Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Simply a Toss-Up

As an addendum to my last post on the virtues of black and white images, I offer this “simple” comparison.  Below are two photographs: the first is the original color version of an area in Lower Antelope Canyon (one of my favorite places).  The second is the black and white conversion of the same image.

In color, it’s a good picture, I think.  And I’d be the first to say that the color here is not in any way “distracting”.  In fact, it could be argued that this image is about color and the way it changes in an environment like this.  (Remember – the sandstone in this slot canyon is structurally pretty much the same throughout.  The color changes that the camera “sees” are the result of its interpretation of white balance across the frame.)  The left side of the frame is a reddish orange while the right side and center (as you move along the path) is a purplish magenta.  Color is the first thing you see here, I think, and if you remember the image at all, it will probably be because of the color.

Again, this is the same image in black and white.  I like this version as well, and I’ll tell you why.  When I took this picture, it was because of the unique structure in front of me.  There are two openings in the path shown here, one more or less embedded in the other (pictorially).  The first and closest one is an egg-shaped opening going from the floor of the slot canyon to its roof at that point.  The second opening is a smaller one a few feet up the path.  To continue walking here, you have to bend down to get through it (especially if you’re 6′ 6″ tall).

In any case, it was this formation that I was photographing.  At that moment in time, capturing color was not my intent.  In my opinion, the formation is far more visible in the black and white image.  Perhaps that’s because your mind isn’t reacting immediately to the reds and the purples.  Or maybe the striations in the sandstone are more tonally obvious.  I don’t know.  Given my original “intent”, however, the black and white version might be the better choice.

Potential viewers, of course, most likely know nothing about what I was thinking when I made this photograph.  What they might see in this image lies strictly in their own interpretation.  I have nothing to say about it.

So which one is better?  In this case, I simply don’t know.  Or maybe they both suck.  That’s always a possibility, right?  For now, maybe I’ll just flip a coin…………


12 Responses to “Simply a Toss-Up”

  1. oneowner

    No, neither one sucks, but my personal preference is the black and white. It seems to have a more natural look but really I’m not sure why I prefer it myself. The colors seem more un-natural, at least to me. Fortunately, we don’t have to make the choice at the time we shoot, unless you only have the Leica Monochrome camera (and if you have that you probably have a color Leica as well). This is a really beautiful shot. it must be a thrill to see this the first time.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Ken. In a sense, the color IS “unnatural”. When you’re in there, your eye seems to correct automatically for white balance. You see different levels of the same color, but it doesn’t shift from reddish to purplish (as it appears to in the photograph). You could, I suppose, make local corrections for white balance in LR, but from what I’ve seen, most photographers don’t.

      A “thrill”? Absolutely. And you enter the place from what is literally a hole in the ground. I swear that if you didn’t know it was there and there was no one to show it to you you’d walk right by it 99 times out of a 100. I’m planning on going there again in September.

  2. Earl

    I would agree in the first photo the colors are a strong part of the visual image…they’re beautiful and they should be seen and appreciated but you almost have to absorb/process the color first before proceeding to appreciate the rest of the scene. In the b&w image, the structure, formations and lines leap out at you immediately — you don’t have to first past through that color filter.

    Both work very well and the choice would depend upon personal preferences and what one wanted to emphasize — no right or wrong. We can have both.

    I agree with Ken, you must have been very pleased seeing this one!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. Yes, I agree. Both seem to work; it’s just a matter of choice. As I said to Ken, it is an amazing location for photography. But bring your tripod! Shutter speeds are going to be slow (unless you crank up the ISO).

  3. Paul

    I would have to agree that, for this photo, it is most certainly a toss up. When I first looked at them, I was thinking that I might choose one, the B&W, perhaps for a gallery and the other as an accent piece to complement an interior design of some sort; I like both, but really like the B&W because I can see the patterns and curvature a lot better without all of that ‘color’ getting in way.

    I looked up Lower Antelope Canyon and see that you only get two hours in the canyon and also have to have a guide. How was that experience for you? This place certainly gets added to the bucket list! I need to get back to the Grand Canyon, too. I’ve been to the North Rim, but want to go again. I’ve never been to the south side, though. So maybe when I do that I can see both this and the South Rim. 🙂 But, I most certainly will not be driving!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Paul. You’re right about the “curvature”. Much easier to see, I think, in black and white.

      Yes, there is a time restriction (2 hours, although they don’t seem to get too upset if you go a little over). But here’s the important, unadvertised part: You don’t need a guide IF you go in with a DSLR type of camera and a tripod. You HAVE to have the tripod. Then they apparently assume that you’re a “real” photographer and you get a special pass. You’ll go in with a regular tour group but then you can go off on your own. And you can’t get lost – there’s basically only one way to go.

      The other “rule” is that you can’t sell any photographs that you take in there. I don’t know how they manage to enforce that, but you have to sign an agreement as part of the deal.

      By the way, you can also visit Upper Antelope Canyon. It’s practically right across the street. It’s far more commercialized, though. More people go there because it’s a lot easier to walk through.

      Also, if you drive south out of Page, AZ you’ll be able to easily enter the east end of the Grand Canyon’s south rim (at a neat place called Desert View). From there, you can drive west along the south rim all the way to Grand Canyon Village.

      If you do that, don’t miss stopping at Horseshoe Bend. It’s just south of Page and offers an amazing view of the Colorado River. But be careful if you don’t like high places! You’ll be standing (or sitting) on a very steep cliff. Best time there for photography, by the way, is mid-morning to early afternoon. It’s not good earlier because the gorge is in shadow and not good later because you’ll be looking into the sun.

  4. Cedric

    Never got to visit Lower Antelope Canyon but if we ever make our way back to those parts I’ll be sure to stop by. For me both photographs work equally well perhaps because they are essentially both monochromatic. There is, to my eye, an element of abstraction to the B&W image but that may simply be due to a familiarity associated with having seen mostly colour images of these rock formations before. In any case, for me, with either one of these beautiful images, thoughts are immediately led to contemplations on the wonders of nature even before colour (or it’s absence) can lay its influence.

    • Paul Maxim

      Damn good observation, Cedric. They’re both monochromatic. One just happens to be reddish. Maybe not such a good comparison after all……..

      In truth, what blew me away when I went down there was the immense power of water in these kinds of slots. All of what you see was carved by water. Clearly, no human can do engineering quite like mother nature when she decides to crank it up.

  5. John - Visual Notebook

    Both are beautiful images – personally, I lean towards the black & white image – it allows you to study the textures and tones without the colorful distraction. But, honestly, I wouldn’t knock either one off the wall they should be hanging on!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, John. I think if I were to hang one of these on the wall it would be the one in color. Not that I like it any better, but I’ve found that hanging black and white images are more problematic because of the lighting. In a home environment, anyway. Unless it’s a high key photograph, nobody will ever see it (properly) in dim light.

  6. themiddlegeneration

    Both photos are great! At first I had no idea what the color picture was of- as you say, you need to process the color before you can decipher the structure. It definitely inspires me to want to go there myself. I’ll be iin Tucson for Thanksgiving, so maybe I’ll take a detour to see some of the sights you mentioned.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Laura. Yes, if at all possible you might want to arrange that “detour”. Although it’s certainly not an out and back day trip – about 400 miles, I think, between Tucson and Page (about 6 hours). But heck, as long as you’re in the “neighborhood”, go for it!


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