I'm still chuckling. One of the Branchline editors asked me to write an article on black and white photography as a means of helping prospective submissions to the annual black and white photo contest. I don't think that he realizes that one of the other editors rejected my last submission of pictures. But, then, maybe that's where I should start.
If you have attended one of the BRS's annual slide contests, you will be familiar with many of my comments with regards to the photographic qualities of the slides. [Bob is the permanent adjudicator of the slide contest ... Ed.] I'll review these later in the article. However, there is one aspect of black and white that slide users never have to worry about. This aspect is the production of the final usable article. Slides are produced in special machinery. For KODACHROME slides, there are only about ten of these machines in all of North America.
With Black and White (which I'll abbreviate to B&W), there are two critical steps beyond the normal slide work. First, the film has to be developed properly, and secondly the print has to be printed and fixed properly. My submission (that I spoke of at the beginning) was rejected because of old chemicals at this second critical stage. In a recent article in Railfan & Railroad, Jim Boyd wrote about B&W submissions for publication. According to Boyd, unless you have a lot of experience and an excellent dark room, leave the processing to professionals. He stressed that even "drug store" processors should be avoided. As a result, B&W work becomes expensive.
One of the superb historians in the BRS takes many B&W pictures. These are good for historic work as most B&W techniques do not rely on dyes which can change over the years (like colour does). He gets a professional shop to develop his films and make a contact sheet for him. A contact sheet means that each picture on the sheet is only the same size as the negative. These he files until required for future use.
I store my negatives in a special system for negatives. This system has special paper holders in a three-ring binder. With the negatives, I file a piece of paper with the details. It is important to store negatives well otherwise they get covered with dust which makes their use more difficult.
Professional photo stores will crop pictures at your request. Cropping is one great advantage that B&W has over slides. Cropping means removing anything extraneous from the picture and emphasizing the desired subject matter.
Many decisions have to be made when it comes to printing photos. Usually glossy paper makes a picture look better than matte; however, matte sometimes hides imperfections or creates a mood better. Then there is the hardness of the paper. With B&W, contrast between the blacks and whites is important. Contrast is partly dependent on the hardness (or contrast control) of the paper. High contrast has advantages for publication although excessively high contrast produces an arty picture unsuitable for most publications.
Finally, a quick review of other photo qualities equally necessary with B&W. Subject matter tops the list. Composition (where the subject is in the frame) follows. Proper exposure, focus and lack of fuzziness caused by movement are important. These three require correct setting of the aperture, focus, and shutter speed for your camera. Early morning or evening light often enhances pictures by spotlighting details. Avoiding cluttered foregrounds or backgrounds helps. (Cut down all extraneous vegetation and poles wherever practicable and possible!!)
Above all, take lots of pictures. Even the best photographers only get one or two submittable pictures from a roll of 36.
Gee, after writing all this, I'm going to try to get those rejected pictures published. They do meet most of the criteria!
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, October 1991, page 19.