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Thread: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

  1. #1
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    Default Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    I've been thinking about this question for a long time. I love black and white photography (though I cannot say I am prolific at it), and I've been wondering why I love it so much.

    For starters, black & white photography ≠ shooting monochrome from your dSLR. I never had the privilege of shooting B&W film back in the day, having my interest in B&W piqued only when I was fully into digital. B&W digital photography is a whole different ballgame, with the post-processing also taking up as important part of the process as the shooting.

    It is important to see which images work well in B&W after a conversion. When you shoot B&W digital photography, you shoot in colour, then go for a monochrome conversion in Photoshop. Regarding conversion technique, there is a particular website that I have found very informative and detailed when it comes to this.

    The page can be found by clicking on these three words.

    (Disclaimer: I am not the author, not a contributor, of the page. I just happened to find it very useful.)

    1) There is a certain tonality achieved


    There is just something alluring, for me, about seeing an image with a lack of colour, everything brought across in various tones and shades of gray. I cannot profess to having obtained a palette of tones that will identify a work as being mine, but I'll say it is captivating all the same trying to achieve that.

    It is said that many famous B&W photographers' works can be identified just by the tonal palette of a given piece. Some prefer large amounts of white, and others, drawing detail from the shadows; there is really no one right approach.

    2) Colour no longer becomes a distraction


    In this above picture, the background was really a mess of tungsten lights, blue, red, and cyan. Converting this image to B&W added a certain pop to the subject.

    Sometimes in an image, there are many elements competing for attention solely based on their colour. For instance, there may be a huge blotch of red somewhere in the background, and though out of focus, it may render the viewer distracted from the actual subject.

    (Hehe it also means you don't have to do precise colour correction )

    3) Texture, when captured properly, pops out at you


    Not that texture doesn't pop in colour, just that when it's in B&W, somehow the shades of grey tend to render textures very pleasantly.

    Ah, enough of my reasons. I wanna hear from some of the photogs here on their views on B&W photography. Feel free to contribute with photos too!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    B&W photographs to me have more soul in them. It goes beyond the pretty colours which can be very distracting. Instead, it goes deep into geometry, texture, soul, depth.B&W also does not give you excuses that the light is no good, the weather is no good, the skies are grey etc. B&W is also to me like old jazz music; smooth, deep & soulful.

    Having said that, I find that it is not easy to see thing beyond colour and in b&w. I have picked up b&w photography a while back after I realised that i am more interested in it. In fact, I am shooting more b&w picture these day using my fav hp5+ & delta. Besides the photography part, the developing & scanning (for me, since i do not have a darkrm) also provides a catalyst in the development of my interest in B&W photography. I think we will leave that for another thread

  3. #3

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    i feel that when one work with b&w, they have to see beyond what people normally see and really see photography in its barest form which is painting with light. just light and shadow with texture to make it more interesting. in a way, one is forced to think and see much more than on the surface of things and relate the story to the audience in its basest form. something so simple yet so complex.

    an award winning photojournalist and good friend once told me that if u take away the colors from a picture and it still has the punch to it, then its a good shot.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Thanks to you both for the replies.

    Quote Originally Posted by tan131 View Post
    ...Besides the photography part, the developing & scanning (for me, since i do not have a darkrm) also provides a catalyst in the development of my interest in B&W photography. I think we will leave that for another thread
    Hmm, since you say you do not have a darkroom, who does the development and scanning for you? Pardon my ignorance but are HP5+ and Delta both C41-process films?

    I've had one bad experience with a roll of Ilford XP2 that the lab scanned very badly. It had dust specs all over it and the contrast was all over the place.

    Quote Originally Posted by flipfreak View Post
    i feel that when one work with b&w, they have to see beyond what people normally see and really see photography in its barest form which is painting with light. just light and shadow with texture to make it more interesting. in a way, one is forced to think and see much more than on the surface of things and relate the story to the audience in its basest form. something so simple yet so complex.

    an award winning photojournalist and good friend once told me that if u take away the colors from a picture and it still has the punch to it, then its a good shot.
    Heh this is quite a revelation to me. Now that you mention it, yes it does make sense that B&W is really as bare as it gets. Just light and shadow.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Seems like I have to talk another person into shooting actual B&W

    You are right, forget the digital conversions even with all the advanced Photoshop trickery. You're also correct about the textures, shapes, lines, geometry. There are a few things I can recommend to you to start your journey for real. (these tips are also generalized for others who may come across this thread so pardon me if I state something you already know)

    1. Get a real film camera. Good thing is that these are cheap. Pick up some great classic like a Nikon FM3 or Canon A-1 or whatever rocks your boat. These are the 2 brands that come to mind not a particular recommendation for whatever brand over another. There honestly was less of a difference back in the old days.

    1A. Lenses are cheap, so grab a manual focus prime, again whatever focal length you like. Manual focus is NOT as hard as people think it is. MF on a digital SLR with tiny finder and screen optimized for brightness is a pain. MF on an old film SLR with a screen that really 'snaps' into focus plus a microprism/split screen is dead easy. Just take the time to line up the two halves by twiddling the focus ring and you are good to go.

    1B. Try medium format if you are game for it. Once you've tried MF, you may never go back. (tell me about it, both a Pentax645 and a BronicaSQ in the bag, and my A-1 sits unused)


    2. Developing film is not as difficult as it seems. Ruby can hook you up with all the required chemicals and much good advice. There is a GREAT B&W home development guide right here on CS and some videos as well I recall.

    You don't actually have to work in darkness for developing. The only darkness required is when you load the tank. Once loaded you can turn the lights back on and work in daylight. I load film in the darkbag and then work in the afternoon with lots of light coming in. Very little space is required, just a small table near a sink for your chemicals. Remember to clean up throughly after that and do not contaminate utensils or cups or toothbrushes (if you use bathroom) with the chemicals.

    The space-intensive part of the process is printing where you need space for your enlarger, trays for the chemicals, and the entire space has to be completely blacked out, a true darkroom. A dark bag can't help you with this part of the process. Some argue that you lose part of the magic by scanning B&W into digital. Sadly, I do not have enough space for a fully equipped darkroom so I scan anyway.

    I do my own scans and my experience is that the quality is much better. At least if anything happens I am in charge of the quality control and can give it the time and attention I feel it needs. An affordable flatbed scanner with film adapter, say Canon 8800F, will do the job just fine. Is it on par with a top notch Imacon/Hasselblad film scanner? No, but it does not cost $25K either. (you're looking at more like $300+ at Sim Lim or Funan for this piece of kit).


    3. Chemicals are cheap. Buy Kodak HC-110 and a syringe for the least hassle when it comes to mixing and using this stuff. $19.90 will buy you enough for a hundred runs. My total cost of developing is thirty cents per run. You can re-use fixer. Again some say "but your time is worth more".. if I was a professional, yes. As a hobbyist my time is mine to do as I please and therefore it is worth it to me


    4. Different films have different spectral sensitivity ('tone curve' to the digital folks) or how they respond to different frequencies of light. The fun is in trying all of them. Old wisdom is that 'you should only stick to one film and one developer'. This is true if you are trying to achieve a consistent production line. Again see hobbyist comment above. I'll shoot whatever film I please in whatever soup I want


    5. There is actually quite a lot of margin for error in film development. If you are trying to achieve dead-reliable 100% time-after-time consistent results, that can be more of a challenge. If you are a hobbyist who is willing to accept a little variation then it can be fun.


    Lastly....it is SHIOK when you fish out your own film from the tank and see the results of your hard work!!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Quote Originally Posted by calebk View Post
    Hmm, since you say you do not have a darkroom, who does the development and scanning for you? Pardon my ignorance but are HP5+ and Delta both C41-process films?
    No, they are traditional B&W process films. There isn't a particular name for B&W process as you can use all kinds of different developer chemicals meant for B&W.

    Ilford Delta, HP5+, FP4+, Kodak Tri-X, Plus-X, T-Max are all traditional B&W films. Suggest you try them out and see which ones you like. My personal favorite is Delta.

  7. #7
    Senior Member creampuff's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Why does shooting in Black and White have to equate with having to shoot film?

    I've been shooting film for years. I've developed and printed my images on my own.
    Yet I've come to accept digital photography completely that I don't see the need to go back to shooting film, for colour or black and white. There is a lot one can do in the digital darkroom today and I certainly don't consider it Photoshop trickery.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Thanks to TS for the link. The article is very intriguing and now my interest is aroused. I never knew the tones and contrast made such a huge difference to B&W. The picture at the top of the website, with half in colour and the other half in b&w, demonstrates the B&W dimension very well.

    I agree with creampuff on why must B&W(or colour for that matter) photos be "better" in film ? True enuff, film developing is a hobbyist pleasure...getting hands-on and personal with your photography. BUT...isn't the final outcome almost the same with film or digital, when viewed on paper/screen?

  9. #9

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    I now have the privillage of shooting in both film and digital and I say both are different. Film has a pleasing grain (differs from film to film) that digital just does not have. Also, the dynamic range is sometimes much wider then digital. To say you love B&W photography and not shoot B&W film is a shame really, but something easily rectified... Get out your old EOS 5, stuff TriX, HP5+ or Neopan in and fire away!

    Samuel
    f/8 and be there.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Quote Originally Posted by alternatve View Post
    Also, the dynamic range is sometimes much wider then digital.
    If I am not wrong, the dynamic range of B&W films is ALWAYS much wider than digital.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    just films

  12. #12

    Default Re: Do You Work in Black and White? Why?

    Quote Originally Posted by creampuff View Post
    Why does shooting in Black and White have to equate with having to shoot film?

    I've been shooting film for years. I've developed and printed my images on my own.
    Yet I've come to accept digital photography completely that I don't see the need to go back to shooting film, for colour or black and white. There is a lot one can do in the digital darkroom today and I certainly don't consider it Photoshop trickery.
    I tend to agree with this view. It's all about the image, I believe, not the medium. I have seen great film and digital B&W shots, and I am a true believer that it's the image that is important. While grain might be an important part of B&W, it is not to say that digital cannot achieve a deceivingly similar look to B&W with enough Photoshopping.

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