Myanmar seen in monochrome

Early morning near Inle Lake, Myanmar

As I’ve been in Burma traveling around some years ago I could see the big potentials as an exciting travel destination. It started to take a faster pace in 2011 as more and more tourists had the chance to visit the country. Now it has been raised from fourth place in 2012 to the top spot in 2013 in some of the traveler magazine ratings.

Mist over the Irrawady River

It’s actually not much of a surprise for me as you can find plenty of highlights in the country. There are the old grand colonial buildings in Yangoon itself not to mention the incredible Schwedagon Pagoda. In the north in Mandalay near the Irrawaddy River you will find a town surrounded by hills which are topped with pagodas wherever you look.

A stupa-studded plain in the middle of the country – Bagan – is waiting to be explored. And last but not least the vast Inle Lake here you can find fishermen in their canoes paddling an oar with one leg.

Everything is worth to be shown in bright and vibrant colors. That said I just got a call from a friend of the Hanoi Photo club who accused me to have given him a virus. A virus of black and white!

Canoe with fisherman in Myanmar

So I thought, as I already have some experience using it in my street photography, why not cast color aside as well for some landscape shots in favor for a timeless and beautiful look of monochrome? But to do myself justice I didn’t do it for the one and only reason many might try it nowadays.

All too often you can see that black and white is casually dismissed and just used for problem images. It seems to me, that it is often taken as a solution and quick fix when an image hasn’t worked in color. Why not try a b/w – wow!? – or may be not so wow at all.

I might look like an old grumpy grandfather - … back in the days when … But it is true back in the days of film b/w hasn’t been a safety net. You had to choose between color or b/w with film. To convert your color shots to b/w afterwards hasn’t been made a concept at that time as only a few photographer developed and processed their images on their own. Post-production was a thing you had a lab for.

Today with all different kind of post production software you can be your own master and just changing from color to b/w if your white balance settings are a mess, if the exposure is off or lighting is flat is very easy and tempting. Sometimes a good solution as well. On the other hand there is the downside that fewer photographers are taking their time to actually think in b/w.

Mandalay region

There might be hundreds of ideas why you should shoot in b/w at least once in a while – here just some few I was thinking of:

Timelessness

As I mentioned it before a b/w image gives you a classic look especially when you take portraits. It is a look very hard to reproduce in a color photograph.

Textures

As there are no color hues to distract you will see the textures and the different ranges in it much more.

Focus

By removing the color from an image your focus in the images will be much more prominent and you can guide the eye of the viewer easier than in a color image.

Shape and contrast

Light and dark are more obvious and shapes and shadows are there to help you create an image.

If you read some of the color studies you might recall that various colors give different emotional responses to different people – some of them are unique to individuals some are more universal. Our brain respond differently to b/w as it represents a reduction and gives us the chance to see the subtle charms of contrast, texture, pattern, shape and form.

Due to the still expensive gear concerning middle format photography I am shooting b/w film and as I like to develop the film on my own I opted for b/w and learned and am still learning in seeing things differently than shooting in color.

As I found the following article on the web: Black (and White) is Back by Brienne Walsh in Rangefinder Magazine I felt really good that it’s coming back. I am kind of drawn to the way they make me feel while shooting.

So just try to see things from a point of texture, shapes and the contrast between light and shadow and be surprised what monochrome images can give to you.