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Barn with frost in rural Minnehaha County.
Barn with frost in rural Minnehaha County.
Snow on leaves at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snow on leaves at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snow falling at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snow falling at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snowflakes on a feather at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snowflakes on a feather at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Winter berries at Newton Hills State Park.
Winter berries at Newton Hills State Park.
Snowflakes on a leaf at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Snowflakes on a leaf at the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus.
Plane with contrails northwest of Sioux Falls.
Plane with contrails northwest of Sioux Falls.
Snowy Owl in flight northwest of Sioux Falls.
Snowy Owl in flight northwest of Sioux Falls.
Zoar Lutheran Church after ice and snowstorm in rural Day County.
Zoar Lutheran Church after ice and snowstorm in rural Day County.
Snowfall with the Old Courthouse Museum Tower, downtown Sioux Falls.
Snowfall with the Old Courthouse Museum Tower, downtown Sioux Falls.
Snowfall at Sherman Park, Sioux Falls.
Snowfall at Sherman Park, Sioux Falls.
Snowfall at Sherman Park, Sioux Falls.
Snowfall at Sherman Park, Sioux Falls.
My photography professor said one of the most beautiful things to depict in black and white is prairie grass. You can see why in this image taken at Badlands National Park.
My photography professor said one of the most beautiful things to depict in black and white is prairie grass. You can see why in this image taken at Badlands National Park.
American Bison grazing at Badlands National Park.
American Bison grazing at Badlands National Park.
Virgin Creek United Church of Christ in tiny LaPlant.
Virgin Creek United Church of Christ in tiny LaPlant.
A prairie scene northeast of Waubay.
A prairie scene northeast of Waubay.
Grain elevators with historic sign at Esmond.
Grain elevators with historic sign at Esmond.
A prairie scene in rural Kingsbury County.
A prairie scene in rural Kingsbury County.

The Beauty of Black and White

Jan 31, 2018

Two things have long piqued my interest: history and black and white photography. I stared for hours upon hours at grainy, monochrome images of the Civil War up through vintage World War II film footage. Old family photos and slides were often black and white, too. The seeds of my appreciation for the medium were likely planted because of these, but it wasn’t until I actually learned to develop black and white photos in college that I really began to appreciate the power of black and white photography.

I recently read a description of black and white photography as being romantic. I think abstract is a better word. A scene rendered in black and white is not what an average person sees. Draining the color from an image both simplifies and complicates. The simplicity lies in the lack of color, but complication arises when a viewer’s imagination needs to work harder to figure out the details and mood of the image.

The best black and whites have a true black tone and a true white tone somewhere within them. This allows rest of the gray tones to play out beautifully in between. I’ve always been a fan of the “red filter” look that Ansel Adams made famous. It turns the azure blue sky of a clear day into a strong dark, if not completely black tone. This adds contrast to any white cloud in the sky or light colored object below, which brings drama to the image.

I was keeping an eye on a snowy owl visitor to my neighborhood in northwest Sioux Falls. It was a cold, clear blue, winter sky. I happened to see a large jet passing overhead, so I pointed my camera up to get a photo of the plane and its contrails. The image was OK in color, but the photo really popped when editing in black and white with the “red filter” technique. I tried the same thing with an image I captured of the snowy owl in flight against that same blue sky. I quickly fell in love with how the black of the sky set off the beauty of the nearly white bird in flight.

I think most folks agree that there is true beauty in falling snow and in undisturbed snowfall. The white flakes against a dark background like the Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Sioux Falls or the barren trees of upper Sherman Park are favorite subjects for me. This January, I spent a few hours hiking the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus during a heavy snow. This time, I took my macro lens to see if I could find new a black and white beauty close-up. One of my favorite images of the day was finding a feather nestled on a tree branch that was catching snowflakes. You’ll find that image in this column, along with few more of my favorite black and whites from this winter and a few oldies but goodies from warmer times and winters past. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I have enjoyed finding them.

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

Comments

10:37 am - Wed, January 31 2018
Roger said:
Three cheers, Christian! I love your images ... black and white photography rules! Color is no more than a passing fad, in my opinion. I don't know if you are old enough to have ever worked in a darkroom developing your own b&w prints ... if not, you really missed out on something. I loved to slip the exposed photographic paper into the developer and watch an image magically appear. Clicking the mouse and waiting for a print to come out of the printer can't compare.
10:37 am - Wed, January 31 2018
Roger said:
Three cheers, Christian! I love your images ... black and white photography rules! Color is no more than a passing fad, in my opinion. I don't know if you are old enough to have ever worked in a darkroom developing your own b&w prints ... if not, you really missed out on something. I loved to slip the exposed photographic paper into the developer and watch an image magically appear. Clicking the mouse and waiting for a print to come out of the printer can't compare.
09:14 am - Fri, February 2 2018
Christian said:
Thanks Roger! I did learn old school ways of chemicals and dodgers and burners. I can still smell that dark room smell if I try hard enough :)

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