Thursday, 24 March 2016

What makes a good black and white photo?

I hear that question a lot.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced it's the Wrong Question. Try asking yourself the obverse question 'What makes a good colour photo?'. Isn't this an equally baffling question to give a straight answer to?

I think we all more or less know what makes a good photo, whether it's our own or somebody else's. Unfortunately, in good daylight, we all see the world in colour whether we want to or not. The problem we all have is disregarding the colour we see and trying to imagine the world in tones of grey. 

So the real question is 'How can we see in black and white?' 

Some of us old enough to have been weaned on black and white film learnt to do this to some extent just by practice, but it isn't easy. So here are some suggestions that might help. 

The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams (more of a US national institution than a photographer) recommended viewing the scene through a Wratten #90 dark amber filter. In fact, any colour filter will turn a scene to monochrome, albeit the colour of the filter. A 'Panchromatic Viewing Filter' used to be available for this purpose; maybe it still is. I believe it was yellow and the tonal rendering was supposed to be similar to how the scene would be recorded on panchromatic film. 

A better idea is using a screw-in colour filter on your camera. A red filter works like magic and, because it makes blues appear extra dark, the clouds seem to pop out of the sky. But don't forget to take the filter off before you take the picture. 

A well-known black and white photographer (who's name escapes me!) was asked how he was able to visualise his subjects in black and white and he said the easiest way he found was just to squint at it. Doing this reduces colour perception and the blurring effect takes out most of the detail making you more conscious of shapes, tones and overall composition. 

A digital camera makes seeing in black and white a whole lot easier. Just set the picture mode to black and white in the menu and use the Live View function. Take the picture again in full colour mode if you think you might need it. 

Let's clear up one area of possible confusion. In our club competitions and most other external competitions the rules define Monochrome as a picture in one colour only.  'Mono' (one), 'chrome' (colour) - geddit? At one time the club allowed split-toned black and white prints (a darkroom toning method that introduced two colours). This is easy to do in editing software but now you would have to enter it into an open class.

Using a single colour tone will help some pictures but be careful how you use it, and don't overdo it. A warm tone such as sepia works best when you want to inject a comforting or an 'old world' look to your picture. A cool or bluish tone can work well with pictures of ice and snow. The main thing is to choose a tone for a reason, not just a random colour to pretty the thing up. Having said that, when we visited the SPA Exhibition at Guildford recently, their wasn't a single monochrome picture selected that had been colour-toned. 

 A 'classical' black and white image has a full tonal range from black to paper-base white, with discernible details in both the shadows and in the highlight areas. Occasionally, a judge will not be favourably disposed towards anything else. Here are a couple of examples of the 'classical' style.
 Awaiting the tide - Mandy B
Your move - David P 

However, depending on the subject, a monochrome picture can also work in high key where there are no dark tones:
Snowdonia from Great Orme Head - David P

Or in high contrast, where some of the shadows are blocked up or the highlights blown out.

The highest contrast of all is an image with no grey tones at all - there are just two tones, black and white. The most beautiful examples I have seen of this kind of work are in a book I bought some years ago called 'High Contrast' by J. Seeley. They were made using lithographic film, a very high contrast film designed for reproducing script and diagrams. Similar effects can be produced using editing software. In PhotoShop, try the Threshold command in Image/Adjustments, moving the slider to get the effect you want.  Just bear in mind that it is risky putting this kind of thing into camera club competitions - 'old school' judges may not like it.
Biker Liverpool - David P

Congratulations to everyone who entered our monochrome competition last week, most of you making a pretty good fist of it. Special congratulations to the winning and highest scoring entries which will soon be appearing in the Internal Competitions section of the Photocraft website.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Photocraft By Night :-)

This week a group of intrepid Photocraft-ers took to the streets of Carshalton to try out our night photography skills. 

Cameras and tripods in hand, we not only braved the cold February conditions, but were also brave enough to put our cameras into manual (yes! manual!) to experiment with ISO, aperture and shutter speed in our search for that elusive combination which would give the best results.

The good news is that nobody fell into the ponds, which (thanks to the still weather conditions) provided us with some great reflections .. I'm sure we will be seeing a few examples of those in upcoming club competitions!

To stave-off the risk of frost-bite, a number of us then retired to the Greyhound pub for a well deserved warming drink!  All in all, a fun night out and a great opportunity to try our hand at something new: I for one am very tempted to pop back one night to have another go (remedying all the obvious mistakes that I can now see clearly in my downloaded images!).

For more tips on night photography, check out:

See you on Wednesday!


Sunday, 7 February 2016

PDI Competition No. 3

What a great evening and congratulations to all the winners. And there were some weren't there? Five tens in Level 1 must be some kind of record, and special congratulations to Christine A, and Chris H (awarded 10 for two photos), both new members. Some of us are going to have to watch our backs in future competitions, aren't we?
In Level 1, the 10+ went to Jeff Harmer for his superb shot of a racing dog called Low flying friend.

The other 10 was a very clever picture from Martin, Autumn reflections. It was the reflection of a tree, the image turned upside down so that its branches seemed bedecked by the leaves that were floating in the water.

Christine A was awarded 10 for a beautifully backlit leaf mosaic called Green Canopy.

Finally in this Level, Chris H received top marks for two candid and unselfconscious pictures of two children playing in his garden. Don criticised the title of one of them saying he couldn't see the boy was running, although to me, the little chap had Running  written into his facial expression. Concentration, his other portrait was an equally captivating image of a young lady in profile.

Don Morley awarded only three 10s at Level 2.
Dave S won two of them, the 10+ being awarded to a beautiful landscape Snowdonia. All about tonality and shapes with hardly any fine details, painterly in concept.

His other 10, equally atmospheric in its way, was of steam engines Simmering in the Sun.

Last but not least, Mandy was awarded 10 for Juvenile Starlings - Gotcha, the birds locked beak-to-beak apparently in mortal combat, one kicking the other in the chest.

David P was seen clutching a cushion and sobbing in the corner after his Selfie bombed with a score of just 5. Howard, bless him, put a hand on his shoulder and reminded him that having scored less than 7 1/2, he is entitled to put the picture in again. His little face brightened.
Remember, next week's meeting on 10th February is NOT at St Elpheges. We are meeting at the Cenotaph, Carshalton for an evening of night photography.

Friday, 5 February 2016

IGPTOY 9 results announced

She's done it again! Mandy's picture of an iridescent starling has been selected as a Finalist in the 'Wildlife in the Garden' section of the latest International Garden Photographer of the Year competition.

So congratulations Mandy (AKA Hazel). A Finalist in last year's competition and with Commended and Highly Commended entries in three previous IGPOTY competitions, my contention that she's just been lucky doesn't hold water anymore. Sour grapes then.

You can see the winners on the IGPOTY site, and Howard has just found a press release that includes Mandy's picture on the BBC News Magazine Do take a look.
Well done Mandy!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Digital Workflow

Had to give myself a good talking-to recently after reading recent issues of Amateur Photographer. They were all making me feel a bit inadequate. Apparently my 'gear' doesn't 'sport' the latest 'high-end kit'. I had to remind myself that you can take great pictures on absolutely any camera provided you know how to work it properly and understand its limitations. I don't need any more kit.

Having settled this one, I was expecting another assault on my sense of self worth listening to the talk by our invited speaker Wayne Grundy ARPS on the subject of Digital Workflow. Did I need a 'workflow' instead of my usual haphazard try-this and try-that approach to image editing?

If I happened to be a professional, where of course time is money, fair enough. But I take pictures for my own enjoyment and I have plenty of time. The only person I have to please is myself, so do I really need workflow? 

Wayne is a seasoned professional with decades of experience to draw on and it felt as if most of this knowledge had been extracted and condensed into an hour and a half presentation. The talk was packed details of the evolution of cameras from the days of film photography through to the latest digital equipment, with his advice on the kind of equipment to invest in. He followed on with a recommended workflow sequence, from taking the photo through to filing, storing and editing the images in Lightroom, Photoshop and other software. 

If you are a newcomer to photography, you would be forgiven if much of this went over your head. This was no step-by-step guide. More an indication of the route to take if efficiency is your watchword. For me, it was most useful as a glimpse of what it is possible to do if you have the time and patience to figure out how to do it. 

To find out more, visit Waynes website at 

The club programme will be reshuffled a bit towards the end of February and Mark will keep you posted once it has been settled. On 24 February, David P will be giving a talk on his own idea of workflow - but very basic, with plenty of time for interruptions, questions, answers and heckling. More a practical workshop really with step-by-step guides on how to go about it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Christmas All

A Christmas note from our chairman:

As we approach the end of the year, I just wanted to thank everyone for making the first few months of our new membership year such fun.  The engagement levels are fantastic, which bodes really well for the future of the club.  Thank you again, and I look forward to more of the same in 2016!

Looking ahead to the new year, a few things that I’d like to remind you about:

- The first club evening will be Wednesday 13th January.  We will kick the year off with a bit of fun courtesy of a “Where in the World" quiz night.  Please send me your photos (up to six per person) and ensure that the location is included in the title. To give the teams a fighting chance please don't just include the fiendishly difficult to guess locations :-)). This evening is also a chance to give any SPA Biennial Exhibition prints to Dave S. He can also answer any questions you have.

- Our first competition evening will be Wednesday 20th January.  This will be an open print competition, so start rummaging through your archives and dig out your best prints!  Remember that David P offers a very cheap mount cutting service if you are in need of new mounts (all details on the website or blog).

- I have been approached by Cheam camera club asking whether any of our members might be interested in joining their trip to the NEC photographic show on March 19th.  The coach will leave from Cheam at around 7am (arriving not long after the show opens) and will leave at 6pm.  On the assumption that the coach is filled, transport will cost around £25 per person (ticket to the show extra).  Please let me know if you are interested and I will forward numbers to Cheam.

Thats about all from me for 2015 .. apologies that I didn't make it to the Christmas party (the photos on Facebook looked great!) but thanks again to Jane for organising.  Not only did it look like a fun night, but it also raised over £170, so great news all round!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a fantastic new year!

All the best,


p.s. I am expecting to see some excellent examples of bokeh in the new year .. those christmas tree fairy lights are just begging for some attention!! ;-)

[Ed. this is my attempt based on the lights at the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, I'm sure there's someone out there who can do better. Let's see them ! ]

Thursday, 10 December 2015

SPA Biennial Exhibition time

Every two years the Surrey Photographic Association puts on an Exhibition showcasing the best photos taken by the counties photographers over the last two years.

The 2016 Exhibition is held in Guildford House Gallery from the 12th March to the 1st April 2016.

This is flagship event for Surrey photographers with the best images on show getting put forward to the national PAGB competitions. Last time round over 1200 prints  and 600 PDI's were submitted. A group of judges will choose about 160 Prints and 200 PDI's for display in the Exhibition although this year there is talk of changing the selection process to allow more photos to be shown !

You can see a selection of the photos chosen for the 2014 Exhibition on the SPA website along with a brief description of the event itself. 

The closing date for the 2016 Exhibition is 31 January 2016, so, over the Christmas break it's time to think about what entries you may like to submit. 

Dave Stoneleigh has kindly volunteered to be the club's Liasion Officer for the Exhibition. This means he will compile all the entry forms (and fees) and also the physical prints.

PDIs and PDI copies of Print entries will be uploaded directly to the SPA website by the individual with an online entry form. Dave will still need to collect a second entry form (Form B) for all entries, Print or PDI.

These are some of the key dates in the process:

13 January 2016.  -  This is a Club Evening for the Where in the World Quiz but we will also have some time to discuss the submission process and get a idea of who is going to enter. If you have already uploaded your photos it is a chance to give Dave your entry forms and Prints if you have them.

20 January 2016.  -  This is a Print Competition Evening at the Club so there won't be much time for discussion but it is another chance to let Dave know you are entering and get your entry forms to him.

23 January 2016.  -  Deadline for entry forms, mounted prints and payments to be with Dave S.   Please try and get them to him before this date if possible but again, LET HIM KNOW YOU ARE ENTERING!

15 December 2015 to 31 January 2016  -  Period that SPA are accepting uploading of PDI's from entrants.

12 March 2016 - 2nd April 2016  -  Exhibition at Guildford House Gallery

It is important to stress that whilst members entering will have to upload PDI's of their images themselves, the entry forms and entry fees, along with prints MUST be entered through Dave Stoneleigh as the club's 'Liaison Officer'.   

In this respect, those considering entering should let him know so that he can let them have an entry form and answer any questions they may have.   This also allows him to know when he has received all the entries, in order that they can be passed on to the SPA, since there are various deadlines in this respect that have to meet.
If any entry fees are being paid by cheque, these will need to be made out to Dave (D.Stoneleigh) as he will have to submit one cheque to the SPA to cover all the payments.

The handover of entries and monies should be able to be done at a club evening early in the New Year (dates above) but if this presents any difficulties, contact Dave to make alternative arrangements.       Dave's email address is

I know that some Photocraft members will be entering and it would be nice if others joined in and had a go but be sure to read and carefully follow the rules on the link below !  Some are slightly different to the Photocraft competitions, especially on sizes of Print and PDI. There are also special rules for the Nature category.

They can all be found here (along with the upload instructions):