Master Class
Classic Photographs Are Made In The Camera; They’re Simply Raised To A Higher Level In The Darkroom—Be It The Traditional Or Digital Kind

Making black and white photographs in the darkroom was never as exciting as it is now on the computer. I spent many years developing my own negatives and making prints. I settled for a lot less quality then than I'm getting now from my digital images. Plus, there is absolutely no waste. If I'm not happy with the results I simply go back a few steps in Photoshop and redo what I don't like.

I usually don't shoot in black and white. I usually shoot in color, large JPEGs. (Everyone is trying to talk me into shooting raw, so I'll probably succumb shortly.) I usually change the color to black and white when I feel that the color seems to interfere with the final picture. There are times, however, when I shoot with my Canon camera that has been adapted to shoot infrared ( I do this mostly outdoors when my photographs will include sunlit green trees and grass. The effect is so spectacular and so easy to achieve that it's almost like shooting with a point-and-shoot camera.

Recently during a conference in New York City I wanted to make some photographs that weren't "typical." This park beside one of New York's most famous churches was a perfect spot for my infrared camera.

All Photos © 2005, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

All I had to do was adjust the tones in Photoshop's Levels. This gave me the exact contrast I wanted in the basic pictures. In the chemical darkroom I used to achieve a somewhat similar effect by using more contrasty paper. But then I had to buy a whole box of it. Now, digitally, I can adjust the contrast I want with each individual image.

I burn down the edges of almost all of my pictures by creating an adjustment layer in Photoshop's Curves. I then bring down the highlight side about halfway, darkening the entire image. Using an adjustment layer, I usually darken the image more than I want. Then I can paint the darkness away with black and/or bring it back if I've overdone it using white. My technique follows the old adage: "Black reveals. White conceals."

You wouldn't think that a beach would be a place for black and white photography, but that's exactly why I tried it during a class in Mexico. I wanted to create something different. The extreme tonal range in the black and white still kept detail throughout the entire picture--from the light bathing suits to the dark sky and water that was reflecting the sky's color.

At a Phoenix class earlier this year I photographed one of my students in color and later decided that it could be more effective in black and white. I changed it simply by selecting the green layer in Photoshop's Channels, changing the mode to gray scale afterward to get rid of the color and then bringing it back to RGB, because that's the mode that we mostly work in. The photograph was made under the cover of a porch using all available light. The repeating columns with light coming in between them were toned down for the final image, using the same technique as discussed earlier.

Undoubtedly, my favorite black and whites are created with my infrared camera. I'm loving what it does to skin tones, as well as what it does for the scene itself. One evening just before sunset at my Phoenix class we met a few high school seniors for a shoot at a local park. My goal was to show those in my class that high school seniors could appreciate good photography and judge it against some of the gimmickry to which they are being exposed by many professional photographers.