L. Bickford Photography | Purgatory in B&W

Purgatory in B&W

February 27, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Midsummer, 5:44 am. The sun was up, barely, but not yet reaching these falls. At that hour, the rocks were blue, the water a purplish-grey. I had gotten up early and hiked (well, walked) in to see what the early light would do for this waterfall. In my mind, I imagined a golden-pink sunrise shedding its light down into this little canyon and creating magic. Instead, it was as if the gods of light were holding a navy blue blanket over the scene.

Purgatory falls, B&WPurgatory in black and whiteA perfect flow of white water rolls over and along the fractured stone wall.

What do you do with dark blue images? Delete them, process the heck out of them and turn them into something like daylight, or just forget about them. I just forgot about them. Until now. Revisiting the photos of this day in July, I wondered if the blue muddy images might become something more promising in black and white. Ah, the magic of black and white.

I made a copy of the image and started in. The quick way to create a black and white is to press one key. Presto! The color is gone and what remains is shades of grey. But the real route to black and white meanders down a long road filled with options. For example, there is a sliding control for exposure; it can lighten or darken the whole image depending on which way you slide it. I wanted lighter, so up it went. Another slider controls shadows (medium darks); up it went as well. Contrast, down a little. And so on through a couple dozen sliders, right down to the point where I could make the reds (what had been reds, now certain shades of grey) lighter or darker, the yellows lighter or darker, the blues lighter or darker. Lots of options means lots of control. And of course lots of time.

In the end, I arrived at this. It's a long way from the original image that came out of the camera, but in truth it's not all that far from what my eye saw that early morning. The light was low, the colors muted. Now the light has come up some and the colors are gone entirely, but the sense is similar. In the basin, little bits of foam race around, leaving white trails. Crossing their paths, the falls are mirrored in the basin.

I love the shattered rock wall with its cracks and diagonals. I love the way the stream sneaks around the top of the wall, then crashes down in a curtain of white water. I love the portion of the stream that takes the diagonal route along the wall. And I love the basin, on the one hand reflecting the main falls and on the other, making patterns with the bits of foam. The soft shimmer of the falling water contrasts beautifully with the hard-edged and fractured wall. Purgatory Falls is a spot I return to from time to time and never tire of shooting.



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