This week’s inspiration, which comes from the camera of Daniel Horacio Agostini, is a nice follow-up to last week’s learning article (Key Elements of Great Black and White Photos). Agostini’s photo, La Piedra Tallada #6, (shown here) is a fine example of Black & White photography. But it’s also an alluring photo of an exotic location that not only inspires us photographically, but makes us want to get away.
When observing black & white photography, I like to first ask the question: Why black & white? I am not one to stir the debate of “black & white vs. color” – I think both mediums have their place and their purpose. And I shoot equally in both. But there are certain circumstances where one has more power over the other. I think La Piedra Tallada #6 is one such case. Though I have not seen this location in color, I am hard pressed to believe that this photo would be more powerful in color. I think a color version of this shot would cause us to miss two very important details: The doorway to the right, and the tunnel (doorway?) at the end of the alley. These two elements give us context – this is not just an alley, this is a place that gets used. There is depth here, and we would have missed that if we were distracted by the greenery (maybe not…but it would at least have less impact). Additionally, the way the light reflects off of the polished, much trodden cobble stones might also have been missed in color. In color, this photo would be a great scene – a location. In black & white, this photograph is able to tell a story – the story of the hundreds of feet that have smoothed these stones, or the countless inhabitants that have wandered this alley, or entered these portals to the inside. This photograph is an exceptional use of black & white, and I’m glad that Agostini chose to eliminate color from this shot.
From a technical point of view, this photograph meets every checklist item of last week’s article about shooting black & white. It’s composed well, it’s exposed well, and contrast is readily apparent: There are absolute blacks and absolute whites in the shot. But I’d like to focus on the Dynamic Range. When I spoke last week about dynamic range, I perhaps wasn’t clear about one point in particular: The gray area. Yes, we want some grays in our photo. But that has led some to believe that the shot should be predominantly gray. There are surely going to be cases where the bulk of a photo’s histogram falls within that mid-range. But that doesn’t mean that high-key and low-key photographs don’t make great black & white photos. Quite the contrary. As we see here, La Piedra Tallada #6, is a low-key photograph. The histogram reveals a strong presence on the dark side. But there is still a presence across the histogram, revealing enough data for our eyes to distinguish features. Enough differences of shade so that we can clearly differentiate textures, surfaces and edges. Too much contrast, this detail is lost to darkness. Too little contrast, and the shot appears muddy. Agostini strikes a nice balance here.
A photo is not great unless it can strike up an emotion in an observer. My first thought when I saw this photograph for the first time was simply: Where is that? It looks like a great place to visit, or even live. In fact, I think I would love to live off of this cozy little alleyway. Pull up a bench, and that’s where I’d be writing my articles – out in the fresh and private air. It wasn’t until I stopped daydreaming that I realized all of the technical and compositional qualities of the photograph that I mentioned above. That is exactly how it should be. A photo should grab your attention first, and then reveal its inner secrets. We should all strive to do exactly that.
So be sure to visit La Piedra Tallada #6 on Flickr to add to your favorites. Also be sure to visit Daniel Horacio Agostini’s Flickr Photo Stream and observe the fantastic body of work that he has exhibited.