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Back to Basics

Back to Basics


With the invention of digital SLRs and Photoshop, we’re slowly forgetting all the basic photography skills we learned. Some of us may have never learned them at all and started photography with a digital SLR. I use to think those of us who skipped all the darkroom procedures were the lucky ones, but now I realize how important it was to learn all those skills.

My first assignment in my Photography I course in college was to shoot something with texture, and develop the frame with the right amount of contrast: black, white, and various shades of gray in between. It sounds pretty easy, but have you developed film before? First you have to shoot the correct exposure on your manual camera. It’s quite difficult to get black as BLACK and white as WHITE. But that makes a well balanced image. So of course, I shot trees, tree trunks, tree roots. Those subjects made the most creative compositions with their unique textures and tonal values. Then you must develop the film in the darkroom. And I’m scared of being in a room that’s pitch black, fumbling around with a film roll. It’s creepy in there!

Luckily I always managed to develop my film somehow, then develop my prints. We learned how to burn (darken), dodge (lighten), manipulate exposures to get the contrasts and values we needed for a good composition. Black, white, and everything in between.

As we processed multiple prints of the same frames, fidgeting around with contrast and what not, we can step back and appreciate the differences between them, and actually see how some procedures work better than others, and how you can’t just use the same procedure on each photo. Things don’t work that way.

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Black and white is great because it relies on interesting lines, angles and textures to create a unique photo. Color tends to make us forget what else is out there in the world to see.

That sounded deep even though it wasn’t.


It turns out that using a digital SLR the past few years has made me a sissy with the camera. I rely on the camera doing the majority of the work for me, contributing very little effort aside from using my index finger to push the button. Basically, a monkey could do what I do.

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Err…no offense.

This was one of my most favorite shots. Of course, it was blurry, grainy, and through plexi-glass at the San Diego Zoo. But the expression and composition is priceless to me. Sometimes I think that overrules any other rules I’ve broken.


Again, with the interesting lines and colors on the bikes that make more contrast. Choose subjects that have these qualities and they will look more interesting than they did with color.


Simple, easy shots that you can easily fiddle around with in Photoshop.


Rocks have great texture to work with too.


And of course, if you happen to come across a Zebra, that would be the poster animal of black and white photography.

I posted this because I don’t think most of us use our digital SLRs to the full potential, and rely on automatic functions, quick, generic Photoshop actions (or trends like HDR € gasp!) to do the work for us. Getting back to basics helps us see what we failed to see all these years.

Soon I’ll be posting a few steps on how I converted my digital color shots to black and white while still keeping the color channels to manipulate and play around with. Since you had to read my whole spiel.


I felt like adding some color in this one just for kicks.

2 thoughts on “Back to Basics”

  • Wow! I just LOVE the black and white photos. I am feeling very inspired to go and explore what my camera really can do (ie not just use auto) after reading this and seeing your beautiful images. Thank you!

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