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Keeping It Simple With Travel Photography
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Glenn Guy / website


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What's your preference, black and white or colour? Photography is very much a game of compromise and a preference for either mode is not without its drawbacks. Its worthwhile carefully considering your options and not let your own preference lead to less than ideal results. So, for example, just because you prefer black and white doesn't mean all of your photos are suited to reproduction in black and white. 

I love the experience and process of photography. I also love looking at great photographs, whether they be black and white or color. But the success of most photos is determined, at least in part, by the output. One thing the early masters of photography understood was how to work within the limitations of the medium.

"One thing the early masters of photography understood was how to work within the limitations of the medium"

Setting the effects of nostalgia aside, one of the reasons why many of us connect with images from days gone by is because the photographer knew how to structure a black and white image. It's all to do with seeing the world of colour as it would appear in black and white. The trick is to see a colour and be able to visualise it as a shade of grey, either lighter or darker than the colors/shades surrounding it. These days applications like Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop allow you to alter local tonalities but, back in the day, the costs and constraints associated with film-based photography, forced many experienced photographers from even releasing the shutter. Editing in camera, it's a concept that seems largely lost in our digital age. Way back when on-camera coloured filters and/or darkroom maneuvers (i.e., burning and dodging) were about all we had.

This series of images were all made in Chennai (Madras) in southeast India during February 2011. And, while each image was captured in colour, I let the subject matter determine the final style of each image.

The image at the top of this article features an entrance to a Catholic church on the top of St. Thomas Mount on the outskirts of the city. The mural above the door is the major focal point of the image. The shape and texture within the mural are key design elements which have been emphasized through the removal of colour.

It was a bright hot day and the side of the church in question was in heavy shade. That resulted in a flat, bluish light that would have made for an uninteresting image. By converting the file into black and white I was able to allow the inherent contrast within the image to provide the canvas from which the dominant shapes and textures would be emphasised.

This photo is a detail from a hindu temple. The sheer variety of colors within the image really helped to describe the structure and that most evocative culture from which it derives.

India is a visual feast. It simply screams colour. But I usually find that having more than 3 colours in an image risks confusing the viewer. Let's face it, with so many images out there, the decision to investigate a photo, beyond your initial gaze, is made almost instantly. But having too much information, too many choices, can provide a barrier the viewer may not want to cross. I decided to opt for color. Risky, but nevertheless descriptive and, in this case, I think the right choice.

This professional beggar was waiting for me outside a temple dedicated to the Hindu God Kali. He was very forward in wanting money before he'd allow me to make his picture. Now I have no issue with a professional expecting money in return for services or product. We're talking about an adult, professional beggar not a village child who might, conceivably, be adversely affected by such a transaction. But, when it comes to photography, I'm going to make sure I make my images before I hand over the cash. It's a good way to make the subject work a little harder. Any good salesperson understands the value in keeping the customer happy. In a tourist location it's not so much about return business, but a good attitude may result in higher payment. And, in my case, it always does.

"I make my images before I hand over the cash. It's a good way to make the subject work a little harder" 

This guy, however, was very pushy. I was just about to turn down the opportunity when a policewoman showed up and my subject's demeanor changed completely. He became instantly childlike. I made the image, gave him some money and moved on. It's interesting that a photo, made within a fraction of a second, captures the reality of a particular moment in time and not, necessarily, the reality that existed immediately before or after the shutter was released. The notion of the photograph representing truth is a simple enough statement, but a rather more complex discussion.

Once again it was the inherent contrast within the image that made black and white the obvious choice. By removing the colour the tonality and subject's expression are allowed to dominate.

My kit for making these photographs was very simple indeed: a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens. I found this to be a great general purpose lens, ideal for travel photography. While not my favorite lens it is, without a doubt, the most versatile and most used lens I've owned over recent years. Definitely money well spent!

Photography is a very powerful medium and our choice to explore the world around us in either color or black and white is one way by which we can explore and document our life's adventure.
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