Dec 112014
 
Down by the Sea (monochromatic version)

Day 2: “Down by the Sea,” European beach grass lines the sandy shore at Pistol River State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

In my post yesterday’s “Day 1: The Black and White Challenge:  “In the Storm”, I introduced the Facebook Black and White Challenge (and my participation in it).  In this fun exercise, a person posts a black and white photograph on his or her Facebook page each day for five days.  Then, he or she challenge someone else to do the same each of those days.

For my Day 2 entry, I’m jumping from the Maine coast to the Oregon coast (my two loves)!

A cancellation in my schedule this past September left me with a rare 10-day time frame completely free of commitments.  With this gift, I did what any sane outdoor photographer would do:  I hopped into my truck and drove 22-hours from Arizona to the southern coast of Oregon!  (What we’ll do for love, huh?)

I have spent much time wandering the Oregon coastline over the years, but the majority of that time I spent happened in the more accessible middle and northern sections.  However, every time I drove from Gold Beach to Brookings (usually to visit northern California and other southerly locales), I said to myself, “If I ever have a week or two weeks to spare, I’m coming here to explore!”  So, by traveling so far, I wasn’t losing my mind; I was merely fulfilling my promise.

One of the many highlights from my impromptu road trip included exploring the Pistol River State Park.  For my first few visits, I did not make any photographs but rather simply soaked in what this special place had to offer.  Sure, some photographic ideas popped into my head, but they needed some time to simmer.

Towards the end of my trip, a nasty storm socked the coast in for a couple days.  I continued my explorations and made some new images in various locales north of Brookings, much of it in blissful solitude, even at the more popular stops.  After all, it was only rain!  (Have the Oregon coast to myself?  Don’t mind if I do!)

When the weather forecasts suggested the system might break (which was timed coincidentally with the next sunset), I headed back to Pistol River area for one final visit before returning home to the desert.  With the light dancing in and out of swiftly-moving clouds, I knelt on the sand beside clusters of European beach grass.  Using my visualizations as my guide (but modifying my original idea to respond to the fleeting lighting conditions), I adjusted my composition so as to achieve balance between the grasses, sand, sea stacks, and the ever-changing sky.

Through a wide-angle lens (i.e. 20mm) I used an ISO 100 and an aperture of f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/13 second.  I chose these specific settings to help balance my need for extensive depth of field and the perpetual movement in the grasses given the prevailing winds (which was strong enough to keep the beach grasses waving, but not enough to keep the animal and human footprints from disappearing in the sand).  Because of my close proximity of my camera to the grasses,  I would have liked to have used f/22 to see an extensive depth of field.  However, after experimenting with the slower shutter speed that setting caused, I didn’t like way the grasses appeared in the photo (too much movement and way too soft).

So I took a small step back from the grasses, set f/16 (still needed extensive DOF), and tried again with a 1/13th second shutter speed.  I really liked the combination of still and moving grasses this rendered – frozen enough to see what it was, but blurred enough to see the wind was moving.   Theoretically, if I wanted to freeze the motion of the grasses (which was not my goal), I could have bumped the ISO up to ~400 or 640, took another step back, opened my aperture to f/11 or f/8, and snapped away with a faster shutter speed.

My three-stop graduated neutral density filter helped to bring out detail in the clouds, but also darkened the off-shore rocks in the background. This resulted in the following color photograph (post continues after photo):

Down by the Sea

The original “Down by the Sea” in color (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

I definitely did not visualize converting this image to black and white when I snapped the shutter.  I did not even consider it when I arrived home and began processing the photos.  However, the Black and White Challenge caused me to rethink my approach with my pictures.  As I sorted through my images for this exercise, I had some interesting philosophical conversations with myself on things like, “How do various color impact a scene?” “What makes an effective black and white image?”  “How can I use both color and monochromatic techniques to improve my visual messages?”  When I experimented with converting this image to black and white, I felt like I was dusting off my traditional darkroom tools developed 11 years ago and putting them back into use to expand my creative toolbox today.

The monochromatic treatment emphasized the light and shadows alternating and working together in layers across the scene, more so than in the color version.  While I could have lightened the sea stacks in the background during post-processing (to overcome the underexposure from the graduated neutral density filter), I did the opposite.  I intentionally darkened the rocks in the monochromatic version to serve as a more dominant backdrop.  I felt this matched the more aggressive mood in the sky.  Both the darker backdrop and sky served as a juxtaposition to the more flowing, gentle grasses highlighted by a ray of sun in the foreground.

What do you think? Do you prefer the color or monochromatic version?  Why?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Since he started me on this challenge, I now re-nominate Floris van Breugel to finish his Black and White Challenge.  Only two more photographs to go, Floris!  You can do it!

Stay tuned for Day 3, thanks for stopping by,

~Colleen