Lately I’ve been taking a few more risks than usual when it comes to deciding what images to send to publishers to accompany our stories. I have been doing a lot more backstage photography, such as the images I shot behind the scenes at a Ca Trù concert in Hanoi (above), those I took backstage at the puppet theatre there (some of which you can see here) and shots of chefs at work in restaurant kitchens (which I seem to find myself constantly doing).
In all cases, I am continuously having to deal with dreadful and nearly always mixed light, such as tungsten and fluorescent in the same room.
I’ve just been preparing images from the traditional Vietnamese Ca Trù performance we covered and I knew the images would be tricky to process having been shot at very high ISO and in mixed light. Mixed light is a difficult problem for photographers as trying to find a ‘true’ white, so that the rest of the colours look as natural as possible, can be challenging.
In these cases the combination of the noise in the images and the mixed lighting gives the detail in the shadows of the images so much colour noise that it can be like looking through a kaleidoscope – just not as pretty. My solution is to go black and white.
Not every photo editor is going to be pleased with this choice so I will often send a couple of colour versions of the images along with the black and white ones. Thankfully, the black and white ones are generally preferred and usually end up in the published story.
I’m not on any nostalgia kick nor am I attempting to capture that retro Instagram-style vibe, it’s just that some images look better in black and white for both technical and aesthetic reasons.
Being a photographer who learnt to process film and make his own prints in the darkroom, there is a little whimsy there and perhaps a touch of melancholia. Although I don’t really miss the long hours in the dark nor the pungent smell of the chemicals, dodging and burning images in Photoshop takes me right back to university. I can almost hear my lecturer saying, “Really Mr. Carter, is that the best print you can make of this image?” Fun times.
I’m putting my favourite Ca Trù performance images up on Tumblr, so do go and check them out here when you have a moment. We’ll also be posting a story on Ca Trù soon.