Whether it’s architecture, landscapes, portraits, or still life, you work exclusively with black and white photography. What draws you to black and white photography, and more specifically what makes you choose this over color photography?
First of all there’s just something special about B&W photography, it has something mysterious, something nostalgic and something dramatic to it. There’s so much beauty in the simplicity of using just monotones. Furthermore I know from myself that I have this ability to express myself far more effectively in Black and White than I could ever do in color. That was my initial explanation for myself.
These days I would explain myself by saying the following: my goal in photography is using photography as a medium to create art.
What is art? I won’t try to come up with a definition but one important aspect of art is that it is the unique expression of the inner world of an artist. I personally believe that the further the artist moves away from reality, the closer you get to the essence of the artist, to that what makes the artist unique.
Simply because if you remove objective reality then the result of the artistic expression must be something that is inside the artist only: something very personal and unique. That’s why I’ve decided to move away as many steps as I can from reality in my work.
First step away from reality is creating in B&W.
My second step is to use Long Exposure techniques that allow you to capture reality that is distorted by time.
Third step away from reality is to alter tonal relationships the way I like it and not to comply with what my camera captures.
Fourth step away is manipulating light in my photographs: I see light where there isn’t and vice versa and use my ability to control light in post-production to create a different reality. And with that fourth step I essentially manipulate the very essence of photography: light. I’m now looking for another step away from reality: I haven’t found anything yet that fits my personal view on aesthetics and art. Maybe 4 steps away from reality will suffice.
All of your images have a strong sense of mood and emotion, particularly your architectural images with dramatic skies. Is this mood something you look for when shooting an image or is it more so something you create with post processing?
I always try to capture everything, including mood or emotion, in-camera if possible, but it’s not always possible. Yes I can get the composition right in-camera – I never change that in post-production. Yes I can get the long exposure skies right in-camera as well. It’s part of the craftsmanship of shooting long exposures. No, I can’t get the dynamic range right in-camera: my eye and my creative mind, once they come together, see things that no camera can capture.
The human eyes see depth and volumes in a far more advanced way than any camera could. My artistic mind adds to that my personal interpretation of a scene. The result is something I can only create in post-production.
In post I will, if necessary, dramatically change the light. In post I will always come up with a B&W conversion that is completely my own, not just a preset of a tool like SEP2 or Topaz. Not because they’re not good, they are superb, but because what I want to express cannot be pre-determined in a preset or a clever software algorithm. It’s my own unique interpretation of colors and light in a specific situation.
I can alter tonal relationships (e.g. red translates to mid-grey in a specific area in my image, but the same red would translate to pure white in another area in my image, if I feel like that) in a logical way, in a way that makes sense to the eye. If software would do that, then it would be very random and chaotic. Conclusion: mood or emotion is something I seek and capture with my camera and try to emphasize, or maybe even eliminate, in post.
Speaking of post processing, you’ve shared with me before that you can often spend upwards of 40 hours processing one image, which I think is pretty incredible. Can you give us some insight into what is involved in your post processing workflow? Also, how do you use ReMask in your workflow?
Forty plus hours or more processing of one image has become something that is inevitable in my workflow and how I approach a photograph. It’s far more than just editing an image. It’s also a matter of looking, staring at my image in progress and looking very critically at it. I can spend hours just looking and then just change the tonal value in a specific part in my sky because I’ve come to the conclusion it was a bit too dark, too light, or simply off. I take into consideration many things.
If I change the tonal value in area x in my image, then it could also mean I have to change the tonal value in adjacent areas in my image to maintain the tonal separation or the selective contrasts. Looking at it, evaluating the consequences of changing something and then applying and correcting it, that all takes a lot of time. Changing the tonal value itself by adjusting the curves tool is the easy and quick part, that’s just a matter of seconds. Looking critically and evaluating takes time and needs time.
Having said that I cannot deny that there’s one aspect in my work that takes up a lot of time: creating selections. As some may know, I’ve developed a B&W conversion method called Iterative Selective Gradient Masking or iSGM, for which it is essential to create very accurate selections first. Sometimes I work 16 to 20 hours just on creating accurate selections before I come to the real B&W processing part.
For architectural work with relatively simple and straight lines, I mostly use the selection tools in Photoshop, if I do landscape work however then I tend to use Topaz ReMask, especially when amorphous and intricate shapes like trees are involved. Or even rocks. But for very complicated and intricate selections in my architectural images I would use a combination of PS tools and ReMask.
For example my image Visual Acoustics I – Silence and Light – Calatrava bridge, I spent around 20 hours to create selections for all the cables separately by using a combination of PS tools and ReMask. It would’ve been impossible to do this with PS only, or rather it would’ve taken me twice as much time with PS tools only.
The same for my image Zeeland bridge SE: I couldn’t select the railings on the bridge with Photoshop but it was very easy to do that with ReMask. And the attached image, called Even Flow, was simply impossible to do without ReMask: I needed to separate the fountain from the rest of the image to give it a separate B&W treatment in a very accurate way. I could only create a selection of that fountain with ReMask because I needed a very smooth transition from fountain to the dark background.
One of the things you are known for is using long exposures. Can you tell us more about this and why this is an integral part of your work?
I think I already mentioned the reason why in Q1 of this interview: it is a way to step away from reality for just another additional step. That is the most important reason.
Another reason is that it fascinates me: although I’ve been shooting a lot of long exposure photographs over the years and am quite experienced with it, there’s still this element of surprise. You never know what you are really going to get after six minutes of leaving the shutter open. It’s still highly unpredictable what you are going to capture, especially with clouds and moving objects like crowds of people in a scene.
Water is the only thing that’s very predictable under normal conditions: it always turns out soft and smooth, like ice. That’s what long exposures mostly do: making things soft, smooth and ghostly. And that’s also what I like about long exposure photography: making things visually simple, soft and smooth.
I’ve noticed that your work is split up into different series, each with its own theme. How do you come up with the themes for your series and how do the themes impact your shooting?
I’m doing this deliberately. Working in themes forces you to look for objects and subject matter in a very conscious way. It has to fit your theme or concept, so you need to narrow down the multitude of subjects and very often also the specific weather conditions, the composition and B&W post processing style.
It all has to fit the theme you’ve set yourself. Hence you will be shooting much more deliberate and focused. Coming up with a theme is sometimes something easy but more often it is much harder. But most of them have to do with architecture, with light and shadows, with music, with mystery, with all the things I find interesting in life and inspire me, regardless if it has anything to do with photography.
I try to combine those elements and have something in mind that I cannot express in words. All I do is look over the Internet and try to find something that comes close to what I was thinking. It can be a quote or an interesting story. It can be a movie – it can be anything. But it’s always something that represents what I feel in an effective and sometimes metaphorical way. For example: I was always fascinated with light and shadow, how light can affect my mood very strongly and how shadow can contain so much mystery and how it can change the way we interpret light and volumes.
So I started a series where this aspect is included but I didn’t know how to call the series and how to bind them together exactly. Then I found a few interesting quotes from an architect I’m fascinated with: Louis Kahn. He said something about light and shadows and how shadows represent silence. And that’s exactly what I feel when looking at the shadows, the darkness in my photographs. So I took that part to form my new theme: Visual Acoustics – Silence and light.
The name Visual Acoustics refers to a video I saw shortly before working on my latest theme on architectural photographer Julius Shulman. It was a great title for this documentary film on this famous architectural photographer and it’s exactly how I see architecture and architectural photography. When you are filled with something and you go look for it, you will always find something that will reflect your ideas. It isn’t luck, it was there for me to find because I was filled with the desire to find it and to relate it to my photography.
Joel Tjintjelaar is a B&W fine-art photographer from the Netherlands who has won several international awards (IPA 2010, IPA 2011 and IPA 2012) and specializes in Black and White long exposure and architectural photography.
Joel recently released together with Formatt-Hitech a signature edition IRND filter set carrying his name and signature (https://www.formatt-hitech.com/en/products/Joel-Tjintjelaar~147.html )
At the moment Joel teaches long exposure and architectural photography workshops around the world together with the Vision Explorers team that he co-founded 1 year ago with other international award winning photographers: www.visionexplorers.com. Joel also teaches private and online workshops focused on architectural fine-art photography and his Black and White workflow using his own iSGM method of B&W conversion. Joel’s iSGM B&W conversion workflow and long exposure techniques are explained in-depth in a video tutorial (https://sites.fastspring.com/fototv/instant/longexposureworkflow) co-produced with German WebTV company FOTOTV.COM that has been released in May 2013.
Last but not least Joel is working on a book called “from basics to fine art – architectural photography and beyond” together with architect/B&W fine art photographer Julia Anna Gospodarou. You can find more information about Joel or his work on www.bwvision.com that also contains many tutorials on long exposure and B&W photography.