The Alps in monochrome

To contrast, quite literally, with my previous post on colour slides I shot in the mountains around Chamonix I have re-scanned some black and white negatives from that same trip. These were some of the first monochrome images I put up on my Flickr account a few years ago so I thought they were ready for a refresh and a bit of post-processing to bring out the best in them.


When I shot these I was heavily into my high contrast monochrome style. I shot everything through a very dark red (and expensive!) B+W filter that made blue skies go black, and then printed in the darkroom on grade 4 or 5 paper to push the contrast even further. This produced some lovely sharp crisp images that look great hung on my wall in simple black wooden frames with white borders. I think I own about 20 of those same frames from Ikea now.

I particularly like the perspective on these images as they were shot looking across from the mountains I was walking in rather than looking up from the valley below. The images shot in portrait orientation in particular have a nice balanced perspective of looking across at the mountain peaks but also down into the valley below.


With the shift to digital imaging that I eventually made I kept trying to reproduce this kind of look with my files but never really managed it. To my eye digital files are just to clean and precise and so I would spend ages effectively degrading an image to get it looking how I wanted.

When I like about digital files from scanned negatives is that the imperfection comes for free. There is film grain, slight imperfections, inexact exposures, softness and flair that comes from shooting on physical media with old equipment and centre-weighted metering. Disaster is avoided because I know the quirks of my equipment and so can usually get things good enough, but all the same the negatives become a very rare raw material for creating prints from with only one of two shots to work from and no chance to re-take.


The popularity of applications like Instagram is down to the pseudo-random film like look they can grant your image. While this is far beyond the level that I am talking about (in that it joyfully seeks to simulate serious flaws in equipment and technique) it shows that there is something enticing about an imperfect representation of what we saw.

I find these images stir a strong memory of being there for me. I had never previously seen snow capped mountains of such majesty and imposing form with my own eyes so I sought a suitably bold look to my photographs to reflect that feeling I had.


I scanned and post-processed every image on the roll with basically the same settings baring a little light dodging and burning to even out some of the exposures. I shot these with my Canon A1 camera which played its part by not interfering in the creative process. I didn’t have to second-guess the camera so I ended up with a whole roll of consistent images that I knew would give me a good solid base to print from. When there is a couple of weeks and a couple of thousand miles between tripping the shutter and seeing the image, it is important to get that right.


Comparing these images to my colour slide alternatives shows a marked difference in style that has a lot to do with the way I approached the subject and pre-visualised the end result. B&W film photography has always been a two-step process to me that is open to experimentation and discovery, where as colour film (negative or transparency) fostered more of a ‘get it right in the camera first time’ mentality. I guess thats why I do all my colour work digitally these days.



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