Sharaff, one of our honored photographers of the 10 Most Interesting Photos of 2009, tells me through correspondence that he has only recently started to explore the world of black- and-white photography. For those of you who haven’t experimented with monochrome as of yet, it’s vastly different than shooting in color. Your techniques, filters and exposures will vary between monochrome and color photography. It requires some experience and a keen imagination to do black-and-white well. So when Sharaff told me about his new-found interesting in shooting without color, I am quite impressed.
Contrast is a very important in black-and-white. Without good contrast, the clouds in the sky here will appear muddy in the sea of a relatively similar tone. To gain contrast, there are filters to help…blue, red, green…and Sharaf’s choice, a 10-stop Neutral Density (ND) filter. For those of you who have seen the silky smooth water shots, this is how that effect is achieved. A ND filter is a smokey glass that increases your exposure time by cutting the light. It allows you to let the moving water blur while in broad daylight. At least that’s the common approach. In this photo, however, the intent is to show the movement of the clouds. The motion blur of the clouds has a clear direction, so there is no question that the effect is intentional. The clouds clearly catch the eye the moment it focuses on this shot. The clouds pop from the sky, thanks again to the great contrast in this photo.
There is a bit of an unconventional composition in this photo. Normally, the rule of thirds suggests that horizons should fall at the lower or upper third, depending on the focus. But there are exceptions to the rule, and when the main subject sits below the horizon – as hour boat does here – it can pull the focus back in compliance with the rule. But let me reiterate, rules are meant to be broken. Even if the boat wasn’t in the shot, the image could still work well with the horizon at half-mast. But, you would need to balance the shot with something of interest at the bottom – a really great reflection, perhaps.
The thing that strikes me most about this image is the boat itself. The clouds are moving, the water is smooth only because of the shutter speed – why does the boat appear to be clean and clear? The answer to this question is unknown to me. It’s possible that the boat never moved at all – but I have my doubts. But the intention is clear…the boat is clearly affected very little by the passing of time.
The clouds hurry on, but the boat is steady.
As that is in and of itself an inspiring sentiment, I will close with one final note: Sometimes the journey is the whole reason for going. Remember that as you carry your camera with you.