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

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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

More Con­trast

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

Ver­sion 2

Ver­sion 1

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