The Online Darkroom Store

Tuesday, July 21

More "shapes and tones"

Sorry about the posting hiatus. I was a bit burnt out after the decorating/DIY and couldn't get myself motivated. Before I knew it, a week off turned into a fortnight. One reader thought to ask in an email if I was OK but in a follow up suggested I should have said I was taking a holiday to save him checking the blog in vain most days. Not sure if it was my welfare or his own he was concerned about!

I'm still pursuing what I think of as my "shapes and tones" style, excising extraneous detail as far as possible to simplify the images and reduce them to interesting shades of light and dark. The ones in this post were taken on the Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron.

At least one reader will be happy to know that I'm going to temporarily retire the Leica pending its repair. I'm losing several frames per roll due to a shutter fault and am getting a bit cheesed off. The camera deserves to be restored to full health so I'll package it up and send it off.

Some of the pics in this post are more successful than others but that's always the case, isn't it, regardless of the style of photography. The hardest part of this style is finding suitable subject matter. A big majority of my photos are taken in sunlight but that immediately reduces my opportunities in misty old Scotland (did you see the weather at The Open golf? I'm about 15 miles from St Andrews as the crow flies). But let's assume for the sake of argument that the sun is shining. What kind of things lend themselves to the shapes and tones treatment?

One of the things that is immediately attractive are shadow shapes but that's the easy way out. Sometimes an interesting shadow does make a good pic but I'm more interested in shapes that are in shadow and therefore featureless black rather than their projected shadow. Projected shadows are more numerous and accessible from my point of view but I have to fight against their lure and look for something more intriguing.

Sadly, there's no alternative to just looking and looking for shapes and tones. I can't sit down and plan it the way I would an excursion into the countryside for some landscape photography or pay a visit to a nearby place of history like the 17th century stables (here and here) I photographed a while back.

So it's really just a matter of going out with the camera and searching. Quite often I'll find nothing at all that fits the bill but now and again I get lucky.

I've experimented a little with underexposing the scene to help achieve the dark tones but, as Ralph Gibson found decades ago, the results seem to be better when the scene is normally exposed and the image printed down.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been finding the 50mm lens entirely adequate for what I'm after. In fact, I was sorting through stuff in my darkroom the other day and came across an Olympus 35RC rangefinder with full control over shutter speeds, aperture and focusing. It has a very sharp 42mm lens and a nice, bright and easily viewed viewfinder.

It occurred to me that it would be entirely possible to get by with just this one compact and cheap camera for almost all of the photography I'm doing in this vein. It made me wonder why I'm weighed down with all the gear I have - albeit not enough to persuade me to sell it all!


DavidM said...

The Olympus sounds great.
Ken Rockwell loves it, really loves it to bits. Read his account. A treasure!

Paul Blanchard said...

The shot of the house with the Scottish Lime Harling catching the light is superb both from the technical viewpoint and visualisation.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I like the last one of the stones - great stuff Bruce and sorry to hear about the M2.
You'll get back in the swing of things - burn-out is a strange thing.
As for just one camera - yes, it makes total sense, but to narrow things down to just one is damn near impossible!