Monochrome for a Month was a challenge I gave myself so that I would be forced to overlook color when shooting. I love black and white photography and it used to be my go-to edit, but during 2016 I went through a color phase. B&W became something mundane and drab. I shrugged at photos that used to invoke inspiration, and I ignored most of the Lightroom presets I’d made the previous year and instead created a whole list of new ones with cool-toned hues and mattes.
Then, at the end of March, I went to the zoo and decided to shoot in monochrome when I reached the zebras. Seeing their stripes and tweaking the settings to make them the most invasive pattern on the LCD display, I began to experiment with the other animals and their unique textures and patterns. I spent the entire day shooting in monochrome and my love for black and white was rekindled.
So, I decided to forgo color for the entire month of April to re-acquaint (hopefully) myself with what drew me to B&W photography in the first place.
Always shooting with the intent of color editing, I’d gotten so used to seeing only greens and blues and pinks. Needless to say, the first week of the challenge proved difficult and discouraging. I had to re-train my mind to ignore color and instead see only patterns, textures, shadows, and light. Hard to do during the month of April when everything is blooming.
After that first week, however, it became much easier to ignore the colors and I began to notice things I might have otherwise overlooked, like natural frames and how a tree appeared to be resting its root on a rock. I did have my moments of weakness, especially when light leaks appeared. They’re often a pleasant surprise, but because it was Monochrome Month, I was forced to convert them. Still, thanks to shooting in RAW, the originals still carry their surprise rainbow.
Somewhere around week three, I began to notice a change in my editing process (it might have something to do with the polarizing filter I bought for when bright, sunny days were plentiful). My whites were more subdued, my shadows deeper and more widespread. I even began to decrease my matte. By the end of week four my work had taken on a quieter theme.
Then it began to rain and rain. Goo caught a cold. Chris had finals. We stayed inside. All I could do during my final days of Monochrome Month was shoot the raindrops and the dog watching them streak down the window. That’s where I really saw the change. I used my 35mm for freelensing–aperture rigged open with a piece of paper–and I made sure only key details were lit. It gave my work a moody, melancholy appearance. Howl looking longingly outside, impatiently waiting for the sun to come out so he could dig in the mud and eat junebugs.
With nowhere to go, I got a wild idea to try my hand at developing film. I’ve always been drawn to the look of caffenol–and who could pass on developing with coffee?–so I bought a tank and gathered the materials needed so I could gives this Monochrome Month a sort of “grand finale.” Nothing like loading film in the pitch darkness to remind you that life is a balance between light and dark, hard and easy, fun and dissatisfying.
And I feel this philosophy is portrayed perfectly in black and white photography.
I guess one of my biggest lessons from this whole experience is to think. When I raise my camera, I need to pause and reflect on why I’m drawn to this subject. Is it the pattern of the rocks in the water? Or the color of the sky? That will allow me to shoot more effectively and prepare myself for–hopefully–easy and brief editing.
Overall it was an exciting month for me. I saw castle ruins, walked through a creek barefoot, and shot with many different cameras. Each outing seemed to enrich my knowledge and my passion. I would recommend this challenge to every photographer. You will come out of it enlightened and inspired to try new methods.
I haven’t finished the Ilford roll I put into my Pentax, and once I do those pictures will be added to my Monochrome for a Month gallery. Until then, here are a few of my favorites from this challenge:
All images © 2017 Lina Forrester