February 9, 2011
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In the distant past, when life was simple for a photographer there was black and white film. If one studied the way light worked with film and combined this with an understanding of the effects of film development and finally how the resulting negative could be printed to achieve optimum results then there was a satisfaction in that we were working as the greats like Ansel Adams. AA wrote three books that were seminal to an understanding of black and white photography; The Camera, The Negative and The Print. He was introducing to the world the Zone System.
The evolution into digital left many skilled and experienced photographers bereft, decades of learning and practical application were almost valueless in the new world, or so we thought. Eventually methods were realised that allowed us to apply much of the Zone System to digital photography. Of course it is not quite the same as working in a darkroom; it is cleaner, you smell less of hypo, your clothes are less stained and you do not spend hours on your own in a darkened room. I often think this last point was much of the attraction for some photographers although not for all, hence the success of The Photographers Workshop where from 1982 until 3 years ago you could rent professionally equipped communal darkrooms and were able to share the dark with others, it became….well communal. We still operate as The Photographers Workshop as well as The Oxford School of Photography but no longer have darkrooms.
We run a Black and White digital course that embraces the concepts of the Zone System as applied to digital photography, it is involved and technical but even in the chemical days it was always thus. This course is proving to be a great success and many of the images produced by students for the class have well….class. some are below from the most recent course.
Anyway the point is that the nice people at Lightstalking have prepared a pdf, which is free to download here that goes some of the way to explaining how to achieve the best results shooting black and white digitally. The information is not as precise or as inclusive as we provide on our course but you may not be lucky enough to live in Oxford and be able to attend one of our courses so this will have to do.