Switching to Monochrome Mode

View from Puketapu in autumn

I remember, years and years ago, talking with a friend about how the light in autumn seemed so warm and golden. It was my favourite light of all the year, and autumn sunsets always had a cozy feel. Now that I am delving deeper into photography I realise this was the ever sought-after golden hour.

After moving to the south of Aotearoa/New Zealand I’ve been treated to autumns and winters that have golden hours lasting hours after sunrise and starting well before sunset – in fact, on some winter days it feels like the only hour that isn’t golden is midday!

But now spring has been and gone, and soon it will be summer. I’ve been struggling with getting out early in the morning, and I often take photos while I’m working in the garden; my cameras come out along with my drink bottle and garden tools. This has meant most of my photos are being taken during the stronger daytime light, though sometimes into the evening.

Kererū in the kōwhai tree with shadow falling on its face in midday sunlight

I’ve tried to take advantage of the stronger light. I love the way the sun backlights flowers with the background still in darkness, and seeing the texture of the flower come out. I like the halo-like effect of objects with fuzzy outlines (like the furry buds of magnolia) when backlit, and the bright light means I can keep the ‘noise’ down in my photos.

Backlit red poppy and bud

The other advice I read was to photograph in open shade, and I had reasonable success with that, too. I felt quite limited, though, only really getting to photograph in two situations without that glaring contrasty light taking over most other images I took.

I often listen to a podcast while gardening. Recently, one suggested using monochrome mode as a way to deal with harsh light. After all, black and white photography is often successful when areas of high contrast exist, and that’s exactly what the midday sun provides.

Vintage bicycle – one of the first black and white images I took

Switching to monochrome mode felt like a big deal somehow, even after I learned that the colour images will still exist (whew!). I guess I was just so used to shooting in colour – and seeing in colour – that I didn’t think I could do it. I was also questioning why I would want to shoot in monochrome when colour was an option. I think a part of me associates black and white photography with images that pretend to be classier than they are, or as a way of making a crappy colour picture look good.

Crossed beech twigs, an image that works in black and white as it brings the attention to the form & texture

There was a definite learning curve, but most of all I have found that shooting in black and white slows me down – in a good way. Perhaps this will only last as long as the learning curve, but for now I am really enjoying slowing down, looking at the world differently, and being more thoughtful about the images I make.

Our cat, Shadow, framed by meadow flowers and backlit by the evening sun
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