An Eight-Week Tryst With Black and White Film

4 min read by Alastair.
Ilford HP5, pushed to 1600... Seeing their results in a full, contrasty, grainy glory made me fall out of love with colour- and into a winter affair with black and white film.
Dirty windows and boring bus rides home. Kodak Tri-X, pushed to 1600.

Upon graduating from university, I found myself working a temp job in retail over the winter. Wanting to retain my sanity and to keep up with photography I decided to change my usual colour approach for an exclusively black and white one. With the long nights, and the fading, dull light, the idea made sense.

Blagrave Street, from my first roll of pushed black and white film. Reading, UK. Ilford HP5 pushed to 1600.

Before then I’ve only shot two monochrome rolls, with no notable results. But after going through images of my Instagram and Reddit friends, shot almost exclusively on Ilford HP5, pushed to 1600, I’ve got my inspiration. Seeing their results in a full, contrasty, grainy glory made me fall out of love with colour- and into a winter affair with black and white film.

For the eight-week period I worked, I carried my trusty Olympus OM10 with my only lens at the time (the 50mm f/1.4) in my bag. Loaded up with either HP5, Delta 400, or Tri-X. Day in and day out, I walked the same route, with some deviations, from the train station through to the shop where I worked.

Reading Station, UK. Kodak Tri-X, pushed to 1600.

The repetitive nature of the walk allowed me to notice potential shots along the way. Places, where I felt that something could happen or even pre-visualize a composition that I hoped, would appear once the conditions are right. However, as I found out, nothing is ever the same from day to day. Even on my reoccurring daily route, there are variances; little changes in the light, the subjects, how I see the scene. Each time I would notice something different and get drawn to it.

Forbury Offices. Reading, UK. Ilford Delta 400, pushed to 1600

Repetition led me to experimentation. Each day was an opportunity to take a new photo of an old spot. Walking by, I’d try (then) new concepts like abstraction and sub-framing. Researching and applying the findings felt like a continuation for my secondary education career.

I was “working the scene.”

My eight-week tryst ended up being transformative for my photography. With no colour, I started looking at light as a compositional tool and think about the tones of the scene. With colour film, often what you see through the viewfinder is what you get on the negative, but with black and white, I had to get more involved in imagining the scene in monochrome.

Once the winter receded, I’ve gone back to colour film for the most part. But with the summer now well past its prime, again, I’m excited to shoot and learn from monochrome film, anew.

Passenger. Reading Station, UK. Ilford HP5, pushed to 1600.
Starlight. Kodak Tri-X, pushed to 1600.
Bus silhouette. Kodak Tri-X, pushed to 1600.