Black & White

This dramatic black & white image presents a classical view of Yosemite National Park's Half Dome. (Bill Ferris)

This dramatic black & white image presents a classical view of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome. (Bill Ferris)

The above HDR image of Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome was originally shot in color but I prefer this black and white treatment. Black and white is sometimes better at conveying the timeless beauty of a landscape. This is one of those times.

Just about anyone who appreciates and enjoys landscape photography is familiar with Ansel Adams. Born in 1902, Adams’s creative eye and mastery of photographic technique allowed him to produce timeless images of the American west. Ansel Adams defined American landscape photography in the 20th Century. Many of his greatest works are black and white compositions of dramatic vistas. Adams’s, “Moon over Half Dome,” is an iconic American image.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing myself to Ansel Adams. However, like many landscape photographers, I am inspired by his work. My black and white Half Dome image is my own small tribute to a great photographer who showed that a well-composed image captured in the right light has the power to touch a person’s soul. Adams made that magical one-on-one connection countless times during his career. Every day, it is my goal to do the same. Produce an image that connects at some level with another person.

Black and white photography as an homage to the pantheon of early great photographers is one reason the genre has a special ability to convey something timeless about a subject. Another reason, is the symbolic nature of this technique.

 (Bill Ferris)

Years of neglect have stripped this ranch building to nothing but the frame. But that framework remains solid and strong, still resilient years after abandonment. (Bill Ferris)

Symbolism is a powerful thing. At least, it can be. This photo of an old ranch building is symbolic of issues related to the passage of time.

The building has been abandoned for years. The floor is pealing and disintegrated. Wall slats lie scattered about. It may have been well-used and central to ranching operations in years past. But today, this building stands forgotten and in disuse. In contrast–or possibly defiance–to its current state, the frame of the building appears to stand straight and strong. You almost get the impression the building is patiently waiting for a time when people will find value in and use of it, again.

This is representative of exactly what we feel as we age. We fear being abandoned, forgotten and lost in the shadows of history. We fear having a sound mind and stout heart, but being trapped in an aging shell that prevents us from being actively engaged with the world.

The abandoned building reflects reflects these themes. The structure was built for a purpose and, presumably, served that purpose, well, for some period of time. Like mortal man, no building lasts forever. Time and the forces of nature work on us. Just as a man can return to the earth from which he first arose, so too can a building disintegrate into nothing. However, to be abandoned is arguably worse than to be destroyed. If destroyed, there is at least a rationale for disuse. That which no longer exists cannot be used. However, to be capable of serving a useful purpose but to be abandoned, that is a terrible thing. It is the very definition of loneliness.

Black and white strips an image down to its bare essentials. Gone, are the aesthetic elements of color. Gone, is the photograph’s function as an objective document of the subject. All that remains are elemental qualities: brightness, contrast, tone, texture and composition. Black and white is elemental. It is symbolic…at least, it has that potential.

Get out and shoot.

Bill Ferris | August 2013


Leave a Reply