2017 10 - An Affinity with Monochrome

21st October 2017
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
18th October 2017
An Affinity with Monochrome

Les Forrester brought us a different talk with his focus firmly on monochrome. His recent retirement has given Les opportunities to travel more widely to extend his portfolio and we were treated to a wide selection of his images within a considerable range of genres. At present he is feeling drawn to architecture which often lends itself to symmetry. Les showed us his final images and, in some cases, the original image straight from the camera, working through to the finished product.

We began with the lightweight kit Les has assembled. He uses both Fuji and Leica cameras, so needs accessories and batteries for both. His cameras have slots for two memory cards and he uses 32Gb cards with the camera set to record to both simultaneously as back up. He carries lens wipes to ensure his lenses are clean and a chamois leather too throw over everything to soak up any rain falling during a shot. Les’ paper is final part of his ‘kit’ is. He selects heavy papers of 310 – 340gsm of a type based on the needs of the image and primarily the depth of the blacks in it.

As he showed his work, Les described his meticulous research and planning to ensure that when he has travelled to a location he knows exactly where he is going and what he will shoot so that he makes maximum use of his time.

We began with selection of architectural shots first. Foggy Westminster Bridge gave way to the geometric shapes of a new Crossrail stations near Canary Wharf. This provided endless opportunities to make use of the shapes in the construction, the lighting and the strong lines in the glazing bars. Water also helps, allowing reflections to become part of the composition.

The next set was taken during an overnight workshop which Les had attended to discover a variety of locations in ‘hidden London’ – mostly old buildings with cobbled streets. This ran from 9pm to 6.30am when two black cabs transported the group and a course leader to the various location.. The lighting and damp cobbles provided very atmospheric images in areas a stranger would be unlikely to chance upon.

Looking upwards seems to be catching as Les notices passers-by looking up to see what he is doing. On occasions he is able to lie down to line up the shot and make sure everything is square, but frequently he has to stand and hand hold the camera.

People in images are always focal points. In some cases Les waits for people to walk into shot to give a sense of scale or to lead the eye. In others he wants the building, the space or the light to speak for itself and will use techniques, and his commendable patience, to capture an empty scene.

Long exposure is commonly used to eliminate people from a scene. During the exposure each part of the image is empty more than it is obscured by people, resulting in an apparently empty space. The length of exposure required to do this can only be achieved in daylight hours by using a filter to block much of the light. Les favours a 16-stop filter which can give him exposures of around 4 minutes. Trial shots are essential to get it right, but as each takes the full time, it is not a quick process. Les noted one occasion when he had waited 20 minutes for a cloud to come into shot and liven up the sky.

Log exposures even out the movement of sea water, making it look smooth, and show clouds in a dynamic way. Les said he questions whether this treatment of landscapes and seascapes is best described as those genres or as creative photography because the view obtained could not be seen in nature.

It was interesting to see Les’ process. He always processes for either a colour image or a monochrome image, returning to the original to create a different treatment. He clearly has the experience to see in his mind the way colours will appear as tones in monochrome or how they could be adjusted to give the desired result.

Some colour images appeared unpromising or virtually monochrome to the uninitiated. A shot in a Stuttgart library was an excellent illustration of Les’ processing technique. Clever crops and straightening up the lines made a huge difference before anything else was done. The basic black and white conversion was then be worked on to subtly accentuate the dark and light areas and to improve highlights to draw the viewer’s eye through the image. With experience and patience at the computer Les created an image which was strikingly different from his original but with mostly only small changes of emphasis in the tones or light.

After a small section of people shots, the final part of the talk returned to architecture and moved on to Les’ latest interest in producing very light toned mages. He described the learning process he is going through illustrated by some very different images. It was clear that to be able to achieve the success Les has achieved in this genre you need a very good understanding of light.