Boston in Black and White

Click on images for full size

On a family trip last summer we stopped in Boston and I had a great time shooting around for a few hours downtown. I specifically had stopped to see the Boston City Hall. The building is one of the more famous examples of brutalism, and is one of my favorite buildings. Although I spent the bulk of my time shooting this building, I did walk around the city a bit and get some interesting shots. I’ll share each of my favorites here and talk about them briefly. Also along the way I’ll share some of my editing decisions and talk about why I love black and white.

"Surveillance"  (click for full size)
(click for full size)

A shot of a camera on the underside of the Boston City Hall. In this shot I especially love the very abstract sort of background which adds depth and an interesting backdrop to the simple subject, a camera. Although the composition would work without the camera as an abstract form, I appreciate the camera’s presence adding a sort of tangibility and context to the photograph.

Untitled (click for full size)
(click for full size)

One of the biggest advantages of black and white, especially when converting a digital color photo into black and white, is the ability to play with how colors are translated into values. This gives you a great amount of latitude to play with value and a high degree of control over the final image. In this image, I love the soft light that falls on the pillars and the massive scale the pillars lend to the building and this area, which was a concourse to the side of the entrance. The textures of the concrete and the contrast to the brick were also rich. I will edit to remove the trashcan in the center if I continue to use this image, because I find it incredibly distracting.

"Alongside Boston City Hall" (click for full size)
“Alongside Boston City Hall”
(click for full size)

One of the most challenging things about shooting architecture with a DSLR is controlling converging vertical lines. Created when the image sensor is at an angle to a tall building, it gives the effect of the building “falling” away from the camera and the viewer. This photo was corrected by Lightroom, and although the “straightening out” can look surreal as you do it, the final effect looks far more natural. The correction here serves to make the building far more imposing and gives a much more accurate sense of scale in comparison to the people.

City, Abstract (click for full size)
City, Abstract
(click for full size)

The idea of visualization dictates that a final composition should be visible to the photographer in their head while they take the picture. This was difficult for me, at least on the editing end of the spectrum, because I edited these photos almost a year after taking them. Any idea which isn’t immediately obvious to me when viewing the picture means the picture is likely forgettable. However, it’s nice to find a photo like this where the clear idea (the reflection of sunlight on water giving the glow on the underside of the building) is present, and I now posses the editing skill that I didn’t a year ago necessary to emphasize it. I am very pleased with this photo, it has an effect which is not entirely surreal and not entirely literal.

Building light (click for full size)
Building light
(click for full size)

In a city with many glass faced buildings, some strange things with light can happen. This photo takes some study, and it doesn’t have as strong of an impact because of that, but some strange things with light are going on in this picture. The sun is actually behind the building on the right. It is reflected from a window of the building in the reflection of the first building. The light on the building on the left is actually being reflected from the side of the building on the right. I find it interesting, even if it’s not visually that strange, to think of how light moves around and bounces off of buildings.

"Boston City Hall" (click for full size)
“Boston City Hall”
(click for full size)

My favorite wide shot of the city hall and nearby buildings. Again, this photo had to be strongly corrected for converging vertical lines. However the correction allows the viewer to get a sense of the imposing nature of the building.

Notice also in this photo the darkness of the sky. This is a great advantage of black and white photos with a red filter on them (essentially filtering out/darkening blue light). A blue sky against buildings in color this dark would look incredibly unnatural. However, although this is not literal translation of value, it does give a sense of the visual effect of actually being there in person. This is one of my favorite benefits of black and white editing: the ability to darken the sky in order to make foreground elements more dramatic.

Untitled (click for full size)
(click for full size)

The effect of converging verticals isn’t always unwanted. The impact of this photo has largely to do with the completely uncorrected converging vertical lines, giving the effect of a building which is far larger than it actually is. There’s no hard and fast rule for when the “falling away” effect of tilting the camera up to fill a frame with a building is desirable or not, it’s really just important to develop a sense for when it will look good and when it won’t. Also remember, if you plan on correcting the converging vertical lines in Photoshop, Lightroom, or an equivalent software, leave plenty of room around the top parts of the subject because as correction needs to become more drastic, more of the photo will be cropped.

“Detail from underside of Boston City Hall”
(click for full size)

This photo was a “throwaway” when I first looked at it, back when I took these pictures. I remember not having particularly high hopes for it and didn’t plan to include it with the rest of the photos. However when editing these black and whites, I found something pleasing, again, about the geometric and slightly abstract nature of the pillars and the design on the underside of the building. I also thoroughly love the texture of the concrete.

Untitled (click for full size)
(click for full size)

More fun with city textures and values. One of the weaker photographs of the bunch, but I particularly like the strong contrast of the black building against the white reflection while still looking natural.

Untitled (click for full size)
(click for full size)

One of my favorites from the bunch. A color edit of this photo was included somewhere in the recent post titled “reflections”. I like this photo equally as a black and white and as a color, or I at least think it works both as a color picture and a black and white photo. Usually I feel strongly one way or the other, but the contrast here works just as strongly as white on black as it does pale yellow on blue in the color photo.

"Corner detail of Boston City Hall" (click for full size)
“Corner detail of Boston City Hall”
(click for full size)

Good contrast, a dark sky, a sense of colossal scale, appealing textures and interesting textures on the concrete (especially on the underside). This photo has a lot of components I really like but for some reason the composition isn’t entirely appealing to me as a whole and I can’t decide why. The light and the shadow from it in the bottom right isn’t the reason, but it is an annoyance that I’ll edit out at some point.

"detail from the side of the Boston City Hall" (click for full size)
“detail from the side of the Boston City Hall”
(click for full size)

The same comments for the above photo are applicable here. I love the contrast of the texture of the windows and the concrete. I feel like it’s got a good visual balance, good range of tones, and yet there’s still something I can’t quite put my finger on where this photo isn’t entirely appealing to me.


These are the photos from Boston I most liked. I had a few ideas for upcoming posts while writing this:

  • A color album from Maine (photos also taken on this trip) along with a discussion of color editing.
  • Black and white editing techniques.
  • A further study of perspective control.

As always, post your comments and thoughts in the comment section below. I really do appreciate hearing your thoughts and feedback on my work. And, this is very important: if you like the blog, subscribe and tell a friend, it would mean a whole terribly lot to me.



Add yours →

  1. I’m impressed. You’ve managed to make the ugliest building in Boston actually look good!
    Nice job!

  2. June 11, 2013 — 5:21 pm

    The photos are cool but you picked the ugliest Boston building.

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