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Thread: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

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    terrib's Avatar
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    Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    I suppose this question is aimed at only a few of you as there aren't many here at CiC that consistently use B&W as their main or major focus. Back in college, in my case way before digital, the process of developing in B&W was less expensive and more accessible than color so I never really questioned why we were not taught using color. But, with very few exceptions, when I see a monochrome photo I yearn to see the true colors of the scene.

    The following quote from one of Mike's threads HERE made me want to explore this further:
    "You're not necessarily "not getting it," Robin. It may be that you simply enjoy color photos more than black-and-white photos. That would be no different, as an example, than liking water colors better than acrylics.

    On the other hand, if you're new to critically reviewing photography, your perspective may be a relatively uninformed point of view. Once you have more experience reviewing all styles of photography and become more informed in the process, you might come around to liking monochromes more. Or you might not."


    I've been around CiC for a while now so I don't think I'm really "new" although I could certainly still be uninformed but I can say that I don't think I'm really "getting it". On the other hand I have to admit that I am not a student of the greats in photography, yet the only coffee table book I own (purchased many years ago) is a collection of Ansel Adams photographs. I can't explain this. I do know that some of the photos that Mike has converted and most of the images that Donald shares evoke a response that is colorblind. I'm pulled in and engaged and it doesn't occur to me that it's not "real". Why is that?

    So I just thought I'd ask. What makes you decide to shoot a scene in B&W or to convert images? What are you trying to accomplish or to avoid? What do you want us to see that we would miss with color?

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    I've heard it said that a good photograph should 'tell a story'. For me, a colour photo tells a story, a B & W photo (provided it's a good one!) makes a statement.

    No distracting colours to mislead the viewer from what is actually going on, or deter from the tones, and textures that the photo is trying to portray. Don't get me wrong - I think colour has it's place too, and so I'm not an extremist, or purist, and I DO shoot both.

    I think that B & W photos are actually harder to produce well. It's so much more than pressing a button in PP, as we unfortunately see sooooo often!

    But I'm missing your question. Generally, I convert photos to black and white when I want the viewer to concentrate on the subject(s), and not drown in a misery of colour. If I feel the shot has a wide tonal range, and nice textures, this will usually make a good B&W.

    That's my answer!

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    B & W was the first type of photography I was exposed to in the film days, it was available until color became the norm. The style stayed with me even when I switched to digital.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Here is an example of what Andrew76 is describing: The loss of color makes the pattern, texture and lines of the clouds stand out more.

    Look especially at the clouds in the distance in the center and also at the very top. In the black and white version, you will see more detail in the distance and more movement at the top edge.
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    Last edited by rambler4466; 9th February 2013 at 02:41 AM.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by rambler4466 View Post
    Here is an example of what Andrew76 is describing: The loss of color makes the pattern, texture and lines of the clouds stand out more.

    Look especially at the clouds in the distance in the center and also at the very top. In the black and white version, you will see more detail in the distance and more movement at the top edge.
    I see what you mean - but to me, the sand has more definition/detail in the colour one.

    Glenn

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Terri - a common compositional technique is to "simplify" the image. and when an image is just too busy, removing the colour can often improve the overall look by replacing the complex colours with monochrome shades of gray. I find that "period" shots sometimes work better as a monochrome image as well.

    Example: This is a colour image of the Pesuta shipwreck on Graham Island just north of the Tlell River off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. The image starts off looking reasonably monochrome, with the orange brown colour coming from the rusting nails that hold the wooden planks on the beams

    Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?


    I this version, I went to a pur black and white version.

    Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    The specific reasons I choose a monochrome version are when that version helps emphasize texture, shape, lines, form, nuance (Donald's low-contrast photography comes immediately to mind) or mood in a way that is not possible when using color.

    To be more general, every photograph of a three-dimensional scene is an interpretation of that scene by virtue of the fact that the photo is two-dimensional. (There are also other reasons that a photo is inherently an interpretation.) Once we accept that a photograph is an interpretation, that leaves room for interpreting the scene in any way that we want, including using a monochrome interpretation. So, if the monochrome version works better for me for whatever reason or combination of reasons, that's all I need to know even if I can't put my finger on those reasons.

    My point is that I will occasionally try converting an image to black-and-white just to learn whether it has possibilities; in my relatively early stage of experience making monochromes, I don't need to know in advance and may not not know even afterward exactly why it was worth taking the time to make the monochrome. In that regard, I realize I'm absolutely no help in answering your question.

    You underlined for emphasis my thoughts relating to having an informed opinion or not. Once someone takes the time to review photographs from the advent of photography through and up to the time when color photography became reasonably prominent, I really do feel that doing so leads to a more informed opinion about the various styles that are available to us today. To understand the decisions photographers had to make when they had no alternatives to making monochrome photographs (other than to hand color their prints), had no choice but to make photographs that lasted many seconds if not minutes, had relatively little choice in the dynamic range of their photos, had to go to relative extremes by today's standards to have even a reasonable amount of contrast, etc., etc., will in the very least surely help confirm for you why you prefer or don't prefer monochrome photographs made today. Going through that educational process might even cause a person to prefer monochromes, but I don't advocate that that should be the intended outcome.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 9th February 2013 at 03:08 PM.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    I personally like B&W conversions but, my wife avidly dislikes them! But she also dislikes creative DOF and wonders why all subjects are not directly centered in a image. Is that a matter of photographic sophistication? I don't know!

    IMO a well done B&W image (like DubaiPhil's and Donald's work) has a great "feeling" and can be very aristic....

    However, probably 95% of my own images are in color!
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 9th February 2013 at 03:32 PM.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    How did I manage to miss this thread up to now?

    Quote Originally Posted by terrib View Post
    So I just thought I'd ask. What makes you decide to shoot a scene in B&W ... ?
    My simplest, most straightforward and most honest answer is ... because I like it.

    I don't mean to be flippant. That really is how it is for me. I love what shooting for B & W allows for in terms of looking and studying shape, tone, line and texture. Photography, for me, is about being out in the landscape and looking at it. Capturing something that becomes a good image is then a by-product of having been there and having looked, appreciated and enjoyed.

    As I have written on here before, I try to 'see' in B & W. When I click the button I am starting the process of making a B & W image. I try to 'see' the scene with the colour removed. This is a concept I learned from my photographic 'bible':- Michael Freeman, 'The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography', ILEX, 2009.

    The photograph that I capture will NEVER be made into a colour image, even though I've captured the colour data in the RAW file. I see the colour at RAW processing stage. After that, it's consigned to the archive. The photograph was captured to be a B & W picture. If it doesn't make a good B & W it will be dumped. Similarly, I will never try to make a B & W out of a photograph that I shot to be a colour image. I will never even convert it to B & W 'just to see what it looks like'. That is just the 'rule' I have set for myself and continue to impose upon myself. It probably sounds stupid to 99% of people, but it works for me in terms of disciplining myself to really look at what I'm composing. I mean really, really look.

    For me a colour image is about colour. It can (should) contain good shape, tone, line and texture. But ultimately it's got to have good colour. Take that out and you focus attention on the other elements that are needed to make a good image.
    Last edited by Donald; 10th February 2013 at 12:17 PM.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Donald mentions "seeing" in black-and-white. That's a skill that I haven't even tried to develop. Michael Freeman, in his Complete Guide to Black and White in Digital Photography, which Donald brought to my attention, states that it takes years of practice to develop this skill. I can't imagine that it would be any different for me.

    I heard part of an interview with a pro photographer on the radio earlier this week, but didn't catch the beginning of it and never got his name. He feels that to make the very best photographs, you either need to make everything in color or everything in black-and-white; the skills required to do both are so different that it's not possible to consistently produce the very best in both. I used to think that about performing jazz and classical music until I heard Wynton Marsalis perform both, so I suppose there can be an exception to anything.

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    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Terri - a common compositional technique is to "simplify" the image. and when an image is just too busy, removing the colour can often improve the overall look by replacing the complex colours with monochrome shades of gray. I find that "period" shots sometimes work better as a monochrome image as well.
    Thanks, Manfred. I like your wording "to simplify the image" because it does seem to be one more step you can take to remove distractions.

    Your examples are a type of conversion that I would consider because the image is fairly close to monochrome in the first place so I'm not distracted by "missing" the color - if that makes any sense. In this case the subject becomes more prominent too.

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    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    To be more general, every photograph of a three-dimensional scene is an interpretation of that scene by virtue of the fact that the photo is two-dimensional. (There are also other reasons that a photo is inherently an interpretation.) Once we accept that a photograph is an interpretation, that leaves room for interpreting the scene in any way that we want, including using a monochrome interpretation. So, if the monochrome version works better for me for whatever reason or combination of reasons, that's all I need to know even if I can't put my finger on those reasons.
    That is a good point and it brings to mind what a few others have mentioned here and in other discussions. That is that it is a style or genre of photography that takes a special understanding and skill to see and execute just like shooting wildlife or street photography or portraits, etc. We are drawn to some and not to others but we can respect the skill it takes to execute and sometimes an image not in our preferred genre still draws us in. What B&W is NOT is pushing a button to convert color without taking the time to understand the how and why. (You certainly demonstrate that you get that)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    You underlined for emphasis my thoughts relating to having an informed opinion or not. Once someone takes the time to review photographs from the advent of photography through and up to the time when color photography became reasonably prominent, I really do feel that doing so leads to a more informed opinion about the various styles that are available to us today. To understand the decisions photographers had to make when they had no alternatives to making monochrome photographs (other than to hand color their prints), had no choice but to make photographs that lasted many seconds if not minutes, had relatively little choice in the dynamic range of their photos, had to go to relative extremes by today's standards to have even a reasonable amount of contrast, etc., etc., will in the very least surely help confirm for you why you prefer or don't prefer monochrome photographs made today. Going through that educational process might even cause a person to prefer monochromes, but I don't advocate that that should be the intended outcome.
    I agree. I also think with the complexities of post processing that perhaps it is still a good idea for students of photography to start with B&W. I say this because I think it's natural when you start PP, you immediately start worrying about the color balance, saturation, etc. (with the exception maybe of cropping which is not true composition) B&W would take that out of the equation and have you concentrating on composition and light and contrast.

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    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    My simplest, most straightforward and most honest answer is ... because I like it.
    And that's probably the best reason to do it!

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    As I have written on here before, I try to 'see' in B & W. When I click the button I am starting the process of making a B & W image. I try to 'see' the scene with the colour removed. This is a concept I learned from my photographic 'bible':- Michael Freeman, 'The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography', ILEX, 2009.

    The photograph that I capture will NEVER be made into a colour image, even though I've captured the colour data in the RAW file. I see the colour at RAW processing stage. After that, it's consigned to the archive. The photograph was captured to be a B & W picture. If it doesn't make a good B & W it will be dumped. Similarly, I will never try to make a B & W out of a photograph that I shot to be a colour image. I will never even convert it to B & W 'just to see what it looks like'. That is just the 'rule' I have set for myself and continue to impose upon myself. It probably sounds stupid to 99% of people, but it works for me in terms of disciplining myself to really look at what I'm composing. I mean really, really look.
    It certainly does work for you. I think this is very interesting and I can definitely see how looking at the scene as B&W before releasing the shutter would make for the best B&W images - that converting an image from one seen in color might not have as good a result. But I'm not sure I see the converse as true (other than as a discipline for your goals) but this could definitely be my lack of real understanding of how taking a B&W image would change how the color image would present.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    I got into photography in junior high school. B&W is the easiest and cheapest process to use to get a basic print so that's what school clubs could manage on limited budgets. Film types, filter colours, paper types, chemical variations, film and darkroom exposure methods, all gave us a solid foundation on what the processes were and what could be accomplished by varying one or more of the factors. I really liked that detail of the craft and being able to try different things. Colour was available later but due to expense, some steps like temperature being more critical and also not being able to experiment as much in the darkroom made colour processing far too fussy to be worth the effort. And totally forget about getting the amazing detail of slides. Colour wasn't as much fun so they all went off to the drugstore and you waited a week. As such, many of us from the time have that "eye" for the results achieved with B&W because that's just what we did for a few of years. Even in my own darkroom years later I had a dichroic colour head on my enlarger but still preferred the experimental ability of b&w.

    As far as b&w goes for me today, there are still a couple of basic primary influences that remain within me. The subject and/or the mood need to fit the genre. I know before-hand that it's a B&W shot. In 40 years I can count on one hand the number of shots I did in both colour and b&w and only recall two I wish I had done in the other. (switching between films mid-roll was a process I won't go into here but I'm sure some of you will remember that as well. )

    Each of has our own feelings towards what makes a good b&w so as with many other pieces in the "creative process", don't worry about what others think in determining your own direction. Many attempts I see here are in my mind not appropriate for the style of b&w that I like. Doesn't mean they aren't any good for others. If they appeal to you then that's what's important. Having others enjoy them too is just a bonus.

    My only pet peeve is those who say, "It didn't come out well in colour so I just made it b&w" and they still don't know if it's any good. They flip back and forth like it doesn't matter. In my opinion they have a long way to go in that direction.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Speaking of informed opinion, I just learned on a CNN broadcast that polls indicate that most people in the U.S. are against getting rid of the penny. However, when the poll includes the information that it costs twice as much to make and distribute the penny as it is worth, most people are in favor of getting rid of it. Canada made the decision last week to get rid of its smallest currency.

    I don't have a problem with the idea that most people viewing photographs of any kind are forming relatively uninformed opinions about them. (Not so about the people participating regularly at CiC.) Even so, I do think many of their opinions would change once they became more informed.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    The thought struck me awhile back that despite shooting in colour many of my photographs are or almost B&W

    Mike ... As for the 'loss' of the penny we have got rid of everything smaller than 10 cents though if paying by cheque or credit card the individual cents count. Not sure if getting rid of the 10 cent piece would bother me, going for the nearest 20 cent value. I seem to collect them in my pocket and get rid of them when visiting the dairy/corner store.... like Americans treat their pennies I have been told
    "Being informed" ... being indoctrinated?

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by jcuknz View Post
    The thought struck me awhile back that despite shooting in colour many of my photographs are or almost B&W
    There you go. There are a lot of us that still haven't been able to come out yet. It's okay, it's safe out here in B & W world.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    _ _ _ _ For me a colour image is about colour. It can (should) contain good shape, tone, line and texture. But ultimately it's got to have good colour. Take that out and you focus attention on the other elements that are needed to make a good image.
    Yes, if colour is not actually adding to a photograph it very likely to be detracting from the image.
    Last edited by pnodrog; 11th February 2013 at 07:31 PM.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by terrib View Post
    ... I can definitely see how looking at the scene as B&W before releasing the shutter would make for the best B&W images - that converting an image from one seen in color might not have as good a result. But I'm not sure I see the converse as true (other than as a discipline for your goals) but this could definitely be my lack of real understanding of how taking a B&W image would change how the color image would present.
    You're quite right, Terri and, as you note, it is just one of the things I impose upon myself. Other people are probably able to handle the complexities involved in moving between colour and B & W better than I can, so it just suits me to think this way.

    I note that Mike picked up on the thing about only working in B & W or in colour:
    "I heard part of an interview with a pro photographer on the radio earlier this week, but didn't catch the beginning of it and never got his name. He feels that to make the very best photographs, you either need to make everything in color or everything in black-and-white; the skills required to do both are so different that it's not possible to consistently produce the very best in both."

    That is certainly a notion that a number of photographers have subscribed to over the years. In his book to which I referred above, Freeman quotes and refers to the likes of Edward Weston and Eliot Porter as people who worked hard at making the distinction between B & W and colour and worked in one to the exclusion of the other at various points in their careers.

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    Re: Why do you choose to shoot or process in B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    You're quite right, Terri and, as you note, it is just one of the things I impose upon myself. Other people are probably able to handle the complexities involved in moving between colour and B & W better than I can, so it just suits me to think this way.

    I note that Mike picked up on the thing about only working in B & W or in colour:
    "I heard part of an interview with a pro photographer on the radio earlier this week, but didn't catch the beginning of it and never got his name. He feels that to make the very best photographs, you either need to make everything in color or everything in black-and-white; the skills required to do both are so different that it's not possible to consistently produce the very best in both."

    That is certainly a notion that a number of photographers have subscribed to over the years. In his book to which I referred above, Freeman quotes and refers to the likes of Edward Weston and Eliot Porter as people who worked hard at making the distinction between B & W and colour and worked in one to the exclusion of the other at various points in their careers.
    I do not entirely agree as I have seen photographers that produce superb images in both colour and B&W. However I think the approach to B&W is more related to sculpture where as the approach to colour photography is more akin to painting.

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