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Thread: When to use B&W?

  1. #1

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    Joe Watterson

    When to use B&W?

    Here's a question for those more experienced than I. It's understood that this is a matter of aesthetic taste/interpretation and there are no rules, but are there considerations to keep in mind when selecting shots that might benefit from being converted to monotone? For example, high contrast shots, busy shots? Any guidance will be appreciated.

  2. #2

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    Re: When to use B&W?

    Donald McD is the best one to answer this question, though inthe end he will also tell you it is a matter of how you interpret color.

    There are many occasions when I see a setup, I immediately think of B&W, then start formulating the tone scale in my head, and in a similar mode, I set it to a particular zone (tonal range) I think will best suit the image, then expose for that. I have been experimenting with a number of B&W conversion workflows and in most cases, I use one for higher contrast, one for softer contrast and one for people. It takes practice to see color in B&W.

    I would strongly suggest looking at images from Ansel Adams and any of the Westons for inspiration.

  3. #3

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    Re: When to use B&W?

    Interesting question Joe. And thinking about it it's a question of what dominates the picture at the time you press the shutter. Is it the colours that made you take the shot, for example, Autumn trees or a spectacular sunset. Or is it the lines, texture and tones that caught your attention. Autumn and sunset pictures (generally) are better in colour, that's presumably what caught your attention. The curving lines of tree roots or the lines of planking on a small boat might be better in monochrome.
    I suppose if you look at something and the first thing that crosses your mind is "wow, great colours" - it's an obvious choice. Best way by far is to make a decision when you take the shot and plan for a mono or colour end result, but having said that, as a really general rule if you have a shot with strong lines or textures then it might just work well in monochrome. Will removing colour take something away from the image or in fact add to it ? Is the colour necessary or in fact just a distraction hiding a masterpiece underneath ?
    You need some contrast in a black and white generally speaking (even high key portraits have some darks somewhere), with colour, not so much, an arrangement of complimentry muted colour (a misty dawn for example) would look possibly really flat in mono, add a highlight or deep shadow then it might well be a different story.
    Best way possibly to get a handle on it is to convert a bunch of images to black and white and see the differences - if you lose something then it's best in colour, if you gain something in the image then mono is the way to go. Do that a few times and you start to get a feel for what looks better for you.
    Look at other peoples work, some classic black and whites and ask yourself why the photographer chose mono over colour. As Chris says the Westons or Adams or some classic photo reportage. Imagine Ansel's Yosemite shots in colour ...
    I make no excuses for using the words 'generally', 'possibly' and 'might', ultimately there are no rules and the choice is one of personal style.

  4. #4
    mariaramil's Avatar
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    Maria

    Re: When to use B&W?

    I quite like BW for portraits as it can disguise skin imperfections and colour clashes in the clothes (I try different B/W settings to see the effect). As a bonus, it makes portraits look timeless.

  5. #5

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    Re: When to use B&W?

    Here's an attempt - pretty much monochromatic original image, tonemapped to B&W in Photomatrix, ^fill light, brightness and contrast in LR, and clarity and vibrance each to +25.

    When to use B&W?

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