A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
Tao Te Ching
1 – Introduction
This is the third and final part of this three-parts series on triptychs. After looking at the fundamental aspects of triptychs in part one and at color triptych examples in part two we are now going to look at black and white triptych examples. This essay consists of six series of triptychs. Each series is inspired by a specific natural location or a natural concept. The locations featured in this essay are Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and Arcosanti. The concepts are Clouds, Trees and Canyon Forms.
2 – Grand Canyon Black and White Triptychs
The three triptychs in this first section are not quite black and white. However, I decided to include them in this essay because even though they are technically ‘color’ images they are primarily monochromatic images. Before making the images you see here I created another version in which I removed all the color. However, when turned into pure black and white these images became dull and lifeless. I, therefore, decided to leave a hint of color in them. I made this decision to create an emotional effect. Emotion, not color, was my guide. Creating high key images rather than color photographs is the technical idea behind this series. For me, a high key image is an image in which all the tonalities are above 128 on a 0 to 256 RGB scale. By comparison for me, a low key image is an image in which all the tonalities are below 128 on the same RGB scale. The images used in the three triptychs below were taken as a horizontal sequence of images. Together the combination of three photographs covers the width of the Grand Canyon from left to right. I could have collaged them (or merged them if you prefer) to create a seamless panorama. However, I prefer to present them as triptychs. This decision was taken for artistic reasons. It is purely an aesthetic choice.
3 – Antelope Canyon Black and White Triptychs
All four triptychs in this section feature a reversed (or flipped) image on the right and left sides. When working with triptychs I found that duplicating an image, flipping it horizontally and positioning it on each side of a central image is a wonderful source of inspiration and creativity. In addition to closing the image visually by creating a logical end point on both sides of the image, this technique simplifies the composition by using only two different images instead of three. It also creates an Escher-like effect by duplicating natural subjects that, in reality, obviously exist only in one direction. Which of the two — the original or the flipped image — is the original version is for the viewer to decide if he or she is so inclined. In some instances, for example, when the viewer knows the location, the answer may be obvious. In other instances, for example, when the viewer does not know the location or is not familiar with the subject, guessing may be the only way to find the answer to this riddle. Of course, the riddle only needs to be solved if the viewer decides that an answer is required. This riddle can also be left unanswered, or not be seen as a question at all. In that case, the image is approached as an objet d’art, an aesthetic creation, and reality becomes irrelevant. Aesthetics were my only consideration when I created these images. For this reason, in my opinion, this is how they should be approached.
4 – Clouds Black and White Triptychs
Clouds are a dream come true when it comes to creating triptychs. Why? Because they offer an endless variety of forms. They also can be flipped horizontally without giving a clue as to which image is the original capture. Knowing which of the two images –the flipped one and the original capture– is the ‘real’ version is irrelevant because there is nothing that looks more like a cloud than a reversed cloud. When creating triptychs you can never have too many photographs. Because cloud formations change constantly if you photograph the same cloud for 10 or 20 minutes you will have plenty of material to create multiple triptychs. Having a lot of photographs to choose from is great. It increases the odds that you will find just the right combination of images and it opens the doors to endless creative ideas. The photographs featured in the triptychs below were all captured with the goal of creating triptychs. To this end, I took photographs of cloud details using a long lens. I also took photographs of the entire sky using a wide-angle lens. I wanted to compare and contrast these two types of images by combining them in triptych compositions. In the triptych examples below I did so in two different ways: first by using two photographs of cloud details and one of the entire sky, and second by using two photographs of the sky and one of a cloud detail.
5 – Arcosanti Black and White Triptych
Sometimes converting an existing color triptych to black and white is the most effective way of creating an interesting image. The two triptychs below were created that way. When you use this technique it helps if you have colorful images in which you can vary the amount of contrast, density, and lightness for each color. This was the case with the photographs I used for this triptych. The color to black and white conversions were done in Photoshop using a combination of curves and black and white adjustment layers. The curve layers were used to increase global contrast slightly after the black and white conversions were completed. I used the same adjustment settings for all six images. You can see these settings in the Photoshop screen captures below.
6 – Trees Black and White Triptych
Just like in section 5, there is only one triptych in this section. While all the previous triptychs were created with digital captures, this triptych was created using three digital photographs of black and white darkroom prints. The darkroom print photographs were cropped to eliminate the print borders. No other modifications were made. The semi-abstract quality of the three images I used –dead tree stumps floating in a river– gives an intriguing aspect to the triptych and increases the viewer’s desire to keep looking to try to find out what these images are about.
7 – Canyon Forms Black and White Triptychs
The three triptychs in this series also feature digital photographs of black and white darkroom prints. A variety of Canyon Forms images were used to create the triptychs shown below. In each of them, movement and contrast are the themes I used to guide my inspiration.
When I composed this triptych I played on the contrast of feelings evoked by each image. The right and left images, which show a canyon wall as it merges with the bottom of the canyon, evoke a dark, earthly feeling. The central image on the other hand, which shows the sweeping curve of an arch with a bright sky behind it, evokes a light, spatial feeling.
I used a similar approach in this second triptych except that here I played with the curves and shapes present in each image. I flipped the right side image horizontally in order to close the composition by creating a sweeping symmetrical pattern on the right and left sides.
In this third triptych light and shadows are the concepts I used to create the composition. Here too I flipped the left image horizontally to create symmetry from right to left. The presence of dark shadows in the left and right images helps visually close the triptych, and the sun star in the central image contrasts with the chiaroscuro effect of the two other images.
8 – Conclusion
Both black and white and color photographs offer endless opportunities for the creation of triptych compositions. Which one you decide to use is totally up to you. However, I do recommend that you try both because they each offer different creative opportunities. You can also combine color and black and white images in the same triptych, either by using two color photos and one black and white, or two black and white and one color. I have not tried that yet, in fact, I just thought of it as I wrote the conclusion for this essay. As I said, triptychs offer virtually endless opportunities for creativity. This is just one more possibility. So give it a try and see what you come up with. Creating art should be a fun and inspirational activity, one in which fear is pushed aside and critics are told to take a hike. Triptychs are certainly an excellent way to achieve all of that.
9 – Workshops with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon and many others. Our workshops listing is available here.
10 – About Alain and Natalie Briot
You can find more information about our workshops, photographs, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to our Free Monthly Newsletter on our website here. You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website here. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.