Peter Pickering's Alchemy of Art and Insight

My journey through the world of photography has been shaped by a distinctive perspective: my colour vision deficiency (CVD). Far from viewing this as a limitation, I've come to embrace it as a unique advantage, a different way of seeing the world that sets my work apart from the rest. My condition doesn't confine my creativity; rather, it expands it, allowing me to perceive and capture life through a lens that is distinctly my own.

In the realm of street photography, I've found a profound connection with the tonal poetry of black and white imagery. This preference is not just a stylistic choice but a deep-seated resonance with the ethos of the genre, paying homage to my early days and the legendary figures who have defined this field. The absence of colour compels a focus on the raw, unembellished essence of the moment, stripping down distractions and revealing the underlying stories and emotions.

Interestingly, my CVD interplays with black and white photography in a way that feels almost magical. While I may not perceive colours as most do, my mind instinctively fills in the gaps. The sky weaves itself into a shade of blue in my imagination, while traffic lights paint themselves in reds, greens, and ambers. It's as if my brain has developed its own palette, colouring the world in hues that, while invisible to my eyes, are vivid in my perception.

This unique ability transforms every scene I encounter. I don't see a bustling street; I see a composition of light and shadow, of contrasting tones and textures. This perspective drives me to seek out exposures that preserve the intricate details in both the brightest whites and the deepest blacks, without relying on the artifices of HDR or other digital enhancements. My focus is on capturing the authentic, the genuine narratives that unfold in the greyscale spectrum of everyday life.

My CVD, rather than being a barrier, has become a powerful tool in my photographic arsenal. It allows me to approach street photography with a fresh set of eyes—eyes that see beyond the superficial layer of colour to the heart of the scene. In a world saturated with colour, my monochromatic vision is not a deficiency but a gift, enabling me to uncover and document the hidden beauty and raw truth of the urban landscape.

Indeed, what some might consider a limitation, I see as a superpower. It is a reminder that beauty and depth are not bound by conventional perception but are shaped by how we choose to see and interpret our surroundings. In my world of street photography, colourblindness is not an obstacle but an invitation to explore and celebrate the richness of life in all its tonal complexity.

Seeing Beyond ColoUr: My Unique Lens on Street Photography

Negotiating a tuk-tuk ride in Thailand
Negotiating a tuk-tuk ride in Thailand
A Thai man sitting on a truck with boxes picking his nose
A Thai man sitting on a truck with boxes picking his nose

Through a COLOURBLIND Lens: Understanding Camera Sensors

In a fascinating parallel to my own experience with CVD, the sensor within our digital cameras operates in a surprisingly similar manner – essentially colourblind. At its core, the digital camera sensor is monochrome, capturing the world not in the vibrant hues we perceive but in varying shades of light and darkness.

Most digital cameras are equipped with what's known as a Bayer filter mosaic. This ingenious setup places an array of tiny colour filters – red, green, and blue – atop the sensor's pixels. Despite each pixel's inability to discern colour on its own, merely measuring the intensity of light, the Bayer filter orchestrates a dance of wavelengths, ensuring each pixel is bathed in light from one of these primary colours.

The magic unfolds in the camera's brain, where a process called demosaicing comes into play. The camera's software embarks on a complex task, interpolating the colour information from each pixel's neighbors to paint a full-colour picture from this greyscale tapestry. It's a digital symphony of light, where the camera predicts and fills in the chromatic blanks, weaving the separate threads of red, green, and blue into a cohesive visual narrative.

This initial greyscale capture by the sensor mirrors my own vision of the world – where the intensity and nuances of light shape perception before colour enters the equation. It's a reminder that at the heart of photography lies the ability to see and capture the essence of a moment, beyond the spectrum of colour.

Yet, it's crucial to distinguish this from the pure monochrome sensors found in specialised photography equipment, which dispense with the Bayer filter altogether. These sensors offer a raw, unfiltered view of the world in greyscale, providing richer detail and a greater depth of light than their colour counterparts, echoing the heightened clarity and texture I seek in my own CVD photographic journey.

A giant float of a man in a diving suit - 'The Giants'
A giant float of a man in a diving suit - 'The Giants'

"In the monochrome streets, every shadow tells a story, every light a confession; here, life is not seen in colour, but understood in contrast."

Peter Pickering

Converting to Clarity: The Journey to PURE Monochrome Photography

Technically, any modern digital camera with a Bayer filter can be modified to become a monochrome camera by removing the Bayer colour filter array (CFA) that sits atop the sensor. This process involves physically stripping away the filter layer, leaving the bare sensor which then only captures light intensity, essentially turning it into a monochrome sensor.

However, this is not a simple modification:

  1. Specialised Process: The removal of the Bayer filter is a complex and delicate procedure that requires specialised knowledge and equipment. It's typically performed by professional companies or individuals skilled in camera modifications.

  2. Irreversible Change: Once modified, the camera can no longer capture colour images; it becomes a dedicated black and white camera. This is an irreversible process, so it's a significant commitment to make.

  3. Warranty Void: Modifying a camera in this way will void any manufacturer's warranty. It's a risky process that can potentially damage the sensor if not done correctly.

  4. Increased Sensitivity and Detail: Post-modification, the camera should exhibit increased light sensitivity, greater detail, and improved resolution in black and white, similar to dedicated monochrome cameras like the Leica Monochrom. This is because every pixel on the sensor directly records information about light intensity without interpolating colour information.

  5. Potential for Artifacts: Without the Bayer filter, the camera may be more prone to image artifacts such as moiré patterns since there's no longer a colour array to help mask such effects. Special care in shooting and post-processing can mitigate this.

While converting a camera to monochrome can yield images with exceptional detail and dynamic range, it's essential to weigh the benefits against the irreversible nature of the modification and the loss of colour shooting capabilities. If you're passionate about black and white photography and prepared for the commitment, converting a camera to monochrome could unlock a new level of creative potential. Otherwise, you might consider using a standard camera and converting images to black and white during post-processing, or investing in a camera specifically designed for monochrome photography.

In the heart of the city, where stories unfold,

Walk I, a photographer, daring and bold.

With my trusty Nikon, a friend in hand,

I capture the whispers of the urban land.

Though the spectrum of colours may seem shy,

My keen view sees more than meets the eye.

In a world painted in shades of grey,

I find the beauty that’s hidden away.

My world is not red, nor green, nor blue,

But in my vision, I finds what’s true.

For what is colour but a mere disguise?

I can see the soul, beyond the skies.

In the rhythm of footsteps, in the silence between,

I capture life, in scenes unseen.

With a click of the shutter, a story that binds,

In the gallery of heartbeats, such unique finds.

So here I am, with camera in tow,

Roaming the streets, both high and low.

In unseen colours, I craft my art,

Painting with light, straight from the heart.

Shades Beyond Sight: A Poetic Ode to the mono Lens