Art 50

Introduction to Black&White Photography

Fall 2002, Mr. Beckman, F 2:45 (every other week) & darkroom TBA

Black and white photography is quite a different medium from either color or digital photography. In many respects, it is much more available to artistic expression. In this course, we will learn the basic procedures of B&W photography from handling the camera through dark room work, leading to the production of high quality photographic images. The photo assignments will emphasize different aspects of seeing through the camera and creating the raw material to which darkroom techniques can be applied. Class meetings, every other week, will be critiques in which we discuss these images and suggest alternative artistic conceptions and treatments. During the weeks between these critique sessions, we will discuss topics on camera work and printing or we will have voluntary photo shoots in neighboring areas. At the end of the semester, we will have a photo show of our best work. (Image at the right is by Brian Kelly.)

Personal Information

My office is Rm 1270 in Parson's Hall. You can contact me by phone at 607-3148; but you can contact me more quickly by e-mail at The class e-mail list is

We will be using the Humanities and Social Sciences darkroom in the basement of Parsons Hall (B163). There is a student proctor for this resource. IMPORTANT: Please read the rules&regulations for darkroom use.


Each meeting time should be a critique session of about 70 minutes. Bring proof sheets and a selection of best prints for the assignment. The meetings are at the end of two-week intervals so that you have time to get out in the field to take pictures as well as to pass your work through the darkroom. [If you want to have your film commercially developed, that's OK with me so long as you use the darkroom to do your own printing. Local services will develop B&W film and print a proof sheet for you.]

As the semester continues, you will gain a preference for certain kinds of subjects. You should allow this to take its natural course and begin to ask some questions about your artistic relation to these subjects. At the end of the semester, we will have a one-day photo show of our work. Aside from exhibiting what you consider to be the best of your work for the semester, you should plan to write a short piece (one-two pages) that accompanies your photos and discusses your approach to photography and to these subjects.

I would like you to select a portfolio of at least one recognized photographic artist and study both prints and text in order to learn about this person's artistic development as well as his/her artistic visions. A three-page report about this experience will be due about 2/3rd through the semester.

Equipment and Finances

You should have (own or have regular access to) a camera that can be placed completely on manual operation --- manual focus, aperture setting, and shutter speed. Your life will be easier if the camera has exchangeable lenses of different focal lengths or, at the very least, a single zoom lens with a good spread of focal lengths (e.g., at least 28 - 80mm). Modern cameras meeting this description usually also offer internal (through the lens) light metering. If you are using an older camera without internal metering, you should have a hand-held light meter. A spot meter that you can point at an object is the most useful here. Flash attachments are not necessary since a great deal of good B&W photography can be done with natural light only. You will need flash gear or other lighting equipment only if you are planning to work indoors. [Sorry, the college does not own cameras or lighting equipment that can be loaned out or rented.]

We will supply all darkroom chemicals and some print papers for use in the darkroom; however, you will have to purchase your own B&W films and some of your own print papers for the semester. There is a $45 studio fee for this course that will be billed to your college account. A copy of Basic Techniques of Photography, Book 1, by John P. Schaefer, is required for this class and copies have been ordered through Huntley Bookstore.

I recommend Claremont Camera as the best local place to purchase film and darkroom materials. You'll find it west on Foothill Blvd in the Ralph's shopping center at Mountain Avenue. Claremont Camera has a full complement of film processing services but the turnaround time is relatively slow (a few days). Rainbow Photo Lab, on Central Avenue in Montclair, promises B&W film processing with a proof sheet within one day.

When you purchase B&W film, keep in mind the tradeoff between fast speed and graininess. Films at ISO 400 are fast and allow photography in dim light or at high shutter speed, but they usually show a lot of grainy texture. Films at 50 ISO are slow and require more light --- usually by using a slower shutter speed --- but have very fine grain. Films at ISO 100-125 are the norm for most hand-held 35 mm photography. Kodak and Ilford provide B&W films in all of these categories. Kodak's Plus-X (125) and T-Max-100 (100) are standards along with Ilford's FP4 Plus (125) and Delta Professional (100). For very fine grain, try Ilford Pan F Plus (50) but this requires a tripod under most circumstances. Sports, falling water, etc., are best caught with fast films like Kodak T-Max-400 (400) or Ilford HP5 Plus (400).

Claremont Camera also has a strong line of cameras and camera accessories. There is also a Ritz Camera store in the Montclair Plaza (western end). In Pasadena, I recommend either Lee Mac Camera (414 S. Lake Ave.) or Reed's Cameras (466 E. Colorado Blvd.). Calumet Photo has large stores in Los Angeles (Highland near Santa Monica Blvd) and Santa Ana. You should compare prices with one of the several reputable Web dealers. There are links for these on our Web Links page.

Artistic Development

Outside of taking pictures and doing your own darkroom work, the best ways to learn the art of photography are (1) to submit your work to thorough honest critiquing and (2) to study the images produced by recognized masters. Our class sessions will all be critique experiences; I have a number of portfolio books in my office which you're welcome to come and look at or borrow. If you have a long-term interest in B&W photography, I recommend purchase of Ansel Adams famous comprehensive series of three books, below.

Please read the essay on photography as art and take note of our photography bibliography.

Updated on July 25, 2002; click here to return to Course HomePage.