning zone

Even where a photographer has a recognisable printing style there is always a coming to the expressive print. That coming to or finding the expressive picture may be a circuitous route. A point made by many authorities is pictures are taken but photographs are made. The preparation of the expressive monochrome print in its post-processing will require effort. Effective post-processing requires the same: application, dedication and experience that has always been vital to the darkroom print worker.

See other examples of breaking the imaginary link

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