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Thread: How to see in B&W

  1. #1
    Seriche's Avatar
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    How to see in B&W

    I'm very new to landscape photography, and like B&W very much. I've been using Silver Efex Pro 2 to run old compact photos through the presets to teach myself what kinds of landscapes would work best in monochrome, but it's still very difficult to see in B&W when I'm out there in front of sea and shore, for instance, so I've been trying to think of ways to see a scene in tones only.

    Although it's not much used these days, artists used to look at a scene through a Claude Glass (black mirror) which helped them to see the relative tonal values. I know a great deal more about the history of art than of photography, so I was wondering if photographers have something like this that they use to assess a scene for B&W?

    Otherwise, I'm on the hunt for a Claude Glass

    Any other kinds of advice on how to see in B&W would also be gratefully received, or is it just a matter of practice until you get your eye trained to see that way?

    Cheers,

    Seri

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    jiro's Avatar
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    Willie or Jiro is fine by me.

    Re: How to see in B&W

    For me, Color or Black and White photography is a matter of preference, Seri. I always think that the same principle holds true to both. My guide in taking a shot is - "A very well composed shot, with a very interesting subject, will always be perfect whether you process it in color or black and white." I, for one has a personal taste to always show human emotions in black and white. For me, taking away the color makes the image bare and strong concentrating only on the message.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: How to see in B&W

    Practice, practice, practice.

    Look at the scene and tell yourself what it's going to look like in B & W. Either set the camera to Mono so that you see a B & W jpeg on the back screen or take it home and put it onto the computer screen and desaturate it. How close is that to what you said it would look like.

    Repeat.

    Repeat

    Repeat.

    And then do it again!

    As Michael Freeman writes in 'The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography', 2009 (p140), " ... 'full' black & white photography means anticipating, selecting and composing monochrome right from the start. And the only way to do this is to train oneself to think and see in black and white. There are optical aids ..., but these are really tricks to fool the eye for a short while into ignoring the colour in a scene. More effective long term is constant practice and experience in mentally filtering out the colour information."

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    Seriche's Avatar
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    Re: How to see in B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by jiro View Post
    For me, Color or Black and White photography is a matter of preference, Seri. I always think that the same principle holds true to both. My guide in taking a shot is - "A very well composed shot, with a very interesting subject, will always be perfect whether you process it in color or black and white."
    Hi Jiro

    Thanks very much for responding.

    I've been thinking hard about what you said, and would be grateful if you would explain it further.

    When I've been converting past colour photos to B&W, to see how they look, it seems that some look a lot better in one mode or the other. But are you saying that any photo that's well-composed and has an interesting subject will look *equally* good in either colour or B&W?

    When dealing with photos that aren't of such a high quality I've been learning that while very few mediocre colour photos transform well into monochrome, a small proportion manage to look a great deal better when converted in that way (and I'll be posting one of those later on).

    I'm learning that converting to B&W can mask unsympathetic colours and bring out textures beautifully. Obvious to all professionals, but still a kind of magic to me

    I, for one has a personal taste to always show human emotions in black and white. For me, taking away the color makes the image bare and strong concentrating only on the message.
    I have never taken any portraits and the like, but have noticed the effect you describe in other people's work. '...makes the image bare and strong concentrating only on the message'. I like that - well put

    Cheers,

    Seri

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    Seriche's Avatar
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    Re: How to see in B&W

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    Practice, practice, practice.
    You're quite right, of course, Donald

    The more I learn from the good folks here the more I see that the lessons that were the most useful when learning how to draw are equally applicable to photography (which is why I have never doubted that photography is an art).

    You remind me of an American art tutor who used to thunder to his students "Draw!, draw!, draw! - the rest doesn't matter a damn!"

    Well, learning how to see comes into it, but at heart he had the essence of it - there are no shortcuts to excellence

    Look at the scene and tell yourself what it's going to look like in B & W. Either set the camera to Mono so that you see a B & W jpeg on the back screen or take it home and put it onto the computer screen and desaturate it. How close is that to what you said it would look like.
    Thank you so much for the advice. My head's been so full of non-photographic stuff this last month that I missed the obvious alternative to the Claude Glass - using the camera to see in B&W for me until I can do it on my own

    Repeat.

    Repeat

    Repeat.

    And then do it again!
    Yessir!

    As Michael Freeman writes in 'The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography', 2009 (p140), " ... 'full' black & white photography means anticipating, selecting and composing monochrome right from the start. And the only way to do this is to train oneself to think and see in black and white. There are optical aids ..., but these are really tricks to fool the eye for a short while into ignoring the colour in a scene. More effective long term is constant practice and experience in mentally filtering out the colour information."
    He's absolutely right, of course. And that's what I want to learn how to do - to select for B&W from the start.

    You've given me the idea of trying to assess tones etc. when out in the field by eye and then immediately using the camera set to Mono to check how accurate my assessment is. I would think that the instant feedback would help tremendously to instruct my brain about its mistakes

    I have that Freeman book sitting on a shelf next to my bed along with thirty other books on photography. I've been so busy reorganising my entire home just to fit a tiny home studio in front of a suitable window that I've not had time to read recently.

    Mea culpa.

    I'm even having to get a much smaller bed because the one I have is blocking the light source. A kind friend gave me an emperor years ago - somewhat ironic and excessive for a solitary - so it's going in the name of photography )

    Many thanks, Donald,

    Seri

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    Alan Pezzulich

    Re: How to see in B&W

    You've given me the idea of trying to assess tones etc. when out in the field by eye and then immediately using the camera set to Mono to check how accurate my assessment is.
    You can see from the looking at the presets in Silver Efex that the image you review in the camera probably will not be the finished image. Your assessment should not be how accurate the tones are. It should be given your mental image of the scene have you captured the maximum amount of data so you can post process it to produce the best representation of your mental image.

    Alan

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