More B&W Magic

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Basilica Del Voto Nacional – Quito, Ecuador

1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 80, FL=50mm

Getting back to my roots with B&W photography.  Back in the early 1950’s we all shot in B&W.  And I can remember spending many a long hour in our family bathroom, converted temporarily to a darkroom, with my dad developing and printing B&W images from 120 film.

In 1962, at the age of 15, I won my first national recognition as a photographer by scoring an honorable mention award in Kodak’s highly prestigious National High School Photography Contest.  In following years I moved on to 35mm cameras, abandoning 120 film and B&W photography, in favor of Kodachrome 25 slide (transparency) film and its (for the times) highly saturated colors.

In 2009 I left the world of film behind for the new digital technology, and I’ve never looked back.  Unfortunately, all of those beautiful old film cameras have since gone into retirement (Leica, Rolleiflex, Nikon, Yashica and many others).  Today, I shoot primarily with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II full-frame digital camera and Canon L-lenses (Pro lenses).  However, the image above was captured with my little Canon PowerShot G15 digital pocket camera (my backup shooter).

With digital technology I can once again do my own processing, albeit without my dad’s assistance.  I took this photo of Basilica Del Voto Nacional this morning, in Quito, Ecuador. In color it was only an average photograph at best, but in B&W it became a dramatic statement just begging a story.  I didn’t get this end result by “just” converting a color image into a B&W image.  In fact I posted my first attempt on FB, and it looked nothing like this final creation.

I first captured this scene as a CameraRAW file (yes, my little G15 will shoot in CameraRAW). RAW conversion and initial post-edits were completed in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE11).  I further refined the image with judicious cropping and sharpening, and then began to work on the dramatic elements of the photograph.  I threw the foreground into deep shadow, but left the sky and clouds with their lighter exposure.  In “Levels” I enhanced the blacks, making them blacker.  I increased the contrast significantly, again in an effort to create a more dramatic effect.

As the image stands now, it easily reminds me of something I might see in Germany, Romania or Bulgaria.  Dark, brooding and Gothic.  Dramatic.  Who would guess that it was actually photographed at 9,300 feet in the Andes mountains of South America?  I think photography is more than just recording a scene, it is about interpreting a scene and bringing an artistic vision to fruition.  Some so-called “Purist” photographers would disagree with me.  That is their right.

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 Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Quito, Ecuador

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