Doug Waggoner is a photographer of the American Mid-West. Many of his shots feature this characteristically flat and culture-rich land. As you can tell from this photograph, Bluffs Barn, he is also quite skilled at shooting in Black & White.
The choice of Black & White, over color, is somewhat counter-intuitive for a photograph like this. When we think of landscape photography, we think of lush green landscapes or photos filled with golden hues and blue skies. It is a fairly common belief that landscape photography should therefore be created in color – not just from the audience, but from some photographers as well.
Yet for all that we think we’ve lost by using black & white, we’ve gained a great deal. The warm feeling we get from a full-color photograph takes the form of a cold and desolate feeling in black & white. Focusing on the sky, the purpose is less about the color contrast and more about the shape of the clouds, which now seem just as daunting as they are beautiful. The holes and broken pieces of the barn itself are now much more apparent as black spots against the lighter backgrounds. Elimination of color has allowed Waggoner to show us a different side of the scene – one that is both beautiful and intimidating.
Bluffs Barn embodies the classic photographic style that one might have seen from Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans or Arthur Rothstein during the Great Depression. Great photographers were Lange, Evans and Rothstein, but their work was more about photojournalism than art. That is the case here as well. Waggoner is certainly trying to document and share a view of the barn more than create an image to be hung on a wall. But as is the case with many of Rothstein’s photos, Waggoner’s photo is equally as comfortable on a wall as art.
There are a few things that I would like to have seen improved with Bluffs Barn. The dynamic range in this photo is apparent – we have absolute black and absolute white portions within the shot. But the mid-range is perhaps a little too dark. I would like to have seen this shot brightened up a little, even if it were to sacrifice some of the detail of the clouds. The subject after all is the barn, not the clouds. This is where color filters – either physical filters or software filters in post – come in handy. Boosting the greens and reds (using a green filter or a red filter) would lighten up the foreground to yield some separation from the barn. Even a circular polarizing filter would help to get some separation between the clouds and the sky, possibly affording more flexibility in the exposure itself. But I must offer my kudos, as black & white photography is far more challenging than one might expect, and Doug got most of the way to a perfect shot.
Be sure to check out Doug Waggoner’s photostream on Flickr. He is currently working on a Photo 365 project, and his daily photo posts have been top-notch. We are of course happy to have him as a contributing member of our Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group. Thanks again, Doug, for sharing.