Tell me, why black & white?

Started Apr 28, 2012 | Discussions
Mark9473
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Tell me, why black & white?
Apr 28, 2012

Just curious, as when I see a B&W image I always think "what would the colour version be like?".

Do people use B&W when something in the colour image just doesn't work, or what is the reason?

I've tried converting a very few of my own images to B&W and usually I don't prefer it over the original.
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Scott McL
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 28, 2012

I'm can't recall who said it, but it seems to still ring true today and inform what I show the public; to paraphrase, "If the colors aren't really interesting, then print it in black and white."
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ffnikclif
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Scott McL, Apr 28, 2012

Man did you miss the mark. If you want good black & white than just like color you need a well exposed picture that is a good picture to begin with. The saying garbage in, garbage out, applies to all images. Since most images today start with color & are than converted you will find that most B&W photos that are really good come from color pictures that are really good. Not from bad exposures & captures that are so so or really bad.

For myself I started in photography when Black & white was a result of film & was a choice of if I wanted to use B&W or if I choose color. So it taught me to envision my images as B&W prior to capture.

Most of the time when I take a picture that I plan on using as B&W I see it prior to capture & plan on it being a B&W at that moment. If you are creating images & you are not thinking in advance how you envision them, how you see them as a finished image, than how can you create that image? Luck? Press the button & hope? Have a plan & learn how to execute that plan. THis should be your goal with all your images.

Fred

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Vidau
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Re: Mark9473
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 28, 2012

I would like see Ansel Adams answering your post ....... but

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Mark9473
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In reply to Vidau, Apr 28, 2012

I'm pretty certain he'd shoot in colour today.
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Doug Pardee
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 28, 2012

My personal opinion is that there are, in general, images that work well in color and images that work well in B&W, but few images that work well in both. Portraits are the only major category I can think of where both color and B&W renditions of the same image might be "equally good."

B&W photography generally requires some experience learning to recognize scenes that work in B&W. From Michael Freeman's book The Photographer's Eye :

The argument for black-and-white photography is that it makes less attempt than color at being literal. In visual terms, black and white allows more expression in the modulation of tone, in conveying texture, the modeling of form, and defining shape.

B&W is about lines, shapes, textures, and tones. Those are aspects of images that can get buried in a color photograph. Conversely, colors (obviously) get buried in a B&W photograph.

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amolitor
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 28, 2012

Black and White is just another way to abstract away elements of the image. Any photograph does this, generally we're converting a 3 dimensional world into a 2 dimensional representation of some view of that same world. Any color photograph distorts the original colors, to a greater of lesser extend.

Black and white is just another relatively minor addition to that.

B&W allows us to compose purely tonally, which is in the first place a different thing and in the second place can be more appealing. A black and white photograph is a collection of tones and forms.

Some people, like me, find that reducing the palette of what is possible makes the work of creating a good image that much easier. I don't handle color well, it simply adds too many new variables to an already complex process.

From an even simpler angle, a black and white photograph is easier to work in as decor. There are no colors to interact in good or bad ways with the drapes or the couch.

All this applies equally well to charcoal, ink, or pencil drawings. Art has always had purely tonal methods. It's a thing, ya know?

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Vidau
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Re: Mark9473
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 28, 2012

Ansel Adams also did color:

http://blogbusinessworld.blogspot.mx/2009/10/ansel-adams-in-color-by-ansel-adams.html

If you prefer color.......it is useless to argue against the feelings of a person.

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Scott McL
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to ffnikclif, Apr 28, 2012

Certainly, I completely agree with the value of previsualizing a B&W photo as a B&W photo. Although I've only shot roll film, I use a small arsenal of filters (yellow, yellow/green, orange, red) and often try to predetermine the exposure (push/pull) and development technique needed to get the desired image(s).

I think the original quote about "colors being interesting..." etc. was a somewhat humorous, tongue-in-cheek and insightful way of saying that there were so many color photos out there with bland colors, think even quick family snaps and the like, that they'd have made for far more pleasing final prints if they'd been taken in black in white.

Just a funny little koan. This was certainly not meant as a meaningful statement about the fine craft of black and white exposure, development and printing.

  • Scott

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Scott McL
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to amolitor, Apr 28, 2012

+1. While many folks have an intuitive aesthetic sense for color, my mind has rarely been able to juggle the extra color dimension of photographic composition. I can appreciate it in other folks' photographs, but I'm not very good at creating with that extra element of color on the creative "palette," if you'll excuse the pun.

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sync frame
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 29, 2012

Black and white photography has different things going for it different contexts and genres. It can be used for the reason to which you allude, namely that in some cases monochrome conversion can rescue a photograph that went wrong in colour. That's not the principal reason for shooting in black and white, however.

Black and white photography emphasises the relations between lightness and darkness in a photography, and in many circumstances helps to put one's perceptual attention on the shapes and forms in an image. Often what is interesting in a particular image or scene are the shapes and the forms, as well as the tonal contrasts. Colour can be distracting when form and light are at the centre of the image's appeal.

This is just a matter of taste, but I generally avoid colour photographs unless there is something interesting about the colours. I mostly like black and white portraits, unless it is the combination of hair and skin colour, or strikingly coloured eyes, that stand out most.

I've attached the original and a monochrome conversion of a tree. The colours aren't interesting, but the tree is. Taking away the colour and emphasising the branches and twigs makes for a more powerful image.

B&W

Colour:

Mark9473 wrote:

Just curious, as when I see a B&W image I always think "what would the colour version be like?".

Do people use B&W when something in the colour image just doesn't work, or what is the reason?

I've tried converting a very few of my own images to B&W and usually I don't prefer it over the original.
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my gallery: http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/5120988127/albums

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CloudyBay43
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to sync frame, Apr 29, 2012

Im glad i came back here . Such wonderful postings !

I just could not shoot these as in link below - in anything but B&W - i just saw them this way, although the colors would have worked.

All OOC B&W using Fuji X10 :

http://heartofthetwilight.blogspot.com/2012/04/fall-can-be-beautiful-in-black.html

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Mark9473
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Scott McL, Apr 29, 2012

Thanks all for your thoughts. I think I can relate most to the one I quoted here below, and the reason is that I actually feel exactly the opposite. Special qualities of colour and light inspire image taking, but I don't seem to have an eye for texture and tonality, or at least not to the extent that I can pre-visualise an B&W image.

Of the two sets of images shown in this thread, and with all due respect to the posters, I preferred the first one in colour, and the second one didn't really appeal in either version. Of portraits, the only ones where I have a clear preference for B&W, is of redheads with freckles.

Scott McL wrote:

While many folks have an intuitive aesthetic sense for color, my mind has rarely been able to juggle the extra color dimension of photographic composition. I can appreciate it in other folks' photographs, but I'm not very good at creating with that extra element of color on the creative "palette," if you'll excuse the pun.

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sync frame
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 29, 2012

No offense taken. I'm afraid the tree comes out poorly as uploaded, although I'm not sure why. It'll look a bit better here.

Thanks all for your thoughts. I think I can relate most to the one I quoted here below, and the reason is that I actually feel exactly the opposite. Special qualities of colour and light inspire image taking, but I don't seem to have an eye for texture and tonality, or at least not to the extent that I can pre-visualise an B&W image.

Of the two sets of images shown in this thread, and with all due respect to the posters, I preferred the first one in colour, and the second one didn't really appeal in either version. Of portraits, the only ones where I have a clear preference for B&W, is of redheads with freckles.

Scott McL wrote:

While many folks have an intuitive aesthetic sense for color, my mind has rarely been able to juggle the extra color dimension of photographic composition. I can appreciate it in other folks' photographs, but I'm not very good at creating with that extra element of color on the creative "palette," if you'll excuse the pun.

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sync frame
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to sync frame, Apr 29, 2012

Hmm, let's try that again:

or just in flikr: http://flic.kr/p/bBZZwS

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tom60634
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to sync frame, Apr 30, 2012

sync frame wrote:

Black and white photography has different things going for it different contexts and genres. It can be used for the reason to which you allude, namely that in some cases monochrome conversion can rescue a photograph that went wrong in colour. That's not the principal reason for shooting in black and white, however.

Black and white photography emphasises the relations between lightness and darkness in a photography, and in many circumstances helps to put one's perceptual attention on the shapes and forms in an image. Often what is interesting in a particular image or scene are the shapes and the forms, as well as the tonal contrasts. Colour can be distracting when form and light are at the centre of the image's appeal.

This is just a matter of taste, but I generally avoid colour photographs unless there is something interesting about the colours. I mostly like black and white portraits, unless it is the combination of hair and skin colour, or strikingly coloured eyes, that stand out most.

I've attached the original and a monochrome conversion of a tree. The colours aren't interesting, but the tree is. Taking away the colour and emphasising the branches and twigs makes for a more powerful image.

B&W

Colour:

Mark9473 wrote:

Just curious, as when I see a B&W image I always think "what would the colour version be like?".

when looking at a color photo do you ever ask " what would it look like without the black & white (grayscale) component?" (see immediately below for example)

the answer would be undecipherable ? uninteresting ? probably both !

The black and white component of color photography and most art that attempts to portray some aspect of realism is built upon the grayscale tonal background.

Do people use B&W when something in the colour image just doesn't work, or what is the reason?

Some do, but that oftentimes is an ineffective excuse to cover up bad photography.

I've tried converting a very few of my own images to B&W and usually I don't prefer it over the original.
--

If your color files are top rate then so should be your B&W interpretations.

If you're really interested you should probably improve your technique at converting to grayscale.

Mark
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Rob Nagelhout
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to Mark9473, Apr 30, 2012

Bad color photos never can transform in good b/w photos. When peoples are thinking that way they don't understand a bit of photography. I even think a good b/w is more difficult to make as a colored one because you should think in advance. Contrasts in a scene are very important in b/w photography.

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colinbm
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to tom60634, Apr 30, 2012

Thanks Tom for showing a world without Black & White, I could have imagined this ??

tom60634 wrote:

sync frame wrote:

Black and white photography has different things going for it different contexts and genres. It can be used for the reason to which you allude, namely that in some cases monochrome conversion can rescue a photograph that went wrong in colour. That's not the principal reason for shooting in black and white, however.

Black and white photography emphasises the relations between lightness and darkness in a photography, and in many circumstances helps to put one's perceptual attention on the shapes and forms in an image. Often what is interesting in a particular image or scene are the shapes and the forms, as well as the tonal contrasts. Colour can be distracting when form and light are at the centre of the image's appeal.

This is just a matter of taste, but I generally avoid colour photographs unless there is something interesting about the colours. I mostly like black and white portraits, unless it is the combination of hair and skin colour, or strikingly coloured eyes, that stand out most.

I've attached the original and a monochrome conversion of a tree. The colours aren't interesting, but the tree is. Taking away the colour and emphasising the branches and twigs makes for a more powerful image.

B&W

Colour:

Mark9473 wrote:

Just curious, as when I see a B&W image I always think "what would the colour version be like?".

when looking at a color photo do you ever ask " what would it look like without the black & white (grayscale) component?" (see immediately below for example)

the answer would be undecipherable ? uninteresting ? probably both !

The black and white component of color photography and most art that attempts to portray some aspect of realism is built upon the grayscale tonal background.

Do people use B&W when something in the colour image just doesn't work, or what is the reason?

Some do, but that oftentimes is an ineffective excuse to cover up bad photography.

I've tried converting a very few of my own images to B&W and usually I don't prefer it over the original.
--

If your color files are top rate then so should be your B&W interpretations.

If you're really interested you should probably improve your technique at converting to grayscale.

Mark
my gallery: http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/5120988127/albums

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colinbm
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to colinbm, Apr 30, 2012

That should be........I could NOT have imagined this ??
Cheers
Col

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colinbm
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Re: Tell me, why black & white?
In reply to colinbm, Apr 30, 2012

A good friend has explained this is 'equiluminance', equal luminance !
WOW, you just never stop learning.............:D
Col

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