Does the absence of colour in photography make your statement more provocative and powerful?
This is a question that photographers need to ask themselves, if they are working on a serious topic that demands an immediate emotion.
As a photography instructor, it is my duty to take my students from the realm of "happy snapper" as I call the "point-and-shoot" crowd, to enlightened "photographers" who use their cameras as tools of expression and information.
In this Photographic Thesis, I wanted to use my camera to explore "Woman as the face of hope in humanity".
The early theologians would reflect on their icon of Mary, as their face of hope.
Besides Christ, no other subject in iconography has been more depicted than Mary, the Theotokos (Greek for “Mother of God”, literally “God-Bearer”). It shouldn’t be surprising that no human being born of a mother, would not resemble their mother to some extent.
Mary is shown wearing a veil typical of Jewish women of the period. The veil announces to the viewer her humility and piety. The veil is red, this is the colour of divinity, whilst the clothes under the veil are blue, the colour of humanity.
In the world of today, I feel that "Mother / Woman" is still the face of hope especially to her children.
When faced with extreme conditions, it is Mother's face that must portray a sense of hope.
In this photographic experiment, I prevailed upon 10 Mothers to enter my studio without knowing why. They knew that I was going to photograph them, but not how they were to pose or express themselves.
Once in my studio, I told them of my thesis idea. I asked them to close their eyes and visualize an extreme and dangerous situation whereby their children were at risk. Once that visual was in their minds, I asked them to tell their children in a very convincing manner, in their mind's eye, that "everything would be alright".
Unlike the icon of Mary, I did not want colour to communicate any information nor the eyes open! William Shakespeare once said that the "eyes" are the "windows to the soul" and in portrait photography the eyes are a very important focal point. However; I did not want either element in my project.
I wanted to see if I could bring out an "emotive" response that communicated a profound "belief" and transcended the subjects and the viewers.
Some of the most enduring, timeless and powerful photographs that elicit a deep emotional response are in monochrome.
I wanted only elements like tonal contrast, texture, shape, form and quality of light to influence my monochrome photographs. When you study the images closely, you will see every tone from a deep black to a vibrant white.
HOW TO MANAGE MONOCHROME PORTRAITS
Portrait photography is a genre where monochrome images can really shine. Like any technique, there are considerations that you should regard that can help to make sure your images have the most impact.
First, you need to start with a black or white background. If you can start your shoot knowing that it will be in monochrome, you can take steps to ensure that all of the elements of beauty are in place before you press the shutter.
Lighting is best if it is flat. Harsh lighting or obscure lighting will remove the graduation of grey tones and then it will start to look like a newspaper print. If you do not start off right, you will not be able to repair in a post production. However, there are no hard and fast rules. If you like high contrast images with hard gradations in tone, then choose a harder source of light. If you like soft tones and subtler images, then you want a softer light source.
It is best to set your camera to a monochrome setting so that your image matches what you see through the lens. Of course, this is not essential as you can change a colour photo to monochrome in post production, but if you don't know how colours will appear in monochrome, then best to shoot in monochrome to start with.
In any portrait shoot, the eyes are more important consideration in your composition. Remembering your 2/3rds rule will help you with the vertical composition that portraits are normally shot in.
With the omission of colour, monochrome images often break down into semi-graphic assemblage of forms and shapes. Eyes are shapes that everyone recognizes and they draw immediate focus from your viewers. Make sure that your subject’s eyes are well lit, and in focus is critical.
Facial expressions, like the eyes, become more prominent in a monochrome portraits. You can use this to your advantage by conveying an emotion in your images. Even tiny changes in your subject’s expression can make a difference. Things like a smile line, raised eyebrow, a smile at the corner of a mouth, and even wrinkles can all be used to great effect.
If you have a willing subject, then you can prepare a list of emotive words and phrases to project on them and each word will give you a reaction to how they feel. Those are the feelings that project onto the frame of your camera.