Deep Blacks: A window into my contrasty monochromes

A window on Japan - Kikuna, Japan

My appreciation for black and white photography has only grown over the years. Especially images with lots of contrast and with deep blacks. There’s a moodiness to them, especially in dark places, where heavy shadows obscure details.

Yes, the highlights might be blown and shadow details are crushed — these images are far from technically brilliant. Rather, it’s an exploration of emotion over technical perfection. In a sense, it’s the anti-HDR. Where HDR tries to show all details in both the bright and dark areas, often in vivid color, these monochromes leave a lot to the imagination.

In the past, I took all photos in color and selectively converted to black and white. And my early conversion attempts were surprisingly unsatisfying. I’ve improved over the years with better post processing. But recently, a few cameras produce in-camera black and whites which satiate my appetite. The added benefit is that I see the scene in black and white before I press the shutter. The Pentax Q7, a tiny mirrorless camera, is one such example.

I’m starting a new collection called “Deep Blacks”. Some are from the Pentax Q7, which I originally showcased on atmtx Q with images from Japan. To it, I’ll add other locations captured with various cameras.

I took the photo above in Japan with the Pentax Q7 at a 34mm equivalent using the in-camera black and white mode.

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9 thoughts on “Deep Blacks: A window into my contrasty monochromes

  1. I remember really liking your black and white Pentax Q shots and was hoping you’d get back to those some day. In my opinion the stuff you are getting with that camera is some of the most creative work I’ve ever seen you do. I was tempted to get a ‘Q’ myself after seeing your B&Ws back when you got it but it’s the artist not the brush. Forget the “sketchbook”, I think the little ‘Q’ is your real creative muse. I didn’t even know you had Tumbler site dedicated to your Q. Wow. Blown. Away. You should do a book of your street photography in Japan with the Q.

    1. Thank you, Mike. I think, for certain type of photos, like street photography, the in-camera black and whites from the Q look really nice. I don’t think I’m doing anything special, the images just have that certain kind of moodiness. And perhaps, it works better in certain places, like Japan. I get a similar feeling from the black and whites I get from the Olympus PEN-F, by the way.

      The sketchbook is different. I think the images look standard and don’t have the same emotion the Q does. That said, the Photo Sketchbook, with its long zoom range is more of an exercise in composition. Though I still have a tendency to default to the 24 – 35mm range, I’m shooting more telephoto. I’m starting to get more of an appreciation for the 50mm to 300mm range. A range that I usually don’t shoot. I know you like 50mm. I think I’m starting to appreciate that more.

      There’s still so much to learn…

      1. Emotion – that’s a good word for it. From an outside view the “sketchbook” photos seem to mostly fall into established routine, a range in which you are comfortable with an occasional telephoto shot sprinkled in. The Q shots, at least in my view from seeing your work over several years, are truly special. Your images seem to indicate that you are pushing your self more creatively and capturing special moments as opposed to simply documenting something. I’ve seen that in your shots with it here at home as well as that great collection of shots in Japan.

        Indeed there is much to learn. I know how to capture images with my cameras from a technical standpoint. Now I need to learn how to see. The baby steps are slow and staggering.

      2. The whole Emotion thing in photography is elusive, isn’t it. Makes me wonder what about the Japan pictures makes us feel this way. Is it just the dark contrasty black and whites? Is it the subject matter? Luck? I like to think that I’ve learned something over the years, but who knows. I fear that if I went to Japan with the same camera, the images won’t look quite as compelling. It’s like, on photowalks, you have good days and bad days. Why is that?

  2. I think good monochrome pictures need more contrast than color. They also need stronger composition. You can get away with a lot if the color is good, but in black and white, a weak composition stands out like the proverbial sore thumb.

    1. Yes. Black and whites bring out texture. And without a strong composition, there’s a risk that the texture or busyness of an image will overwhelm, I think.

  3. The pentax Q is the second camera you almost convinced me to buy! (I think the first one was an Olympus Evolt something, although I can’t remember exactly). Great black and whites….do you still owe that camera? I think you did a lot of great shots with it!

    1. Laurent, yes I still own the camera. I actually own the Pentax Q and the Q7. I have a lot of images I took with the camera that I haven’t put on my blog.

      One downside of having so many cameras is that I move from camera to camera. I’ll need to play with the Q7 again. I love that camera and the black and whites look so wonderful.

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