Category Archives: Monochrome Photography

On the Streets of San Francisco: An Hour in Noe Valley

Flower Stand - Noe Valley - 2015

I wasn’t able to do much photography this week – and felt a need to both get out to shoot – and just to exercise! I love walking with my camera in my hand – looking for the light, beautiful backgrounds, and great people. My muse today was the recently published book “See San Francisco” by Victoria Smith. She lives in San Francisco’s Noe Valley – and the first chapter in her book is based there.

24th Street was my playground. I was lucky and found a close by parking spot on Jersey Street, just south of 24th. It was a beautiful early afternoon in San Francisco – and I had a great time exploring this new territory for me with my Fujifilm X100T.

Hope you enjoy these images!

Noe Valley - San Francisco - 2015

Glance - Noe Valley - 2015

Ricochet - Noe Valley - 2015

Complete Auto Repair - Noe Valley - 2015

Glow - Noe Valley - 2015

Dream - Noe Valley - 2015

On the Streets of San Francisco: Black and White (Monochrome)

Rider - San Francisco - 2015

Here’s an image from a recent San Francisco photo walk along Market Street with my friend Doug Kaye. This particular image, while interesting in color, actually needed to be processed in black and white. Why? Sometimes the colors in an image just add “noise” – in the sense that they’re distracting. By processing the image in monochrome, that color “noise” falls away and you can focus on the lights and shadows – and, more importantly, on the actual subject of the composition.

This is a great example where monochrome was just right.

On the Streets of San Francisco – Black and White or Color?

Old News - San Francisco - 2015

For street photography, the genre is perhaps best known for black and white images. But, for me – perhaps as a result of the strong influence that Jay Maisel had on me last year – I often choose color. But not exclusively. Jay’s mantra is “light, gesture, color” – and for a lot of images that combination is very powerful and products the best result.

But, there are many images where the monochrome treatment of black and white yield a more “powerful” image. I’m not one to prefer one over the other – each image I take provides me with the option to choose either monochrome or color. I shoot my Fujifilm X100T in RAW+JPEG mode – with the JPEG style often being one of the monochrome styles. But, sometimes, I opt for my JPEGs to be processed in the X100T using one of the color modes – with Classic Chrome and its subtle color treatment increasingly being my favorite.

This image is an example. I opted to leave it in color – Classic Chrome – as I love the rose color in both the signage and the bricks on the sidewalk along San Francisco’s Market Street.

Each image has its own personality – treat each image that way and decide which is best: color or monochrome. Today’s digital cameras give us that option!

The Power and Beauty of Monochrome

Arise - Klamath Overlook - 2014

2014 has been an amazing photographic journey for me. For example, my Lightroom catalog currently has almost 68,000 images in it – spanning the years 2000-2014 – with over 25,000 of those (37%) shot just in 2014. It’s almost crazy how many images I’ve taken this year!

Something I regularly revisit is the split between my earlier work on landscape photography and my more recent interest in street photography. They’re very different – but, in some sense, both deliver very satisfying feelings as I look back on my work.

Another always interesting insight is the color vs monochrome difference – how color can really enhance an image and how monochrome can to – by reducing the distractions of color. It’s a dichotomy – one that’s always fun to explore.

I recently watched a brief series of videos by John Sexton – and he inspired me to look back and explore more fully some of the landscape shots I’ve taken this year. This is one example – an image shot with my Fujifilm X-E2 at early morning at the Klamath River Overlook in far northern California as part of Michael Frye‘s Mystic Forest workshop. The color image is quite beautiful – shot as the sun was rising in early June. But I think this monochrome treatment is especially good – with its drama, composition and mood. This is an image I need to print and frame – I think it’s one of those special ones!

In the December Light at Ocean Beach with an iPhone 6 in Hand!

Ocean Beach - San Francisco - 2014

I love the light this time of year – and, for those of us who live in northern California, we also might even get some clouds in the skies! The combination of low angle light and great clouds – when we get them – is magical. This morning was one of those mornings – the skies were in “clearing winter storm” mode with lots of low clouds beginning to break up, swirl around, mixing with the sunlight in dancing patterns.

I headed up to San Francisco – originally thinking I was just going to visit the galleries at 49 Geary St. where a new Group F.64 exhibition has opened at the Scott Nichols Gallery and a new retrospective show – “The Plot Thickens” – has just been put up at the Fraenkel Gallery. My plan was to drive to Daly City BART and then BART in to the Montgomery Street station and walk to the galleries at 49 Geary.

But, as I was driving north up 280, the skies were just magnificent. I kept resisting the urge to find a place to pull over to shoot the clouds hanging along the skyline of the coastal ridge – and just let me eyes enjoy the magnificent play between cloud and light. As I got closer to Daly City, I could see that this cloud activity continued further north over the western beach of San Francisco and, perhaps, even up to the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate. I waved off my plan for Daly City BART and, instead, headed over Brotherhood Way to Sunset, then Sloat and up the Great Highway to the Cliff House.

That’s where this image was taken – shot handheld with my iPhone 6 and post-processed in Lightroom. What a beautiful morning!

That Discussion at San Francisco’s Ferry Building

Discussion - San Francisco - 2014

As I was leaving San Francisco’s Ferry Building, I came across this scene – in the bright sunshine and dark shadows I shot this image with my iPhone 6. The advertising posters provide curious backdrops to an intense discussion underway between this couple. And the guy off to the right is clearly wondering what I’m doing – as he’s looking right at me.

Jaime Ibarra told me one time that fingers in an image are all important. His background as a flamenco guitar artist influenced his view – but he’s right. Most of the best gestures in an image include fingers – including this one.

What makes a great image? Not sure I know – but I find the multiple areas of interest in this one capture my eyes. The contrast, the posters, the curves of the shadows – and the people.

That Decisive Moment – Street Photography in San Francisco’s Chinatown

Walker - San Francisco - 2014

Lots of credit – deservedly so – has gone to the notion of “the decisive moment” in photography and its origin with Henri Cartier-Bresson. The notion is a precise capture at the moment of most interest.

In late August, Doug Kaye and I went exploring in San Francisco’s Chinatown. We came across this lovely alley way that heading up hill – a perfect “stage” that street photographers love to find. Once you’ve got a stage, you have to wait for something interesting to come by and fill it – patience helps!

I got lucky – this fellow walked into my shot and I was able to capture him in mid-step – holding that coffee cup in his left hand. A decisive moment to be sure!

Playing with Sepia Toning of Highlights in Monochrome Images

Moody #2 - San Francisco - 2014

I recently got reacquainted with the beautiful monochrome work of Michael Kenna. His images have a number of striking qualities – mostly long exposure, his use of grain, and the square (and small 8×8 inch) print size. But for me it’s the light in his images that grab me.

Doing a bit of reading of interviews of Kenna, he has spoken about his he uses a light sepia toning in the highlights of his images – and how, by doing so, the mind’s eye sees the highlights as a bit forward in space while the shadows are pushed back – adding a sense of dimensionality to an image.

This is an image of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge shot from San Francisco’s Embarcadero with my Fujifilm X-E2 on a particularly moody February morning. I used it as an example for applying this kind of technique – sepia toning of the highlights. To do so, it’s an easy process in Photoshop CC. Select the RGB channel to create a selection, then add a gradient map adjustment layer – the selection will automatically be loaded into the adjustment layer’s layer mask. Then select the photographic toning Sepia 1 tone – and you’re done with the highlights.

I took it a bit further, duplicating that process but inverting the layer mask to add a Selenium 2 tone to the shadows – pushing them further back in the mind’s eye.

Below is the original monochrome version of this image – you can see the difference. Click on either to see a larger version.

Moody - San Francisco - 2014

Black and White Toning – An Example from Havana

Ready - Havana - 2013

I’m a fan of black and white – especially black and white with subtle toning. My favorite uses the platinum toning in PhotoShop CC.

Here’s an example – an image from January 2013 in Havana. I loved the light on the bicycle – and the toning adds a bit of interesting depth. This image was shot with my Nikon D600.