I recently had lunch with a good friend and fellow photographer Greg Worthen who, for a lack of a better term, specializes in black and white (b&w) portraiture. It was a great opportunity for me to pick his brain on how he gets such amazing images so routinely. It was also a great opportunity to get his perspective on photography in general.
One of the few followers of my work, Greg was quick to point out my blog posts discussing Photoshop and mirrorless cameras. Not only does he own and master a mirrorless camera, he also does very little editing on his images. His camera is simply amazing. It is incredibly lightweight and sharp with a fixed focal length non-interchangeable lens. In addition, it gives him the ability to view his composition in b&w before taking the shot. He also explained that if he can’t get the shot in camera, he is reluctant to crop the image in post just to try and save the image. All this being said, always take advice from anyone, myself included, with a grain of salt. He is a perfect example of how my previous opinions on Photoshop and mirrorless cameras are just that, opinions.
If you are anything like me, your b&w photography consists of desaturating an image you like to see how it looks in b&w with maybe some minor adjustments or filters. I am convinced this is the wrong way to achieve amazing b&w images. You should be composing your scenes specifically with b&w in mind before you even pick up your camera. B&w images typically have much higher levels of contrast than most color images. Getting it right, in camera, goes a long way in creating great b&w picture. It is a skill and talent that takes a fair amount of practice to perfect. My friend has been a photographer for years and that experience shows in his work.
With the ability to snap a quick picture on a cell phone and immediately share it on social media, we are inundated with random images, but there is something very powerful about a properly presented b&w portrait. It draws you in. You are forced to notice the image and truly consider it. Greg's images beg you to try and figure out the story behind the picture. This is exactly what his photography does for me. He is also an expert at making his images look very candid. It’s as if the model has no idea there is a camera in the vicinity. Aside from the great images, Greg has created a website and Facebook page devoted to his continuing work called Project Other. “Project-other is about capturing the humanity we share by exploring the subcultures where we define ourselves when we don’t otherwise fit into what society considers ‘normal.’” His images and message taken together, make his work phenomenal. A comment on one of his pictures says it best. “I love these photos...there is so much emotion… and they have a story to be told. They are awesome.” Couldn't agree more!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.