B&W photography - I don't get it.

Started Jan 21, 2008 | Discussions
trale
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B&W photography - I don't get it.
Jan 21, 2008

Am I the only person who finds black and white photography esoteric? I've encountered black and white conversion techniques in every photoshop or retouching book I've read, and I gloss over them everytime because I couldn't find the appeal in looking at a gray-scale image. Would someone enlighten me on this topic? What sort of impact does a B&W image have that couldn't be conveyed by a full-colored one? I am trying to appreciate various artistic aspects of photography; I'm just not quite getting this.

asellers98
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High contrast
In reply to trale, Jan 21, 2008

B&W is a great way to truely enhance a contrasty photo. I have seen many of my own photos that were greatly improved by going to a form of B&W.

No one says you have to like it, its all up to what message you are going to express. Go out and enjoy color! Some people only shoot B&W for that same reason.
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tony brown
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Merits of B&W
In reply to trale, Jan 21, 2008

I can do no better than recommend you look at some of Ansel Adams work on Web or Paper to see how much can be got out of a subject by just B&W. Of course his work is furthest removed from just B&W and all about yielding the fullest tonal range of greys. His pictures enable me to see the world afresh however old they are.

Just the use of light and shade can make you see things so differently, particularly their shape and texture whereas, with vivid colour those features may be camouflaged from our eyes.

Lately my own taste has moved towards B&W again after 60 years of photography (just as an amateur) with others moving away.

I attach two recent shots which give me just as much pleasure as colour.

&

Cheers, Tony.

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Frank Lopes
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

It is all a matter of taste and subject.

There is no such thing as one being better than the other.

There are however times when the topic lends itself better in one format over the other.

This image is a b&w panorama at the local cemetery.

Due to the subject matter, the weather and the snow around, color made the picture look "washed" and without contrast. Once converted to b&w it gained a little more punch and made for a much more interesting photo.

However just because it might have worked for this one it does not mean it will work for all.

Just because something is in b&w does not mean it is art.

trale wrote:

Am I the only person who finds black and white photography esoteric?
I've encountered black and white conversion techniques in every
photoshop or retouching book I've read, and I gloss over them
everytime because I couldn't find the appeal in looking at a
gray-scale image. Would someone enlighten me on this topic? What sort
of impact does a B&W image have that couldn't be conveyed by a
full-colored one? I am trying to appreciate various artistic aspects
of photography; I'm just not quite getting this.

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jbf
jbf
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Good Question
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

Here are a few reasons you may want to try B&W:

B&W has a timeless quality about it. It changes the mood of the image which may or may not be desirable. It can be good for portraits because colors on the skin can be a distraction, i.e. a red blotch. If the light isn't good, colors can look washed out or dark. B&W can eliminate those problems. A strong shadow can ruin a color image but look great in B&W. It also brings out the subtlety of the tones in the image. One of the most important reasons to shoot B&W is to eliminate distractions and focus the viewer's attention on the subject.

A great site for B&W photography is:

http://www.thespiderawards.com

Here are some examples from that site that illustrate how B&W puts the focus on the subject and sets the mood of the image:

Colors on the mountains might be nice, but colors in the tarp, on the road, or on the sidewalk would distract from the subject.

There's probably not a lot of interesting color in this image. It's more about shapes, scale, and context.

Some of the colors in this image might be nice, but in B&W the mood is intense. Also, if it were in color, the colors in the man's clothes could steal the attention away from the rest of the scene.

The color of the building, the stroller, the clothes, or the lights in the elevator would distract from the subject.

Good question,
jbf

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trale
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Re: Merits of B&W
In reply to tony brown, Jan 22, 2008

Thanks for showing me those samples. The 2nd one is particularly fetching. It's a great B&W image, no doubt. I'm sure the colored original must be magnificent as well. I'm curious what aspects of it stand out for you, compared to the colored image.

tony brown wrote:

Cheers, Tony.

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trale
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to jbf, Jan 22, 2008

Wow! Thanks for that great link. Definitely will spend some time browsing. Odd thing is, I tried posing my question in Google ie "Why black and white" "understanding Black and white photography" and all I get are race-related articles. L

I can definitely see the shift in mood, but it seems like for most B&W renditions, it emanates a sense of somberness, melancholy, loniless, starkness, or something else in the "negative" range of emotions. Can you tell me what kind of feelings you perceive from these images?

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jbf
jbf
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

Note: I edited my original post adding brief comments on why I think each of the images works in B&W. Those emotions you mentioned (somberness, melancholy, loniless, starkness) are often well expressed in B&W. That's not a bad thing. However, many wedding photographers shoot at least partially in B&W. B&W images aren't always somber. B&W can be timeless and capture a great amount of fine detail as well.

trale wrote:

Wow! Thanks for that great link. Definitely will spend some time
browsing. Odd thing is, I tried posing my question in Google ie "Why
black and white" "understanding Black and white photography" and all
I get are race-related articles. L

I can definitely see the shift in mood, but it seems like for most
B&W renditions, it emanates a sense of somberness, melancholy,
loniless, starkness, or something else in the "negative" range of
emotions. Can you tell me what kind of feelings you perceive from
these images?

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tony brown
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Re: Merits of B&W
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

I felt the monochrome version allowed me to create more atmosphere independant of the colour version. The original was so coloured by the dawn that there was much less 'interpretation' that could be applied. The colour was too literal to allow the retro derilect look to be believable - if that isn't all just bunkum to you!

B&W allows more image adjustment (to my way of thinking) because it isn't hampered by as much data of the original shot as with colour.

Anyway, it's just my current feeling for it. Six months from now I will perhaps be back to full colour thinking.

For your comparison the full colour version of that image is here:-

To me, the colour it has prevents me from doing anything much different with it.

Cheers, Tony.

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nikonwiz338
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Re: Merits of B&W
In reply to tony brown, Jan 22, 2008

photography is all about conveying a message. expressing yourself, as is all art.

sometimes, you encounter a situation with a color image where the particular message is overwhelmed by everything in the image. drowned so to speak.

simplicity is often the key to clear expression, and getting rid of color can often intensify the message or feeling or whatever your trying to bring through with your photography.

next time you look at a B&W image (and any other peice of art) think about what it means and how it makes you feel. it will be more enriching and a fuller experience.

the great thing about B&W photography is you can put more of an emphasis on visual design and composition thereby strengthening the image, whereas with a color image you need to compose colors as well.

not to say one is better, they both have their time and place. the key is learning when to use each technique.

hope this is helpful!
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rice is good for when your hungry and want 2000 of something.

chris!

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Nick121
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

No you're not alone on this. Most people problem with B&W is the conversion process thus you don't see much B&W here. I actually started a few Sunday B&W thread at the Olympus forum last Dec. but there's not much interaction regarding technique and quality of the image.

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1022&thread=26223397
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1022&thread=26141668
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1022&thread=26051916

Maybe we should start a weekly thread here in the Retouch Forum devoted to B&W? Afterall, it's a pp technique.

Just a thought.
Nick

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Kent C
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

trale wrote:

Am I the only person who finds black and white photography esoteric?
I've encountered black and white conversion techniques in every
photoshop or retouching book I've read, and I gloss over them
everytime because I couldn't find the appeal in looking at a
gray-scale image. Would someone enlighten me on this topic? What sort
of impact does a B&W image have that couldn't be conveyed by a
full-colored one? I am trying to appreciate various artistic aspects
of photography; I'm just not quite getting this.

It's a form of 'reduction to essentials', where some think that color is a 'distraction' from some aspect of the subject. Much of it is based on the same reason people like old classics in anything - tradition and all the significance that comes with that.
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MICHAEL_61
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I'll show you (warning - photos)
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008
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jpmalohesr
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Maybe a reason not so obvious ...
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

... Try taking a 'so - so' color photo and converting it to B&W (Mono). Very often you can save what, otherwise, would be a throw away.

Jim

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YoungJedi
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If it were up to me...
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

I would do almost all B&W photography. It makes you look at a picture for what it is. You dont have 1000000 different colors distracting you. You see deep tones and light tones.

It to me is the best way to take portraits. Wish everyone felt that way.

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YoungJedi
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Exactly...
In reply to jpmalohesr, Jan 22, 2008

I have saved several shots this way. Is it cheating?...I think not if it works well.

jpmalohesr wrote:

... Try taking a 'so - so' color photo and converting it to B&W
(Mono). Very often you can save what, otherwise, would be a throw
away.

Jim

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Barry
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Re: Merits of B&W
In reply to tony brown, Jan 22, 2008

I tend to think along the lines of the OP. This is a beautiful full-color photo. Turning it into a b/w just doesn't make it better, IMO. I can see some places b/w can be effective, but not for most scenics. I just received a book of Ansel Adams' photos. It contains 400 pictures -- most of them scenics. I can't help but think how much more exciting and inspiring these photos would be, for me, if they were in color. He had b/w to work with, and he did some magnificent work with it. His shots in color would have been so much better!

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Steven_EJ
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Re: B&W photography - I don't get it.
In reply to trale, Jan 22, 2008

This photo simply did not work nearly as well in color:

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JerryG1
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Re: Merits of B&W
In reply to tony brown, Jan 22, 2008

Truly beautiful work, Tony. Thanks for posting them.

The second is an outstanding example of what B&W can do for a photo. In the color version (below), the sky grabs so much attention that it's easy to miss the texture of the grass and the tones in the building. The foreground rocks and log, major foreground interests, are weak in the color version compared to B&W.
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Barry
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Matter of opinion
In reply to jbf, Jan 22, 2008

There is nothing inherent about b/w being better than color. If done well in color, the subject can be just as well emphasized. The photo can be just as effective. Color could work well in your photos here except for the pyramids pic which probably had no significant color in it anyway. And for scenics, one throws out half the interest of the photo when he throws out the color. I do think b/w has its place, but it's being way over-used lately. It's like a fad right now to take photos in b/w. Don't ya think?

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