„With all these sensational black and white image challenges going around social media lately, who else has been craving a slice of color? Well, time to bring out your glorious sunsets. Show us a hint of pink… or the sky on fire!“ This message is what my friends over at The Arcanum posted recently on Facebook. But why? Monochrome sunsets are so much more interesting!
As you can imagine, I didn’t feel addressed right away. In fact, I have enjoyed the increased amount of black&white photographs on the web. Being the busy bees they are, the members of Arcanum community started posting many fantastic photos right away. All images were beautiful to behold, all nicely composed, all with beautifully enhanced colors and a good deal of „pop.“ YEAH! Unfortunately, though, many (surely not all) images looked pretty similar – which is (at second glance) hardly surprising. After all, everybody had followed the same or very similar rules and guidelines in the creative process.
The Prison of Colors
Sometimes, TV commercials can be pretty sensational. One of the best commercial I have seen in quite a long time is the one on the Leica Monochrom. The visuals in this clip are truly outstanding and creative, and the words are pure poetry, at least for a black & white photographer like me. Here’s an example from the clip:
In the colored world, there is no space for dreams …. The colors order. The eyes obey. As serious and predictable cell with silver bars.
Beautiful, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more:
A black & white world is anarchistic. In it, norms only exist for those who decide to invent them. … Black & white is all the colors.
In the prison of colors, black & white is the sunbath.
He concludes with the words:
Free yourself from colors.
You can watch the clip here, if you like.
Now, of course, this clip is a commercial. And I would not subscribe to the view suggested here that monochrome photography is more and color photography is less creative by nature. I have seen (and created) far too many uninspired monochrome photos and on the other so many immensely imaginative color photographs.
But still, I think there is a grain of truth in it. Sometimes, the subject matter can be very overpowering and intrusive in the creative process of the photographer. And I think that sunsets an excellent example for this. Who is not impressed by the magnificence of a dramatic or subtle sunset, by the beauty of its colors? Who could be blamed for trying to reproduce this beauty and these impressions on the computer in post processing? Sunsets are beautiful, and there is no blame in creating postcard quality photographs of them.
I’d like to go against the grain here and share with you a collection of monochrome sunset photographs with you. For monochrome photographers, sunsets are quite challenging because there is no easy way of converting them to black & white in a way that they could live up to the beauty of there color counterparts. If you try to reproduce the splendor of a colorful sunset photograph, you are doomed to fail. The colors are gone. There is no way of telling the story of their beauty in a black & white picture. The photographer must look for a different story. In other words, with sunsets, he is forced to be interpretative and creative.
In order to tell a different story in monochrome sunsets, you have many options. The limit is your imagination. Here is one of them. After you strip a sunset from its beautiful colors, it becomes evident quickly that a sunset is nothing more than an extreme backlighting situation. So, in order to make monochrome sunsets more interesting, you can do everything which makes backlit photographs so exciting, e.g. including other elements in the frame which then often appear as silhouettes. Depending on the size of these silhouettes, you often get quite large dark or even black areas in the frame which is always good for mood and mystery as well.
This way, you add quite a bit of storytelling to the image. The photograph becomes less descriptive and more suggestive. It all comes down to the story you wish to tell and ultimately to the way you as a photographer interpret the scene. With monochrome sunsets, it isn’t enough to be creative in post processing alone. You also must be creative while shooting to think of the story that you wish to tell and which is not dictated by the colorful scene.
I am not claiming that the images in my collection are the best black & white sunsets out there. They are, this much should be clear by now, my personal interpretation of the scene, and therefore bound to be incompatible with your own interpretations of sunsets. This is why sunsets are more demanding in black & white not only for the photographer but also for the viewer. He or she has to be open for different perspectives and willing be impressed (positively or negatively) by what seems strange and alien at first.
So, without further ado, here are the images.