Experience has shown me that in many endeavours where there is a high level of skill involved, you start to plateau and need either a change in the way you do things or a change of tutor / mentor. This is especially so of you are working on your own in isolation.
Last year, I submitted my FRPS portfolio for assessment and it was rejected as not being of a high enough standard. The feedback was that although my ‘seeing’ was good, the quality of the print (i.e. the processing of the image and the physical image on paper) was lacking, and a colour cast could be seen.
It was time for some expert tuition! I contacted Martin Henson whose monochrome work I had seen in magazines previously and who runs workshops on digital monochrome.
Martin works on the basis that there are 4 principles that make a good monochrome image – contrast range, texture, tonal range and mood. You get the first three (i.e. the tonality) right in Photoshop, and then you can produce the mood, either in photoshop, or using the Nik software tools which I use a lot. My monochrome workflow, while not unstructured, doesn’t spend enough time getting the tonality right first, and I was creating too much contrast in my images, and blocking up the shadows, which when printed was causing my prints to be too dark. I now know a better way of assessing and processing my images.
While most of the problems were around my own technique, there were a couple of hardware issues – my old monitor was somewhat past it (which I have since replaced anyway), and my current one is not yet calibrated, something I must do. In addition, I’ve probably gone as far as I can with my current printer, which although capable of producing lovely images, isn’t quite up to the job of producing high quality cast-free monochrome images. While not immediately noticeable under most lights, when compared with a print off Martin’s Epson, a green cast was noticeable. Seeing Martin’s own prints mounted on the walls of his home and studio made me realise what an excellent print looks like!
So now the task is to start practicing and re-visiting my images. It’s going to be a pretty long task re-visiting my images, but I might as well take my time and enjoy the journey!
They say there’s nothing like failure to show you where you need to improve, and the Fellowship assessment showed up my shortcomings. If you’re serious about monochrome, and especially if your output is the print, then I highly recommend Martins workshops! Or failing that, have a look here, a great place to learn http://www.digitalmonochromeforum.co.uk/