Pure simplicity

Black and White photography is an artistic medium that attracts descriptive terms: Pure, Simplified, Minimalist, Stripped back to basics. Evocative of the past. All are true, in my opinion.

I am of a generation that grew up accustomed to a world that was viewed in black and white: pictures in newspapers and magazines were in black and white, the television was black and white. The books I read about explorers and mountaineers had illustrations in black and white. The images were stark, pure, cold –  as befitted the environment they portrayed. And for 20 years I was a black and white printer. The medium stays in one’s blood, you fall in love with it and you never fall out of love with it.

Increasingly I find myself looking through my archive and enjoying the process of removing the veneer of colour and revealing the mountain-scape in black and white. Tomorrow – Wednesday – (or maybe it will be ‘today’ or even ‘yesterday’ by the time you read this), I am due to speak on ‘Black and White Photography’ at the Royal Society of Medicine’s camera club in London. The work involved in preparing a talk  – selecting the images, re-sizing them, writing and setting up the Powerpoint presentation – is less of a chore when one is working within a medium that one loves.

_DSC0697_nikThe image above is one I have ‘converted’ in the last few days with the help of Nik Silver Efex again. It depicts two of the main mountains in the Mischabel chain of mountains that forms part of the ridge separating the Zermatt and Saas Fee valleys in the Valais Alps. The peak on the left is the Dom, the one on the right is the Taschhorn. The Dom has the distinction of being the highest mountain in Switzerland (its further away from us than the Taschhorn which explains why it looks the smaller of the two). You’ve probably never heard of the Dom and the fact that it is the highest Swiss mountain is one that often causes puzzlement. I ran a series of three posts about this peak well over two years ago. If you are interested, click here to find out more about this peak, and to read about an ascent.

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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29 Responses to Pure simplicity

  1. shoreacres says:

    When you mentioned black and white television, I suddenly remembered how we would sit and watch the “test pattern” before the station began broadcasting in the morning. One of the first broadcasts I remember — in black and white, of course — was the coronation of Elizabeth II. I just checked the date — I was seven — and I read that Queen Elizabeth herself was the one who insisted the event be broadcast and filmed.

    I must say, however you and Nik Silver go about reprocessing your photos, the result is spectacular. I suspect your audience will be mightily impressed.

    • LensScaper says:

      My Grandpa hired a TV especially for the occasion – I was six! I really should be on commission for Nik tomorrow – I might bring them some further customers!

  2. Very nice, Andy. The contrast and range of tones are really good, and the peaks stand out so clearly from the sky. I keep telling myself that I don’t need any more software, but the results that you have been getting with the Nik Silver Efex are stellar. Do you think you could have achieved the same range of tones and contrast with Photoshop or Lightroom if you had labored over them?

    • LensScaper says:

      That’s a very difficult question, Linda. I might have got there eventually but I chose a preset that I liked the look of and made a few minor adjustments and then sharpened back in Photoshop. All done in two minutes or less. I am very impressed with Nik – far superior to Topaz in my opinion.

  3. Len says:

    This is one amazing shot Andy. One of my favorites of yours. The tones and clarity are terrific. You can always tell when one loves the medium because the results always speak for themselves.

  4. Sue says:

    Wonderful tonal range, great contrast – great conversion, Andy.

  5. I wondered if the name of the mountain is the same as our word dome. The Wikipedia article at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_%28mountain%29

    says that Dom can mean that in German but can also mean ‘cathedral’, and that “the mountain is named after Canon Berchtold of Sitten cathedral, the first person to survey the vicinity.”

    • LensScaper says:

      Hi Steve. The origin of the name ‘Dom’ has been the subject of some debate and you are right in what you say about the word meaning Cathedral. There is also another meaning of the word ‘Dom’: ‘Pitchfork’. Seen from some angles the highest point appears bifurcated and that is what gives credence to the idea that it was named after a fork with two prongs to it. I guess we will never know precisely – lost in the mist of times.

  6. I too am from the B&W era and you are right, very little color in printed matter of the time. This photo is an absolutely amazing shot, Andy. Excellent contrast and detail in the tonal range.

    Best of luck and congrats on your presentation. I’m sure you will do very well.

  7. ShimonZ says:

    I enjoy reading what you say about black and white. It was easier for me when I still worked with film. Because I would decide whether to put a color or black and white film in the camera, and that determined the type of photography I would do. Now in digital, I am not always satisfied with the black and white… especially when it is converted back from color. I’m wondering about those low lying clouds in this picture here. It seems to me that they should have had more definition. But I think that would have meant less contrast in this case. Not sure, though.

    • LensScaper says:

      That’s an interesting observation on those clouds, Shimon. They started off as low lying valley list and have drifted upwards. I think they add interest to the composition. I have lightened the left half of the cloud layer but decided to leave the right half as you see it. Looking at the image in view of your comments, perhaps the right half could so with a little lightening. The lack of definition is I think due to the fact that this is very misty cloud and unlike real clouds doesn’t have defined borders to it.

  8. poppytump says:

    That’s a fine photograph Andy . Impressive mountains so *peaky and sharp ! Siver Efex really does seem to be a great add on in the editing suite .
    Your presentation will have been a great success I’m sure with plenty of questions to field afterwards no doubt too , I expect it was a late finish .

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Poppy. Silver Efex has me hooked. The talk went well and I over-ran. It was a morning talk so ended up as a late lunch. Time seems to have been at a premium of late but hoping now to get back into the ‘normal’ run of things (whatever that is?)!

      • poppytump says:

        Late lunch sounds perfect 🙂 and I know exactly what you mean re time ….
        I guess with a house move and re-location happening it’s going to mean even busier Summer days ahead !

        • LensScaper says:

          Currently we are having a ‘pause’ on the house hunting front. There is a paucity of property up for sale – or so it seems – in the areas that interest us. Maybe now the Election is out of the way things will improve.

  9. ehpem says:

    I’m teetering on the bring of getting this software too. Topaz works well for some things, and I also find that Photomatix can do some good things with a single image, but there is a lot of tweaking involved with both of those programs. Mind you, I am not working on stand-out shots like this one, but even so…

    • LensScaper says:

      I think you would enjoy the Nik plug-in. Nik seems more intuitive and you can do more with it. The most annoying thing with Topaz, for me, is that when you move a slider you don’t watch the image change – you move the slider and then the software catches up (the blue bar races across the screen). With Nik, the change is instant – you can see it happening as you move a slider. That’s far preferable to my mind. And I’m getting results that I really like with minimal effort. You can have a free 30 day Demo too – but I think you will persuaded long before the 30 days are up!

      • ehpem says:

        Thanks Andy – that slider business really bothers me too. Nice to know that Nik doesn’t do that – I have been spoiled by the functionality of Lightroom and expect plugins to be at least as good!

  10. Lignum Draco says:

    Lovely shot. I use SEP too, as a plugin to Lightroom, but recently I’ve been playing with Macphun Tonality – obviously, I use a Mac.

  11. Chillbrook says:

    A supeb shot Andy! Silver effex is such a useful tool!

  12. Andy, I always just love your work! The pieces you create in this part of the world stand alone as some of the very best in my humble opinion, and this photograph is a delightful example of why!

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for that generous comment, Toad. It helps that I have been to the European Alps at least forty times over the past fifty years. The scenery has become very well known and loved over that period of time.

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