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Thread: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

  1. #1
    djg05478's Avatar
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    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    I was playing in Camera Raw this morning after getting this one, got me to thinking and wondering if there are specific qualities or characteristics that make a photo a good candidate for a black and white representation. Also when tweaking for black and white...what should one be going for?


    Also curious if this photo is engaging to anyone but me. I'm too biased, I love my dogs too much, would love some thoughts on composition.

    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Debbie,

    Any image is a good candidate for black and white treatment, but when you are dealing with a simple image such as sleeping dogs you want to really go for the standard elements of composition such as balance, pattern, diagonals, etc. I would even consider cropping your current image to concentrate on only one dog.

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by djg05478 View Post
    got me to thinking and wondering if there are specific qualities or characteristics that make a photo a good candidate for a black and white representation.
    Shape. Tone. Texture.

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Here are my top reasons for turning a picture to BW.
    1 When I screwed up WB really badly.
    2 when I over exposed the picture so badly, not even RAW file can help.
    3 when underexposed, the chroma noise is so bad that noise reduction software can't even fix.
    4 when underexposed so much, only the green channel has any info for me to recover.
    5 when simplicity is the key to the picture and all the colours add unnecessary info to the picture.

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    I've heard, and I'm sure this rule is violated regularly, that a good black and white will have the full tonal range, from very white to very black.

    I think your picture of the dogs is wonderful. I think you've captured a great expression, and the composition (at least with the main dog) follows the rule of thirds (another rule regularly violated).

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    I usually look at a greyscale conversion if (a) the image is very contrasty (eg) ...

    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Or it has little colour to begin with (ie "grey days") ...

    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Think less about the visual aspects and look back on the why behind the choice between shooting with B&W or color film.

    In darkroom processing, B&W film has a temperature tolerant easy three chemical solution process and until the 1980's color film required 6 or more solutions with critical temperature control. Three solution color chemistries have been available since, but are still critical of temperature. Another factor was simply cost, color film, chemicals, and photo paper have always been more expensive than B&W materials. Equipment was another limiting factor, apart from large format cameras using sheet film or the high end roll film cameras with interchangeable film backs, once you loaded a particular film into your camera, you were pretty much stuck until you shot every exposure or decided to throw part of the roll away by switching out early.

    So, unless a photographer had the money to burn, they went with what they were comfortable with and could afford. The very concept of "would this image be better as a color shot or B&W" simply did not exist. Many photographers simply chose which world to operate in, color or B&W, and that was their medium for every photograph regardless of the visual aspects or subject matter.

    That said, my decision to render a digital image as B&W has more to do with the tradition of how similar photos were handled in the past than subject or scene itself and here is an example:

    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    This photo was taken at the Wichita Falls Railroad Museum in 2009 and during the steam train era of the 1940's and 1950's, very few photographers worked with color, so traditionally similar photos are usually always in B&W which is why I chose to also have the image available as:

    What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    When you are trying to decide whether a particular photo would be better in color or B&W, just go with what ever looks better to you and remember, it wasn't all that long ago when photographers never had such options.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by mythlady View Post
    I've heard, and I'm sure this rule is violated regularly, that a good black and white will have the full tonal range, from very white to very black.
    Elise

    That is indeed the perceived wisdom. But some of the masters did a lot of their work in the greys; i.e. not touching either the black or white points; e.g. Edward Weston.
    Last edited by Donald; 31st December 2010 at 03:36 PM.

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Debbie, I'm too new to photography to comment on what makes a good b&w image, but it works marvelously for this one. As for the composition, I like it just the way it is. The main subject seems to be acting as a gatekeeper for the sleeping dog and whatever else may be behind him (or her). He seems to be saying, "You gotta I.D.?" or some such thing. A very nice story.

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steaphany View Post
    The very concept of "would this image be better as a color shot or B&W" simply did not exist. Many photographers simply chose which world to operate in, color or B&W, and that was their medium for every photograph regardless of the visual aspects or subject matter.
    Do you think that decision influenced what they shot though?

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    It would often influence how we composed and shot a subject or scene, but not often what we shot. B&W takes a higher contrast level to get a striking image, compared to color.

    Think of a subject with only various shades of yellow. In B&W, you had to wait for light angles and look for shot angles and perspectives to add contrast to the photo. With color, the various shades of a single color will contrast themselves.

    That is an extreme example, granted, but it is something we had to work for and against all the time. I remember trying to photograph a high school football game in the snow, where one team dressed in white uniforms and the other team was in pale gold. Talk about darkroom time! Sheese

    Pops

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    Re: What makes a photo a good candidate for black and white?

    Happy new year 2011 to all CIC members. I think also that any picture could be a good candidate to b&w treatment. The choice depnds of the "message" that you would like to transmit through you picture. My favorite type of picture as you know is equestrian photography. very often people told me only colors. I posted here some examples of b&w, I let you judge if my choice was wrong or right. before any b&w processing that's right that the full tonal range should be adequate, but this aspect could be set with level commands of PS or LR

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