Landscape photographer, Steve Gosling, recently took to the English and Scottish coast and countryside, with the IQ3 100MP Achromatic digital back in tow. He shares his thoughts on black and white photography and Phase One’s latest digital back.
Back to the roots of my passion for photography
I’ve been taking photographs since the age of 7 and when I started out B&W film was the only realistic option (colour film was expensive to buy and to process) so I grew up seeing the world as a B&W photograph. Now, I sometimes find colour to be a distraction that gets in the way of what I’m trying to say about my chosen subject.
My natural preference for black & white photography has moved me towards a more abstract style which is very graphic and minimalist. I take a reductionist approach to composition – taking out elements to simplify the design of a photograph as much as I can (and that includes removing colour). And B&W suits the graphic nature of my work where the emphasis is on line & shape, tone & texture and pattern – these are the building blocks of my B&W landscape images.
Communicating emotion through Black and White
My prime aim with my photography is to communicate what I feel, as much if not more, than simply what I see. So when I’m looking at a subject or a scene I’m often trying to consider not only what it is that’s appealing to me visually and how I can make an interesting composition out of it, I’m also assessing how do I feel – is the landscape generating an emotional response in me and how do I best communicate that.
As a photographer my interest is in producing an interpretation of my subject rather than a representation – producing a pictorially accurate rendition of what I see is of very little interest to me. In removing colour, a B&W photograph is already one step away from reality. All of this means that I feel I have more licence to work on an image to communicate feelings and emotion. I think B&W photography is a perfect way to recreate atmosphere.
Getting my hands on the IQ3 100Mp Achromatic
I’ve been using Phase One digital backs for 10 years. The image quality is second to none – the resolution of the backs and quality of the files produced enable me to push the files hard in processing when I need to and produce large, detailed prints.
So as you can imagine I was very excited when Phase One asked me to shoot with the IQ3 100MP Achromatic back. For a start it retains the effective live view and long exposure capability I’ve grown used to. But also, for a landscape photographer specialising in B&W images, it has a number of other features suited to my style of work:
- It’s a high resolution tool dedicated for B&W photography that simplifies the image-making process by reducing the scene to a range of tones. By limiting myself to just B&W (after all shooting colour is just not an option with this back!) actually freed up my creativity by reducing the number of choices I had to make.
- As it doesn’t have a Bayer filter, sharp, detail rich images that maximise textures and tonal subtlety and distinctions are possible.
- This, together with the 100MP resolution, enables huge prints to be made with incredible quality.
- And the Phase One IQ3 Achromatic is both near infrared and near UV sensitive so is capable of recording light invisible to the human eye. This can give some interesting effects in landscape photography e.g. the dramatic lightening of foliage and grass and the darkening of blue skies.
I am also pleased that the IQ3 Achromatic has an electronic shutter. The obvious reason is that there are no moving parts (and hence no possible vibrations) and that will give me the sharpest image possible. But if I’m honest I’m most excited about the fact that the electronic shutter allows for the possibility of using the back to take pinhole images.
A few years ago I really enjoyed using a medium format film pinhole camera but eventually found processing and scanning film a pain so having a high quality digital solution is of great interest to me. Using a 101 megapixel back for lensless photography may seem more than a little perverse, but I believe that pushing the boundaries is an integral part of the creative process.
Previsualisation on the digital back
In use it took me a while to get used to seeing the image in B&W on the digital back screen – my brain is just so accustomed to seeing a colour rendition (I found this something of a paradox as I am always pre-visualising in B&W). But that’s something I soon acclimatised to.
Something else I had to adapt in the previsualisation stage was my consideration of how I would subsequently process the RAW file. When working with my IQ3 50 I’m so familiar with how I can play with tonal relationships by adjusting colours prior to B&W conversion. Of course I couldn’t do that with files from the IQ3 100 Achromatic. Now where did I put those old B&W filters? Two days of turning my house and office upside down failed to reveal the ‘safe place’ I’d stored the filters in a few years ago.
My thanks must go to Lee Filters who shipped me a set of Yellow, Orange & Red B&W filters just prior to my first trip away with the Achromatic back. These were invaluable in altering tonal relationships at the taking stage so the resulting RAW files were easier to process to reflect how I wanted to render the scene I’d photographed.
Processing the files in Capture One Pro
Looking at the unprocessed RAW files on my computer screen was initially a disappointment – they looked flat and uninspiring. I was shocked and convinced that I was doing something wrong at the taking stage. However, once I started to work on them, the details, the richness of the tonalities and the dynamic range, were all just out of this world. And the 100MP files are 3 feet wide at 300ppi without any interpolation, which means I can produce large prints of my images that emphasise the textures, details and tonalities of the landscapes I love to photograph. I fell in love!
The IQ3 100Mp Achromatic is undoubtedly the best tool I have ever used for making B&W images. So I’ll conclude this article with a health warning – if B&W photography is your passion then don’t try this back unless you’re prepared to part with your cash!
Steve Gosling is an award winning photographer based in the UK, who is also running workshops in the UK and overseas.