Go Back   Rangefinderforum.com > Cameras / Gear / Photography > Coffee With Mentors > Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes

Black and White
Old 03-09-2015   #1
Bill Pierce
Registered User
 
Bill Pierce's Avatar
 
Bill Pierce is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,162
Black and White

A lot of us love black-and-white. Like many others, my interest in photography started with both a camera and a darkroom, an Ansco Pioneer and Kodak MQ Tri Chem packets in flower pots. As much to sell color advertising pages as any other reason, the news magazines switched to color about the time I started working for them. For the most part that meant you shot everything in color. If it was across the sheath from color ad pages, you ran in color. If not, your color picture got converted to black-and-white. But I still loved black-and-white and the darkroom, and 99 per cent of my personal work was done in black-and-white.

I still love black-and-white, but, of course, with digital cameras the darkroom has been replaced by a large computer. There are a zillion ways to convert digital color to black-and-white, and I do a lot of that. It can be done within mainstream processing programs or with supplementary programs like Silver Efex or Tonality Pro. It’s such a broad topic with so many facets and so many ways of accomplishing the end goal, a beautiful black-and-white print, we can all benefit from the experience of other members of the forum, whether it’s the programs they use and how and why they use them or shooting tips.

Here are my initial contributions.

(1) I think most b&w images benefit from much more from the clarity adjustment found in programs like Lightroom and Iridient Developer, a lot for scenics, a middle amount for everything else except pictures of your loved ones. Clarity, mid-range contrast, emphasizes wrinkles. I definitely recommend negative clarity for happy relationships.

(2) Areas of pure black or pure white are not out of place in black-and-white prints. Losing a little shadow detail to gain a rich black may make your prints look a little more like the silver prints many of us grew up on.

(3) A lot of digital cameras allow you to convert the viewfinder image to black-and-white, to record a full raw image that can be interpreted in anyway that you want in the future and a jpeg black-and-white that controls the viewfinder image. Looking through a camera’s viewfinder and seeing a black-and-white image is definitely one of the gifts of the digital age. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl.

What are your thoughts on black-and-white, your basic workflow or those little tricks that seem to make all the difference?
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #2
Ko.Fe.
Kostya Fedot
 
Ko.Fe.'s Avatar
 
Ko.Fe. is offline
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: MiltON.ONtario
Posts: 7,120
I think digital b/w depends a lot more on the sensor. Not PC processing.
I have seen some nice examples, thinking of asking some photogs to give me permission to use their photos and write about it.

Overall, obsession with no-noise, low ISO, sharpness and over processing seems to be something which turns me off from most of digital b/w.

Personally, I have no big name to maintain, to me it is easier with film, darkroom and hybrid process, where I use nothing but old LR.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #3
Steve Bellayr
Registered User
 
Steve Bellayr's Avatar
 
Steve Bellayr is offline
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Virginia
Posts: 1,942
E. Puts addressed this issue in his most recent volume. Summation: Digital Leica B&W equal to Leica Analog Film & Wet Printing. What I do is have a Lab scan my negatives and print the image using a computer. I am very satisfied. Of course, we are discussing a very high quality sensor, camera and lens.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #4
farlymac
PF McFarland
 
farlymac's Avatar
 
farlymac is offline
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Roanoke, VA
Posts: 6,155
So far, I've done better with shooting in color, making corrections in PSE, then converting to B&W. My camera's monochrome setting leaves something to be desired, as the metering system seems to be mis-calibrated, and I'm always forgetting to set the compensation dial. Add to that, the view in the LED screen is much different in brilliance than what the camera actually captures. I really need to upgrade.

As for seeing in B&W, I've done that all along the past forty years. And there have been many more times I've said to myself "I wish I'd brought some color film with me.", than the other way around.

PF
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #5
rhl-oregon
Cameras Guitars Wonders
 
rhl-oregon's Avatar
 
rhl-oregon is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 3,916
It was a GRD III that possessed me to shift entirely to BW live view in a project I was shooting in Goodwill and St Vinnie thrift shops in 2011-12.

After that, monochrome VF/screen became my digital default, so now I have to 'cope' with the riotous colors in the optical VF of film cameras--except when they're loaded (rarely) with Ektar or Portra.

I've relied on Fuji's mono+green filter setting for a good while now (though shooting RAW+), in part because my LR starting place is its green filter preset for the highlight reduction it offers. This makes PP more seamlessly incorporate what I was seeing, or looking for, at the outset with the VF to my eye. By now I probably ought to have created a LR user preset that isn't as generic about clarity/sharpening boosts as LR Green Filter, but it is just a starting point.

And although a little RFF professor in my head keeps saying Reduce the highlights, bring up the shadows, how delightful it is in LR to max out selected sliders-- to paint it black, like what you see from bed through the window on a moonless night, or paint it blown, the way our eyes get blown out by summer glare--just to see whether there's an image better, more dramatically functional or more formally beautiful, than the happy medium that works best most of the time.
__________________
Robert Hill Long
Southern Pines, North Carolina USA


http://rhl.photography
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #6
jschrader
Registered User
 
jschrader's Avatar
 
jschrader is offline
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Slovenia
Posts: 299
I am fine with a classical viewfinder. I don't mind seeing a color scenery and making a b&w photograph.

I tried to do b&w photographs with a DSLR, and I failed mostly. Distraction, I don't know.

I am back to b&w film and when I take it, I know it is b&w. When I take the DSLR, I know it is color, something for the family album.

Maybe the MM would be for me, I would save all the scanning trouble and would surely gain IQ. But it is beyond my level of madness to buy a camera that, until the day it dies, costed my 5 to 10 € per frame which is worth printing.
__________________
J"rgen
----------------------
M6/35mm, D700 / FE / F2 / F
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #7
kxl
Social Documentary
 
kxl's Avatar
 
kxl is offline
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Sunny SoCal
Posts: 2,982
I shoot B&W film primarily because of the first half of workflow -- the feel of an RF in my hand, composing and shooting with an RF and seeing the reversed images on the strip when I first pull it form the tank. The rest of my workflow is digital -- scan, PS and view/print. Sometimes the final image works; sometimes it doesn't.

I also use a DSLR quite extensively -- a very flexible and reliable tool -- and use Silver FX Pro to convert some images to B&W. Again, sometimes, the final images works; sometimes it doesn't.

In the end, a good image is a good image and a bad image is bad regadless of medium; however, ***FOR ME*** converting a RAW file to B&W allows more flexibility than working with scanned B&W film.
__________________
Keith
My Flickr Albums
RFF feedback


"... I thought the only way to give us an incentive, to bring hope, is to show the pictures of the pristine planet - to see the innocence.” ― Sebastiao Salgado
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #8
DominikDUK
Registered User
 
DominikDUK's Avatar
 
DominikDUK is offline
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Vienna, Austria
Posts: 1,029
I've noticed that B/W digi images from older sensors are often better than those of newer sensors this has something to do with noise suppresion on modern cameras.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #9
Hsg
who dares wins
 
Hsg is offline
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Toronto, Canada
Posts: 641
Before the advent of photography, in painting schools realism was the way to go, people studied the past masters and tried to paint as realistically as possible, especially portraits. Then photography came along and painters realized that realism was better left to photography... Artists realized times had changed so they needed to paint in new ways... That reaction led to impressionism and expressionism and cubism etc. etc.. Painters left realism to photography and moved on.

B&W film was the medium of choice because color film compared to it was terrible in every sense of the word. Today that is no longer the case... So the same way that realistic paintings of the past are admired but no serious artist paints them anymore, the same way while the B&W legacy of photography is admired, no serious photographer shoots B&W anymore. There are exceptions like Salgado and a few others, but those guys are very few.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #10
ChipMcD
Registered User
 
ChipMcD is offline
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: East Coast USA
Posts: 468
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hsg View Post
Before the advent of photography, in painting schools realism was the way to go, people studied the past masters and tried to paint as realistically as possible, especially portraits. Then photography came along and painters realized that realism was better left to photography... Artists realized times had changed so they needed to paint in new ways... That reaction led to impressionism and expressionism and cubism etc. etc.. Painters left realism to photography and moved on.

B&W film was the medium of choice because color film compared to it was terrible in every sense of the word. Today that is no longer the case... So the same way that realistic paintings of the past are admired but no serious artist paints them anymore, the same way while the B&W legacy of photography is admired, no serious photographer shoots B&W anymore. There are exceptions like Salgado and a few others, but those guys are very few.
If "serious" means "trying to make a living from it" that may be true. I am aware of a number of highly accomplished, original photographers doing great work in B&W.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #11
Hsg
who dares wins
 
Hsg is offline
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Toronto, Canada
Posts: 641
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChipMcD View Post
I am aware of a number of highly accomplished, original photographers doing great work in B&W.
But then again are they working in digital B&W or film?
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #12
Baby of Macon
Registered User
 
Baby of Macon is offline
Join Date: May 2012
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Posts: 215
@Hsq - "So the same way that realistic paintings of the past are admired but no serious artist paints them anymore".

With respect, that's a rather facile generalisation - not least because what is realistic is a matter of significant conjecture: for example, the work of the Magic Realists - c.f. http://www.monograffi.com/magic.htm. Closer to my home in Ireland you might want to check out the work of Martin Gale or Conor Walton. "Realism" in art is alive and well - just as expressionism and surrealism is in photography.
__________________
And where are you now that your baubles all are gone. Rent and bereft like the Baby of Macon.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-09-2015   #13
MrFujicaman
Registered User
 
MrFujicaman is offline
Join Date: Apr 2012
Age: 61
Posts: 681
Jeeez, did all of us start our darkroom adventures with Tri-Chem packs ?
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #14
airfrogusmc
Registered User
 
airfrogusmc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 5,478
I lost my darkroom some years back through a kinda forced down size. I started printing B&W while I was in the Marines and joined the camera club on board the boat. Went to college where I majored in photography and took two semesters of the zone system. Yep did all the tests.

I now own a Leica M Monochrom and if you are a serious B&W photographer there really is not a better 135 format B&W digital tool.

I miss the darkroom and if I still had one I would be shooting film in some capacity but I don't so the computer is now my darkroom. My professional work also forced a move to digital. I started loosing clients because I wasn't digital. Gotta eat.

I do not use light room or silver effects. To me and the way I work photoshop is more like my darkroom workflow was so even though I have LR and Silver Efex I don't use either. Just personal preference.

I just had an exhibit at a gallery here in Chicago open this past Friday and all but 2 images in the exhibit were shot with my M Mono and all were digital approx 18 X 12 prints mounted, over matted and framed 20 X 24. Sold 4 with a hold and probably 5th sold.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #15
airfrogusmc
Registered User
 
airfrogusmc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 5,478
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hsg View Post
But then again are they working in digital B&W or film?
Gibson just recently made the switch to a Leica M Mono.

His last book was completely shot with one.

I still love silver gelatin to. I think they both have a place at the table.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #16
willie_901
Registered User
 
willie_901's Avatar
 
willie_901 is offline
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 5,294
I expose (longest useful shutter time, appropriate aperture and lowest practical ISO) for the nighest possible signal-to-noise ratio and analog dynamic range – the same technique I use for color work.

I don't switch the EVF to B&W because I am have always pre-conceptualized B&W with optical finders. When I use my X-Pro 's OVF the scene is in color just as it was when I used film RF cameras.

I only record raw and start all post-processing in LR. I start with one of the Fujifilm monochrome film simulation Camera Profiles. For other raw I use a custom Preset to desaturate using the HSL parameter sliders instead of the Saturation and Vibrace sliders.

After editing (image selection) I start over and refine post processing adjustments by exporting flat color images (16 bit TIFFs) into Silver Efex Pro 2.

I apply tonality that is consistent with the project I'm working on. Overtime I learned to avoid selectively pulling shadow regions just because I could. Still, some images require selective luminance adjustments. I have a couple of long-term projects with images from both scanned Tri-X and digital media. Silver Efex Pro 2 is useful to minimize the differences between film and digital media. Otherwise I do not attempt to simulate film grain/resolution in post processing.

I print using MPIX. I have never been disappointed with a MPIX B&W using their true B&W paper option. For work I exhibit, I use a local commercial lab. They also offer monochrome-only gliclée printing and a fine-art rag paper. If I'm really fussy I have have them start with a test strip.

Unfortunately I have not found an affordable source for self-published books with B&W images. I hope to learn how other RFF members source B&W book production.
__________________
Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form.
Garry Winogrand
williamchuttonjr.com
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #17
Lauffray
Invisible Cities
 
Lauffray's Avatar
 
Lauffray is offline
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Montreal
Age: 31
Posts: 1,434
I don't mind playing around and fighting with BW film to get what I want, I find it fun. I have yet to find a digital process that is as fun to me, from the shooting to the printing, everything seems poorly designed and frustrating to use.
__________________

WebsiteFlickrInsta
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #18
airfrogusmc
Registered User
 
airfrogusmc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 5,478
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lauffray View Post
I don't mind playing around and fighting with BW film to get what I want, I find it fun. I have yet to find a digital process that is as fun to me, from the shooting to the printing, everything seems poorly designed and frustrating to use.
That was me until the MM...

I think Gibson had an awaking to with the MM.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #19
harpofreely
Registered User
 
harpofreely is offline
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by Franko View Post
It seems like much of the digital b/w that I've seen has an "overcooked" look that is a big turn off. I really don't need to see all 256 shades in every picture.
"Overcooked" is definitely the word. I feel like I see a lot of digital B&W with the exaggerated local contrast that comes with flogging the "structure" slider in Silver Efex or equivalent - the effect often borders on good old oversharpening.

When I started darkroom printing from B&W negs, after about 10 years of getting pretty good at digital B&W, I had the good luck in one of my early, fumbling sessions to make a print of a picture of my young son smiling, looking out the window; both the neg and the print are a little under-exposed. There are no hard blacks, and no hard whites, but due to the quality of the light, what most often would have been a dull, muddy print instead has an amazingly delicate, silvery glow to the midtones, perfectly suited to the photo's content.

There is a gentleness and a vintage quality to it that probably could be arrived at via a digital print, but I've never seen its like on a monitor - and so I wonder, if it would ever have occurred to me to attempt it, had the image been of digital origin.

So I call this lucky because right at the start of my darkroom experience (and I'm still pretty slow and fumbling), I had an immediate, personal demonstration of some of the strengths of both the medium and the process - the "presence" of a traditional print, the serendipity, the pleasure of experimentation.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #20
harpofreely
Registered User
 
harpofreely is offline
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrFujicaman View Post
Jeeez, did all of us start our darkroom adventures with Tri-Chem packs ?
Not me - though my father had a darkroom in the house when I was a kid, I only started printing about three years ago. I had to google to see what these were - definitely can see the appeal.

Its not a major point in Bill's OP, but I think there is real value in starting B&W film work with the idea of seeing through the whole process at home - to "close the loop" so to speak, from shooting, developing, printing, and taking what you learn to the next roll. I love digital and I love film, but if I was just shooting color film, sending it out for dev & scans, posting a couple online, and calling it a day (what I think of as the Lomography model) - I'd have to wonder, why bother?

Bill - if you see this - I'm curious about the "flower pots" - is that literal?
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #21
Bill Pierce
Registered User
 
Bill Pierce's Avatar
 
Bill Pierce is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,162
"Bill - if you see this - I'm curious about the "flower pots" - is that literal?"

Yes, and I used red Christmas tree lights for safelights. Fogged a lot of Kodak Velox paper, but I was very young.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #22
Roger Hicks
Registered User
 
Roger Hicks is offline
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Aquitaine
Posts: 23,947
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hsg View Post
Before the advent of photography, in painting schools realism was the way to go, people studied the past masters and tried to paint as realistically as possible, especially portraits. Then photography came along and painters realized that realism was better left to photography... Artists realized times had changed so they needed to paint in new ways... That reaction led to impressionism and expressionism and cubism etc. etc.. Painters left realism to photography and moved on.

B&W film was the medium of choice because color film compared to it was terrible in every sense of the word. Today that is no longer the case... So the same way that realistic paintings of the past are admired but no serious artist paints them anymore, the same way while the B&W legacy of photography is admired, no serious photographer shoots B&W anymore. There are exceptions like Salgado and a few others, but those guys are very few.
Funny, I know quite a few photographers who are "serious" and shoot B+W. Do you ever get to Arles?

Cheers,

R.
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #23
Hsg
who dares wins
 
Hsg is offline
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Toronto, Canada
Posts: 641
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Funny, I know quite a few photographers who are "serious" and shoot B+W. Do you ever get to Arles?

Cheers,

R.
As airfrogusmc mentioned Ralph Gibson one of the iconic B&W shooters is still active and shooting digital with M mono, Salgado is still shooting B&W and digital, and I'm sure many more. There is also a new trend of mixing color and B&W and Alex Webb a famous color photographer in his recent work has taken that route.

B&W is always going to be there just like drawing is always going to be there...
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #24
seagrove
Rich
 
seagrove is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Georgia, USA
Posts: 240
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
A lot of us love black-and-white.
(3) A lot of digital cameras allow you to convert the viewfinder image to black-and-white, to record a full raw image that can be interpreted in anyway that you want in the future and a jpeg black-and-white that controls the viewfinder image. Looking through a camera’s viewfinder and seeing a black-and-white image is definitely one of the gifts of the digital age. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl.
I definitely agree with your #3, Bill. Was not something I could do on my old Nikon D2H bodies but am using this capability on the Fuji X-E1 and X100S since leaving newspaper work and retiring. I usually shoot with a red filter to see what the effect is to clear blue skies.
__________________
Rich
http://meandmyx100s.blogspot.com
Yashica Electro35 GS, Fujifilm X100S (both silver & black bodies), TCL-X100, WCL-X100, sold everything else!
  Reply With Quote

Old 03-10-2015   #25
harpofreely
Registered User
 
harpofreely is offline
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 220
Quote:
Originally Posted by seagrove View Post
I definitely agree with your #3, Bill. Was not something I could do on my old Nikon D2H bodies but am using this capability on the Fuji X-E1 and X100S since leaving newspaper work and retiring. I usually shoot with a red filter to see what the effect is to clear blue skies.
#3 is also my favorite way to shoot my X-E1, raw+jpeg - even if, for a particular scene, I know at the time that I'll use color for the final image, b&w preview helps me concentrate on composition, light/dark relationships, and clean backgrounds. Unless I've hauled out the DSLR (with its superior autofocus) specifically for "action" shots of my kids, XE-1 w/ b&w preview and Canon FD lenses is about 95% of my digital shooting these days and has all but killed non-Leica 35mm for me.
  Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 16:42.


vBulletin skin developed by: eXtremepixels
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

All content on this site is Copyright Protected and owned by its respective owner. You may link to content on this site but you may not reproduce any of it in whole or part without written consent from its owner.