1. Do a Bill Brandt
Bill Brandt revisited his earlier images and re-printed them more starkly as he got older – and set a precedent
World-renowned British photographer Bill Brandt enjoyed experimenting with, and even challenging, the conventions of photography. He wrote, “I’m not interested in rules or conventions. Photography is not a sport.”
One of his more disconcerting practices, which began in the 1950s and increased in intensity over the following years, was to move from what one of his biographers, Sarah Meister, called “very silvery tones” into “higher contrast, higher pitch” prints. As The New York Times put it after a show in New York: “To the dismay of his admirers in the 1960s he began to reprint his early images, replacing their soft, seeping greys and blacks with stark blacks and whites.”
Brandt was certainly not the only photographer to revisit his earlier work and change its look, but his alterations were surely some of the most dramatic examples. As a precedent, such change tends to worry people who believe in certainty, but you can also see it as quite liberating, because it extends the control you have over your pictures. Some argue that there’s a perfectly legitimate breathing space in the last stages of making a photograph that is entirely your own business, and changing your mind is quite okay.
Here [right] are two examples of this, and I’ve kept them both in black and white, not least because it offers more room for interpretation than colour does. In my first example, Tea-picking in Hangzhou, China, the light was less than perfect, but still it seemed possible to make something out of the field of green leaves framed by the trees. I still had doubts when I looked at the image later, not least because of the red on the woman’s clothing, and I couldn’t decide if the contrast with the green was pleasing
or distracting. In the end I decided the latter, so chose to convert it to black and white very simply. That seemed to be an improvement, but I still wasn’t enthusiastic until even later, when I realised that by taking the brightness down and increasing the contrast, and raising the green channel to compensate, the focus of the shot shifted to a comparison between the bright white hats and the darker, high-contrast leaves.
In the second image, of Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite National Park, California, I knew I wanted a blackand-white image from the start, and a wide-angle view from low down, but I went through three versions over a period of time.
For the first, I stuck to traditional global controls, applied overall and then locally: Exposure, Contrast, Whites and Blacks. This was purely a personal choice, because even though I was aiming for a dramatic, intense finish, I still wanted a traditional photographic feel. Then a little later I decided to try a slightly stronger look, by rescuing the depth between the rocks in the foreground and the cliffs and falls beyond. But then a year later, I came back to the photograph afresh, and decided to go for a more powerful effect and concentrate attention more in the centre. The annotated images (below) show how I treated these three conversions differently.
While you could see re-processing as indecisiveness, it can instead be evidence of continuing to evaluate your images, and of your own evolving tastes Version 3
b+W BAS IC Processing an image of tea-pickers in China went first from colour, then to black and white, and then to a starker, harder final version
1. Add contrast and darken more 2. Add contrast 3. Darken 1 stop 4. Darken slightly 4 1 2 3
Darken more Deepen shadows slightly