On a recent photo trip down to San Antonio, I was marveling at some old stone churches. The missions of San Antonio are well-known in this area and I always wanted to visit all five. Previously I had visited two of the five. The most famous being the Alamo, which I have been to many times. I’ve also seen the largest and grandest of the missions a couple of years ago on an Elementary School field trip which I chaperoned. This time, I wanted to do some serious architectural photography at four of the missions, which I described in my previous post called, A Photo Excursion to the San Antonio Missions. What is great about all of these structures are their rough, frontier architecture. Back in the 1730s when these missions were built, Texas was the northern boundary of the Spanish Colony in North America. Unlike Europe where they already had very large and polished churches and cathedrals, these frontier missions were rustic and primitive. I’ve discovered black and white photography can really add an interesting twist to these mission photographs.
While most people have taken color photographs for a while, especially with digital, there are some really nice artistic reasons why you might consider black and white photography. I am no expert in black and white — I have only dabbled with it from time to time. I mainly experiment with it to see if I create a more interesting image. Experts see in black and white, I usually don’t. On this trip to San Antonio, however, I was particularly pleased with the look of these old missions in black and white. Black and white photography emphasizes form, shape and texture. Since there is no color to “get in the way” the eye is directed to the shapes and textures of objects. Since these buildings have such wonderful stone textures, I thought it would be effective to emphasize such textures by removing the color. The great thing about digital is that you can take the photographs in color and then covert them to black and white in post processing. This is usually the preferred method since, even if you were originally intended to take b&w photos, post processing software allow you to add virtual filters to change the black and white tones, increase or decrease contrast and change sharpness and the level of texture. Some specialized software such as Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro even allow you to simulate your favorite film grain. For these photographs, I used Aperture 3 without Nik software to create my images.
Here is a sample of several black and white mission photographs. I think they have a very different feel from color photographs. Like the previous post, I took these images with two different cameras, my Canon 7D and the Sony NEX-5. Also, like the pervious post, the look and feel of the images from both cameras are the same — I don’t think you can tell which image was shot with a particular camera. As always, you can click on an image on my blog to see a larger version.
My Thought Process
Image 1: For wide-angle photographs, I usually like to have some interest in the foreground. The wider the angle, the larger the distortion that makes the front to back of the photograph seem longer. This was shot at 18mm (27mm at 35mm equivalent) so while it is not super-wide, the image still looked more powerful with the texture of the floor visible up front. To do this, I used my mini-tripod on my Sony NEX-5 camera and placed it very close to the floor. I also love how the light is spilling in from the archways to the right and emphasizing the texture of this rustic hallway.
Image 2: In this side view of Mission Concepcion, I was drawn to the wall texture (again) as well as that wonderful weathered door. I attempted to balance the wall and the towers on the right with the palm tree on the left. The sky was mostly overcast with splotches of light blue showing through. The sky lacked definition and was a distraction. By making this image black and white, I simplified the sky to a pure white, while emphasizing the wall and door textures. I also love how sharp and defined the palm tree looks. This was taken with my Canon 7D.
Image 3: This is one of my favorites. I used the arch to frame Mission San Jose. This was taken at the end of the day and from this angle, the sky was washed out especially on the left side. I could have used HDR techniques but I opted not to for this image with my Sony NEX-5 (I did end up doing a HDR with my Canon 7D however, I might show this in a future post). In addition, the exposure was bit dark (a mistake on my part since I had the exposure compensation dialed down). With post processing I was able to lighten the image and eliminate the bland sky by turning this image into black and white. I find that with B&W images, you can change exposures more aggressively and not effect the end product. In this case, I got the benefit of better exposure, less distracting skies and great stone textures by turning this image in a black and white.
Image 4: This is another image taken with the NEX-5. The low angle might have been a give-away. I used much of the same reasoning as image 1 to add texture and interest in the foreground by keeping the camera low. I think the low angle also makes the tower and walls a bit more imposing. The black and white worked here for a couple of reasons. Again, it emphasized the floor and wall textures but it also gave more definition to the clouds.
[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]
All of the photographs were taken in RAW with the Sony NEX-5 and the Canon 7D. There were post processed using Aperture 3. I used the black and white conversion built into the Aperture to create these photographs. The sharpness and definition were increased and a slight vignette was added to darken the edges.
Image 1: Sony NEX-5, f10, 1/10 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 18mm
Image 2: Canon 7D, f13, 1/30 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 100 at 20mm
Image 3: Sony NEX-5, f16, 1/80 sec, -2/3 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 18mm
Image 4: Sony NEX-5, f13, 1/160 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 18mm