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Monochrome Photography

March 1, 2017.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with black-and-white (B&W) photography.  You may have noticed in my previous blogs that I’m a real big fan of vivid, high-contrast color photography–so this is a huge departure from my usual photographic style.  Many of today’s DSLR cameras, like my Nikon D7200, have an option to shoot in B&W.  While it’s also true that many photo processing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom have options to convert color photos into B&W, I prefer to shoot in B&W from the get-go.  Why?  I’m more likely to carefully consider the composition and subject matter if I’m forced to “think in B&W.”  So armed with this mind-set, I explored the Museum in search of interesting photographic subjects.

Outside I took this shot of alder catkins–the longer ones are male and the shorter, cone-shaped catkins are female.  Alders favor wetland habitats near lakes and rivers–this tree overlooks Deer Park Pond along our Outdoor Trail.  I liked the contrast in shapes and the way the light hit the catkins.  This was actually my first test shot in B&W mode, so I shot this in Auto-mode:

Alder catkins, f/20, 1/1600 sec, ISO 6400, 135 mm (18-300 mm zoom lens)

In the Wetlands Aviary on the Outdoor Trail I photographed this yellow-crowned night heron–I’ve always loved the natural high-contrast B&W colors on its face and subtle shades of gray and black, especially for the feathers on its back:

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, 270 mm (18-300 mm zoom lens)

Yellow-crowned Night Heron back, f/6.3, 1/160 sec, ISO 100, 120 mm (18-300 zoom lens)

In the Animal Exercise Area along the Outdoor Trail, Matt, one of our animal keepers, was exercising an opossum–one of the animals we use for educational programs.  This one had just found a bit of apple that Matt hid under some leaves.  This type of animal enrichment, allowing an animal to explore for hidden food in a natural environment is one of the ways we keep our animals mentally engaged and healthy.

Opossum, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 640, 300 mm (18-300 mm zoom lens)

Next, I ventured indoors to tackle some difficult lighting situations.  First I changed to my 40mm macro lens (a prime lens.)  Also, for these next shots–all animals behind glass in aquariums–I did not use flash, as it would have just reflected back off the glass.  I shot all the remaining photos using as low an ISO as I could to avoid “noise” or “graininess” in the photos.  I also shot all the photos below in Manual Mode–mostly I cranked the aperture as wide open as I could and concentrated my efforts on trying different shutter speeds to get the best shot for each subject.  My first shot is of black sea bass in the Oyster Reef Conservation tank–I loved the contrasting light and dark color of the scales:

Black Sea Bass, f/2.8, 1/25 sec, ISO 100, 40 mm macro lens

The Coral Reef tank in our Virginia’s Underground exhibit posed several challenges–first, it’s a very dark area with the tank only lit from above so the lighting changed depending on which area of the tank the fish were in–top or bottom.  Next, I was shooting moving subjects, behind glass, so locking onto a good focus was tough and gave the auto-focus on my camera a real workout!

Tomato Clownfish in Anemone, f/3, 1/250 sec, ISO 640, 40mm macro lens

Damselfish, f/3, 1/400 sec, ISO 400, 40 mm macro lens

Also in the Coral Reef tank is this doctorfish–it was moving back and forth rapidly in the tank, so I tried a technique called “panning”:  after locking onto a good focus, I literally moved my camera along with the fish and snapped a shot before it changed directions.  The resulting photo has a blurred background–kind of neat!

Doctorfish, f/2.8, 1/15 sec, ISO 100, 40 mm macro lens

This last series of photos was the most challenging–they are lion’s mane jellyfish on display in our World of Darkness exhibit.  It is especially dark in this exhibit.  The jellyfish tank is lit from above, and the water is slowly circulated in the tank, so the jellyfish are constantly moving with the water, and also by their own propulsion.  I had to crank the ISO up to 2500 for these shots.  I did some post-production editing in Adobe Lightroom to reduce the “noise” and also did some spot removal to make the images smoother.  I also used a slight amount of vignetting to darken the edges of the photos.  Can you guess what I did to the very last photo?  Think about the light source….

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, f/3, 1/125 sec, ISO 2500, 40 mm macro lens

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, f/3, 1/100 sec, ISO 2500, 40 mm macro lens

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, f/3, 1/160 sec, ISO 2500, 40 mm macro lens

Yep, I flipped the last photo upside down–purely a subjective decision, but I thought it would look best if the light source was coming from below the subject.  Hope you enjoyed these photos!  I hope to do more B&W photos and share them with you in the future.  Cheers, Lisa

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