29 Sep 2014

Seeing in monochrome: Talat Phlu Photowalk

One of the goals I set at the beginning of the year to improve and broaden my photography was learning to see in monochrome, sharpening my eye to recognize and find black and white scenes around me, not just relying on post-processing to achieve that look in the computer. I have been converting more files to monochrome lately, but those were always envisioned and captured as color files at the beginning, and only turned into greyscale later on, to see if they would work that way or not. Many of them did, in fact, but it had always remain an afterthought. Today there was a photowalk in a neighborhood of my city that I had never been to, so I decided this was as good an opportunity as any to reverse my way of shooting and actively see and look for monochromes from the start.

Slow motions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Afternoon shift, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I always shoot in RAW, but today I set the picture style of the camera to monochrome, so the screen and viewfinder showed all in black and white, but the images captured still have all the color information; only the preview is black and white, which is very handy as it helps visualizing the scenes directly as you intend them to be and that helps understanding much better the dynamics of light and shadow that govern most monochrome images. It was early afternoon, the light was quite harsh and the shadows deep black, so pre-visualizing the captures as monochromes in-camera really helped me to see in terms of contrast around me and, therefore, create stronger images.

My home by the tracks I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
My home by the tracks II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Arched station, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
We started off at Talat Phlu BTS station, and slowly made our way to Wongwian Yai Station, around 3 kilometers away, which was the ending point of the itinerary. The walk started crossing a local, busy neighborhood along the main road, full of businesses, traffic and markets, but soon we left the broad street to go into a quieter community, crossed by winding, narrow alleyways and dark, open passages. Silence came upon us and our feet became slower and more acute. But the real point of interest of the whole walk was not the place itself but rather the people inhabiting those quarters, their tasks and routines, their homes and chores. Their daily lives.

The queue, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Figuring out, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Divergent directions, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The bench, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Textures of time, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Healthy habit, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I saw people working in the heat of the sun and in the shade of their open houses, people lining up to purchase some food and people walking to unknown places, people awaiting and people enjoying a break with a companion (a cigarette, a book). There was people taking a nap in the open, people eating and some people feeding others; there were kids on their own, and kids well guarded. People of all ages doing the things we all do everyday, unperturbed by our foreign presence.

Discomfort, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Guarded siesta, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Lunch, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Dinner, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Prince of the street, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The joy of childhood, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There was human presence everywhere; after all, Bangkok is an overly populated city, and not encountering people anywhere you go would actually be the surprising thing. But, as interesting and varied, diverse and appealing all the people we passed along our way were, I kept sensing elusive glimpses of life that was not fully seen, traces of sound, of breathing, of humanity hidden behind the open doors and windows, under the light of bright bulbs, in front of loud TV's. There were more people around that I could fully see, they were just there, meters from me, yet they remained disguised and covered, hidden from my view even though I could feel them so near, or spot them as tiny figures in the distance.

The missing pieces I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The missing pieces II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Human scope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are days when you see nothing, and days when you find stories at every step you take. Today was one of the latter: there were more beats than I could catch, since I had to go along at the group's pace for fear or getting lost behind. Notwithstanding, I really enjoyed the walk, and the fact that I visualized the whole time in monochrome made the consequent post-processing stage much easier. Upon importing the pictures into the computer, I immediately converted them all into black and white, so I have never seen any of the captures from this day in color. I might, one day, since I keep all RAW files, but that was not the point of the exercise: I saw in monochrome, therefore that's how my memories have been forged. My photographs have no choice but to follow.

The hand that knotted the rope, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm


  1. I found your blog from your photo posted on 43rumors. I really enjoyed this series of black and white images. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Ron! I'm really enjoying monochrome photography more and more lately, so more on the way!

  2. Nice pictures/work! I especially like the tonal range of your b&w pictures, so may I ask you what software you used to convert the pictures to b&w and if you used some special settings?

    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting Yvan!
      I always shoot RAW and then convert into B&W using Lightroom. Normally I use the standard B&W conversion (not automatic) and then work on some "color" channels individually to give the image more tonal contrast. I don't use presents and I work on images separately, they are all different so each one needs it's own processing. Hope to help!

    2. Thank you Gonzalo for sharing details about your technique with me! I will have to find another way to achieve a similar output, as I don't use Lightroom and seldomly shoot in RAW, but your advice was still highly valuable. Kudos for that. *thumbsup*