Before and After: Camera Studies Camera in Black and White

From Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome by Michael Freeman:

“Black-and-white film photography, its image qualities and processes, have a great deal to teach us…. What sets black and white apart from colour is that it is not the way we see the world, and it does not pretend to represent reality. It is a translation of a view into a special medium with very particular characteristics.”

On Wednesday, I posted a series of photos of a vintage camera, a No.1 Pocket Kodak. While working on the photos, I accidentally converted one to black and white in Lightroom, briefly thinking “Well, that’s kinda cool” but then flipped it back to color and continued processing the batch. I hardly ever work in black and white, you see, because I’m so colorful, but I still thought it might be fun to come back to this set of photos and give black and white a shot, especially since most of the color in the photos came from the background or from the slight blue cast emanating from the camera body. I also got a bit of inspiration from a Christmas gift a friend sent me…

… a series of books by photographer Michael Freeman — including the one I quoted above — that I’ve been reading from nearly every day since I got them.

I took the color photos with two of my favorite lenses: a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 lens that’s about 25 years old (that even has its own Wikipedia page) and a Sony 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens that I’ve had for a few years (that has no Wikipedia page but gets used for many of my closeups and macros). Both lenses do well in low light and even intentional under-exposure, so were ideal for the camera photos: taken on my dining room table lit by a single window, with supplemental lighting from a small LED flashlight (yes, you read that right) that I normally use for finding things in the depths of dark closets. I did use a high ISO when taking the photos — because I forgot to check my camera’s ISO setting before shooting (oops!) and it was set to 1600 — but Lightroom and the Nik Collection did a suitable job of ridding the photos of what little noise was captured.

So I made copies of the color images that I’d processed and posted — having done mostly saturation and contrast adjustments — and ran them through Nik’s Color Efex Pro, applying these filters:

  • Black and White Conversion, where I made brightness, shadow, highlight, and contrast adjustments;
  • Tonal Contrast, to soften the images slightly and create smoothness in the backgrounds;
  • Darken/Lighten Center, to accentuate lighting on the camera and shift the eye’s focus to the camera body;
  • Detail Extractor, to reveal the structure and texture of the camera’s bellows and leather case, recovering a bit of detail that was lost by the Tonal Contrast adjustment.

The first gallery below shows the black-and-white versions of Wednesday’s images. Personally I think they’re interesting, but what I really liked was experimenting with the same tools I’ve been using for color photos for a while now, in the world of black and white. I avoided special effects — like applying warming filters, converting them to sepia-tone, or adding grain for that aged look — and concentrated on how to make the primary subject appealing without color.

In the second gallery, I’ve set the black-and-white and color images side-by-side. You can select the first image and page through a slideshow to view them as before-and-after versions. Thanks for looking!




Wordless Wednesday: Camera Studies Camera

School Zone: One Room Schoolhouse in Northern New York

Once upon a time, I was driving my camera around in a rental car near Peru, New York, when I came across this bright red building, just off the roadside in a field all by itself. As you can see from the photos, storms were moving in, and I had just enough time to snap a dozen pictures before it started raining. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t made note of the building’s location (and the camera I had at the time didn’t have GPS capabilities), and on subsequent trips, I couldn’t find it. I assumed it was a one-room school, but didn’t know if the “School Zone” sign near the front door meant it it really was a one-room school, or someone had just nailed a sign to the wall of an old storage shed.

I recently learned that it is, indeed, a one-room school and was registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Lyon Street School in 2013. The school is located at the intersection of Lyons Road and Rock Road, about five miles from Peru. The building is considered an example of late American Victorian architecture, with an estimated construction date of 1880 and an in-service date through the 1930s. The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form  (pdf) includes a great description of the school’s construction, has a couple of photos of the interior, and reveals a lot about how the building was used. It reads, in part:


The school is of light wood frame construction and is clad with wood clapboard siding attached with wire nails; the siding shows signs of weathering and age-related wear. The foundation is random laid field stone which is in fair condition…. 

The gabled roof with overhanging eaves is covered with corrugated metal which is rusted throughout and buckling in areas. The metal was laid over the remnants of an earlier wood shingle roof. An open, hip-roofed belfry sits on the ridge at the northern end; the bell is accounted for but not presently on site…. The six-horizontal-panel door has a transom light over it, and there is a round window in the gable field that has been boarded over. All openings are framed by flat trim which was also employed under the cornice and on the corner boards….

A bank of windows is centered on each side elevation of the building, directly under the eaves. Each bank consists of five windows; the three central units are square-shaped and have nine-pane fixed sash, while the outer windows are full size and are fitted with nine-over-nine double hung sash. The two lower sash on the east elevation have been damaged and replaced by larger sash which is ill fitting. A small coal hatch, now in very poor condition, is located on the west elevation, north of the windows and approximately five feet off the ground.

The interior of the school is largely given over to one large room, the classroom. Upon entering the building from the north facade, there is a small, roughly finished room to the right. This room was used to store coal for the stove and corresponds with the hatch on the west elevation…. To the left is a finished wall that makes up one side of a cloak room, which is accessed from the classroom. Continuing through the hall there is another framed entry that opens into the classroom. The walls and ceiling of the classroom and cloak room are finished in bead-board which has been painted over and partially stripped in areas. On the walls it runs vertically up to a chair rail that encircles the room at the height of the bottom of the larger windows; above that it runs horizontally. The window casings are formed of grooved millwork, with rosettes in the corners. At the south end of the classroom there are two voids, presumably where blackboards once hung….


In the same pdf document, there is also a short summary of the historical significance of one-room schools:

At the start of the 20th century there were over 200,000 one-room schools nationwide. Of those, it is likely that fewer than 10,000 presently remain. While some have been restored, many others exist in varying states of decay or alteration. The Lyon Street School is fortunately among those that remain largely intact and is a representative example of part of New York and American history that is rapidly fading.

The Lyon Street School is one of the few still standing in northern New York that is in good enough condition to allow for repairs. In The Peru Gazette, a local community newspaper, there are several articles describing ongoing reconstruction of the building, certainly enabled by its registration as a historic site, and some photos of the restoration of the belfry, the transom, and the front door.

My photos are nearly a decade old, hiding away in my archive folders, but I always wanted to do something with them and learn more about the building. The images below are largely unprocessed, though I did try to enhance some of the detail, especially detail that is reflected in the building’s description I quoted above. Maybe these pictures are now part of its history.

Select the first image to see larger versions in a slideshow; and, as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!

Ausable Chasm: “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”

From the History of Clinton and Franklin Counties, New York by Duane Hamilton Hurd, published in 1880, here is an elaborate, beautifully worded description of Ausable Chasm in Ausable, New York:

The town [of Ausable] boasts some of the finest natural scenery to be found in the world – one of the most sublime natural curiosities, the Ausable Chasm, the favorite resort of numerous tourists, being situated in its southeastern section. The Great Ausable River, in its impetuous course to [Lake Champlain], here breaks a passage through the solid Potsdam sandstone, towering many feet above its bed, and follows a rugged and irregular channel for a distance of nearly two miles. At several places the river is compressed to a width of less than 30 feet. The river plunges into the chasm in a succession of beautiful falls of from 60 to 80 feet in height, and struggles through the tortuous channel, foaming and tearing and whirling over its rocky bed as though bent on freeing itself from the thraldom of the gigantic cliffs which overhang it. By means of artificial stairways, galleries, and bridges, erected and owned by a party of Philadelphia gentlemen, and by boats, this stupendous work of nature may be traversed its entire length.

This freak of nature is but one of a system of rents in the earth’s surface that extend over the northern portion of the State…. The walls, that are now from 10 to 15 feet apart, were undoubtedly some time united and solid; projections on the one hand are often faced by corresponding depressions on the other; layers of rock on one side are duplicated on the other. Professor Emmons, State geologist, found here petrified specimens of the lowest or first orders of animal life, and ripple-marks made when the rock was in its plastic state; above these, in successive layers, towers 70 feet of solid rock.

Popular with photographers (see Ausable Chasm on Flickr and Ausable Chasm on SmugMug), the Chasm is also often featured in landscape painting, including the work of Adirondack artist Emmett Pine (see Emmett Pine: The Keeseville Ausable Chasm and Lake Champlain Railroad), and Hudson River School painter Benjamin Champney (see Benjamin Champney: Ausable Chasm).

I took these photos from the bridge over the Ausable River and from the surrounding property. Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow.

Thanks for reading! More soon!