Trying to Get the Picture Right, 19 October 2013


Good Evening:

Humbled Pie, who has a very good photography blog, recommended that I try converting one of my recent pictures into black-and-white. That sounded like a good idea to me, too! The picture comes from my photo essay of people at work in San Francisco. When I reexamined it, some little flaws in the original became obvious.


I like to crop pictures to eliminate distractions, and it occurred to me that while I had straightened, cropped and adjusted the lighting and shadows, too much remained. In particular, the upper left corner was too red, distracting from the reddish tones in the lower half of the shot. So back to the virtual chopping block!


A little better. One little issue; the red of the bus has become a distraction. Now for some experimenting.

DSCN9020_3 DSCN9020_3_2

The first black-and-white is just the first shot in a simple conversion. Both shots diminish the reddish background, and the messenger and his bike seem to pop out of the background better. I have a slight preference for the cropped version because the upper left corner still proved problematic, but now I have an issue with both cropped pictures: are the man’s left foot and the bike’s front wheel too close to the edge of the composition? I honestly don’t know, but my instinct wants a little more space. But that would reintroduce the problem of the upper left corner.

Tough call. Good street photography poses so many challenges.

Finally, a happy accident. I was desaturating the photo in iPhoto to get rid of the color when my finger slipped off the mouse. I almost cursed my clumsiness until I saw something

Namely, this:


It’s interesting! Removing most of the color in the background really draws attention to the foreground.

I’ll have to remember to try partial desaturation more often. Have a great weekend full of great pictures.

Vonn Scott Bair


2 responses »

  1. I think they all look great. Personally, I think the B&W works really well in many circumstances, but most especially for street shots. I think your instincts about the cropped image are good. We can sometimes crop the spontaneity out of our compositions trying to create the perfect photograph. The man with the cigarette on the bench is the primary compositional element and, in my opinion, is in better position (closer to a balanced rule of thirds position) in the original image. The bus, the contrast of different background architecture, the electric transit powerlines, the 92, the pole, even the distant crane, are all playing a terrific supporting role in telling the messenger’s story.

    That being said the original color image is a very fine image with the reds in the jacket/ bus and the blue bicycle being in stark contrast to their monochromatic surroundings. It is a fine image either way. However I do think the contrast of the B&W image does make the composition pop. Again, that is just an opinion. You have to be true to yourself and create images that please you, the artist. Good job!

    • Humbled Pie: Thank you for taking the time to write and offer such terrific feedback. It would certainly be nice if the world would prove so considerate as to create perfect scenes and save us photographers much trouble. Perhaps the biggest trouble/convenience of modern photography consists of the seeming infinite variety of means of editing our shots, which gives us infinite opportunities to improve OR botch the results. In my case, this results in pictures like this one, where I can produce a variety of near-great photographs, and must decide which flaws I can tolerate. Vonn Scott Bair

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