Hello NPN! I'm Jack Curran Ask Me Anything! Let's talk B&W and Landscape


My name is Jack Curran. I’m am incredibly excited to be a member of the awesome NPN community and for the opportunity to share and answer your Ask Me Anything questions. You can see my work at www.jackcurranphotography.com and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at /jackcurranphotography, where I post new work and share free short-form tutorials.

I’ve been shooting black and white landscapes for just over 40 years. Having had an epiphany at on an Outward Bound course at age 16, it was nature and the great outdoors from that day on. I picked up a camera at 18 and took an introduction to Black and White photography during my freshman year in college and well, as the story goes, it was all uphill from there. Off I went with my $100 35mm camera and my one lens! Soon afterwards, I begged and got a job at a commercial photo lab and studio, which quickly led to shooting 4x5 and 8x10 commercial work (tabletop and fashion) as well as developing and printing my work in the darkroom for over 30 years. The allure of the landscape has never left me. To this day, I still feel like I’m just getting started. There are two things that I’m genuinely passionate about 1. Being out in the landscape and 2. Sharing with others what I’ve learned. To that end, I’m incredibly excited to be an instructor at the upcoming Out of Yosemite Conference in February 2020, where I will be leading class instruction and in-field workshops with some of the very best landscape photographers, including one of my favorite B&W photographers John Sexton. (I could provide a full list if it makes sense?)

I’m excited to be answering your questions for the next 24 hours starting October 25th.
Fire away – why Black and White, what approach do you use when thinking about black and white in the field, what is your approach to post-processing, do you do much research, do you stay in 5-star hotels or not sleep at all, have you had any near-death experiences… Ok, you get it, it asks me anything!

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Hi Jack! I wanted to first say I’ve followed along as you did full edits on your YouTube channel, and that’s been one of the most helpful things to me. Hearing you talk about why you’re making the choices you do and talk through your workflow really helps me to choose my tools with more thought and care as I edit my own images, both B&W and color.

In that same sort of vein, I’m wondering if you have a favorite image or two (either your work, or others) and if you could talk about why that image calls to you and what makes it stand out? Less specifically, I’m looking to learn what makes a really solid b&w photo, and I figure it’s probably easier and more helpful to speak about that as it relates to a certain photo than it is to speak about that in general terms. Thanks!

Hi Drew! First, thank you for your kind words. That’s a great question and a challenging one to answer. Don’t we always fall in love with the next one🙂! So I have several, but I will use a Death Valley image as an example. It’s the Morning Light over Mesquite Dunes. I have to be honest; I was walking out on the dunes pre-sunrise, really hoping for beautiful long shadows and tons of ripples and texture. What I found when the Sun came up was overcast and soft light. After about 20 minutes, a little sliver of light leaked through and boom, I could visualize and see the transitions and depth and contrast between the sand and the mountains. It’s these moments that I am all alone and smiling to myself or even laughing out loud that drawback over and over. For me, what made the photo was the dynamic of range of light, or more specifically, I look for elements in a scene that will deliver presence: Range of Light, Contrast, Flow-Direction, Transitions, Mood, Tension, Luminosity.


Hi Jack!

I’m a new fan of yours as I haven’t done many black and white renderings of my images and therefore am largely unfamiliar with B&W photographers, but your images open up a new world of vision for me and I consider B&W as my next artistic avenue. As an artist, I’m interested not in representing reality but in a vision of our natural world that is a step apart from reality into an otherworldly realm. That’s what your images are to me and I really love them so I’m going to spend time digging into your YouTube videos and other products to see what I can learn from you.

Today, I’m interested to know what you are attempting to say with your images. What is your vision of the natural world that compels you to render it as you do?

You’ve shot in a variety of pretty exquisite locations. But unless I’ve missed it, I don’t recall having seen anything from Alaska from you.
Doesn’t tickle your fancy…just haven’t got around to it yet, or…??

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Hi Matt and thank you for your question! That’s a deep question. Let me tell you a short story. My venture into BW has always been an exploration of my personality. Sometimes dark sometimes light. When I was young I struggled, went to Outward Bound and shortly thereafter found BW photography. It has remain a creative avenue for me, not so much as an escape, but as a place to live and create. For me, I’m merely leveraging the natural world to express my personal vision and interpretations. It also fulfills ne to just be outdoors and see what could be.

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RJ everything tickles my fancy! You are correct I have not been there. I will someday, and as you said I haven’t gotten around to it. I must say, having travelled around to these other locations also helped me realize what an absolutely diverse and wonderful country we have right here.

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Greetings Jack! This is great that you are sharing you experience so freely with others!

The question I have is about printing. What are your views on that process? As you know I have recently re-discovered photography. Im getting to the point I want to start printing. I understand there is quite a bit in that process these days. What type of printer and paper/papers do you recommend? Im using an older Epson with Dura Brite (pigment inks) right now. Do you use different papers for different images?, Dedicated “grey scale or color printers? ICC Profiles? I understand that printing is complex and this may not be the place to go in depth, Maybe a future video? So a quick overview would be great. As you understand printing is just as important if not as important as getting the shot. Thanks! Hope to see you soon!

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From the two Death Valley images it appears that you shoot in color, (somewhat overexposed-or is it just my amateurish eye), and covert to B/W in processing. When viewing a scene do you overexpose/underexpose knowing that conversion to B/W and post processing will obtain the end result you envision?

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Thanks Marty! Yes it can be a complex subject. Having printed in the silver darkroom for 30 years my expectation for the prints I produce is extremely high. I print all my own work, mat and mount, sign in pencil, have editions with holographic stickers on the back as well a certificate of authenticy. I recently started smaller Limited Editions as well (10). I use an Epson P800 and 44" Epson 9900. I print all my work on Baryta Fiber based Paper. Mostly Hahnemuhle using Photo Rag or Fine Art Rag. I feel these work best with my BW landscape and have great dynamic range from deep black to bright white. As for setting, I used to have a dedicated 6 tank dedicated BW printer, however a few years ago I started using the Epson Advance BW settings with great success. I have used both ICC profiles and built my own profiles and saved them per each image. But, I have to be honest, each image demands testing and refinement. I then will save those setting for the future! Hope that helps.

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Hi Jack!
I am your new fan.I love B&W photos.I have two question.What kind of filter set up you use?
And how to decide the black and white ratio in photos?
I heard from a photographer from country that too much white is disturbing in a b&w photo.

Jack! Yay!

My question is simple- why Black and White? What’s wrong with color!?

Have you done much color?

Hi Jack - As you know, I love your photographs and I’m very happy to see you here on NPN facilitating this discussion. I have always assumed that you use digital camera equipment but saw a lot of talk about film equipment above. Assuming you do use digital equipment now, how do you think your experience working with slow film equipment has influenced your process when working with digital? I ask because I have been trying to think more like a film photographer - moving more slowly, making more deliberate decisions, and taking fewer photos. More generally, I’m interested in hearing more about your working style and creative process in the field.

Jack, you told me a few months back that when many photographers encounter a gloomy, gray day, they figure there’s no way they’re going to get a good shot. You love those kind of conditions, though. Could you elaborate?

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Hey Jim, thanks for the question. Yes, I shoot in color because I can then do my conversions and, if needed, use the BW Mix (color) sliders they same way I used to put filters over the lens when I shot large format. Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, etcetera. So let me tell you a little about my field approach. I see and think in BW now. I see the flow of light, range of brightness and contrast and more. However to help, I also carry and small Tiffen Monochromatic viewer, and a black cut-out frame with me to preview, (I know the camera can preview BW as well), but I really like this approach and these tools, because I slow down and because I really hunt and explore for the range of light and composition, which brings me to part of your question. I generally underexpose, and open the shadows in post. I feel like I need to preserve and protect the highlight detail. I’ve learned to deal with potential noise and selectively clean it up. Lastly, I always lay my backpack down and walk around a scene with my Mono viewer and black viewing frame (that I made 30 years ago). I compose, visualize and try to realize the final image in my mind’s eye before I even get a camera out. It helps the creative process.

Hey Matt, I refuse to answer your question! Haha. no really I just fell in love with it at a very young age, and we’ve been married for 42 years. For me, it’s about exploring an abstract dimension that challenges me creatively. Yes, I shot tons of color but that was mostly commercial work. I shot large format table-top and fashion for advertising for years. Won a ton of national advertising awards. However, every year I piled into the car to follow my personal passion for BW. BW is alluring and challenging to do well. And Matt there is nothing wrong with color at all!!

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Hi Jack, You have some great work in your portfolio! Thanks for doing g the AMA. How do you feel about B&W pre-visualization through the use of live view, or electronic view finder. Is it a benefit or detractor?

Hey Sarah,
Thank you, and I can’t wait to catch up. I love what you’re doing in BW as well! Yes, I started shooting 4x5 and 8x10, printing in the darkroom and making tedious notes on the process in my journals. More specifically, to your question, having an analog and print background has genuinely helped me. I shoot much slower, visualize and treat post (Lightroom) like I did in the darkroom, except with much more versatility and dynamic ability to control the process. My process in the field is very deliberate. I don’t get my camera out until I find it and feel it. I recently hiked all day with a guide in the Patagonia backcountry, and much to his chagrin never took a picture. I didn’t see any shots or feel it. So what I do is - I leave my backpack on the ground when I find something that is tweaking the brain visually. I’ll pull out my BW mono viewer and black frame cut-out and walk and work a scene to find the right composition. I start thinking about the elements of art/design or what I like to call the Elements of Presence. RANGE OF LIGHT, CONTRAST, FLOW OF LIGHT - DIRECTION, TRANSITIONS, MOOD, TENSION, and lastly, LUMINOSITY. When I can find several of these I have a pretty good idea of what the final print may look like, I’ll then set up my camera and shoot a variety of exposures and say a small prayer! Thank again Sarah

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Hi Jack, I am a new fan, I love your work. I take it that you when you initially capture a landscape it’s in color. What creative steps do you take to convert the image to the dramatic and visually beautiful monochrome images that you generate?

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