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Learning to think in Black and White

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by e_No, Aug 18, 2009.

  1. e_No

    e_No

    May 16, 2009
    Downey, CA
    The question of what makes a good Black and White (B&W) photograph has puzzled me more than any other photography-related issue. Frankly, for some time I operated under the principle that I never saw a B&W image that didn’t look better in color. Then came a trip to Paris this last spring. Following someone’s observation that “Paris was made for B&W photography,” I gave B&W a try, even setting my camera to capture RAW files with a monochrome profile. I was amazed...

    You can read the rest of the write-up at: http://esfotoclix.com/blog1/?p=464

    After spending some time on technical aspects of photography, the blog is now going to take up more subjective topics on what it takes to make a good image. You might also find yesterday's installment, titled Realism and framing choice (http://esfotoclix.com/blog1/?p=337), thought-provoking.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 18, 2009
  2. cwilt

    cwilt

    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    What makes a great black and white? I'm not sure of the answer myself. This is a road I went down just a couple of years ago. Seeing in black and white improved my color photography as well.

    A few things I learned along the way.
    Unless color is the subject it often distracts from the subject.
    A great black and white will often make a good color image as well.
    A bad color image makes a worse black and white.
     
  3. DW Brewer

    DW Brewer Guest

    A lot of us (mostly with grey hair now) with darkroom odors as fond memories remember that we were intially taught "to see in B&W." There is no other way to understand the concept of tonality better than with B&W.
     
  4. I shot black and white for a good while. Stainless steel or plastic reels? I don't miss the darkroom. I don't hate B&W, but it has it's place.
    Learning about tone range is good and can be taught in color also. Also, B&W helps to accentuate texture.
    The big advantage I think it has is when color takes away from the image. This doesn't happen very often.
     
  5. Converting color digital images to B&W in the computer helped me pick out the stinkers (compositionally) so much easier. Without the distraction of color I was able to focus on the lines and tonality and see better what I was capturing. Now I can do it in color which of course means better thought out images get into the camera to begin with (color or B&W)

    Darkroom odors however may be a creative kicker due to the chemicals ability of loosening of brain cells!!! -jk
     
  6. ArtScott

    ArtScott

    Jul 11, 2009
    WICHITA, KS
    Especially a full bottle of acetic acid left open for a bit.........ahhhhh the smell can you smell that smell........
     
  7. Acetic acid is just strong vinegar, so I get hungry when I smell it. I could not help getting hungry in the darkroom.
     
  8. e_No

    e_No

    May 16, 2009
    Downey, CA
    Hmm, fish and chips. Ahoy!
     
  9. e_No

    e_No

    May 16, 2009
    Downey, CA
    Interesting. Yes, color often is distracting. A way to avoid that in-camera is to shoot RAW, but with a B&W profile (aka Picture Control). You get an idea of whether the image would work in B&W, and either convert it back to color if you repent and/or do your own conversion in PP. Tomorrow's blog entry will deal with this topic and show a few examples.
     
  10. I think in B&W to the point that I purposely shoot a certain picture to be in B&W, even though I only shoot RAW and in color and convert later in CNX2. Experience in the darkroom when I was young taught me as did many others.
     
  11. Julien

    Julien

    Jul 28, 2006
    Paris, France
    I was going to say something along the lines of that. Only if you shoot just B&W will you begin to see in B&W. Shooting B&W film helps a lot since you don't have the choice to post process afterwards. What I found to be similar is to shoot jpg and to make an in camera monochrome preset. That's the closest you'll get to shooting B&W film. That way you have to commit to it and there's no turning back :wink:
     
  12. cwilt

    cwilt

    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    That comes back around to the jpg vs RAW debate. Another can of worms.:wink:
     
  13. TommyO

    TommyO

    Oct 16, 2008
    West Michigan
    Go hunt down posts by Knightrider, especially his January prime series. He is an outstanding b&w artist. I was inspired by his work and spent a lot of time learning to see intensities of light rather than colors when I shoot. My b&w work has improved a lot since then, but it pales by comparison. Grasshopper has much to learn.
     
  14. ArtScott

    ArtScott

    Jul 11, 2009
    WICHITA, KS
    interesting read on your blog....and very correct.......hving come from the film era and by that I mean the bw film era, I at times had a hard time trying NOT to see in BW to start with........ :-}}


    I had a hard time understanding how upcoming photogs DID NOT see in BW.........I am glad to hear HS students tell that their photo teachers want them to shoot BW film and learn this way before the teacher will start to delve off in Photoshop and digital imaging.........the students complain at first then aby the end of the semester they are excited by seeing the actual developing of a photo.
     
  15. Julien

    Julien

    Jul 28, 2006
    Paris, France
    No debate at all here. Just saying that if you shoot RAW and convert to B&W you'll always have the possibility to go back and change it to colour if need be. Whereas if you shoot directly to B&W in jpg you don't have that in mind :wink:
     
  16. e_No

    e_No

    May 16, 2009
    Downey, CA
    The compromise is as I suggest, shoot RAW with a monochrome color profile, so you can see in-camera how the shot is working out, then later you can post-process for finer conversion (more/less contrast, better sharpening, nicer shadow detail, etc.) to B&W. I'll show an example or two of this in tomorrow's blog entry.
     
  17. Rob T

    Rob T

    870
    Aug 27, 2008
    SoCal
    Like many here, I also learned to see mostly in B&W. I shot tons of bulk loaded Tri-X and later T-Max 400. Then I got a Large Format camera, and took my B&W photography even further.

    I did shoot slide film in 35mm and enjoyed that a lot too, but it was a small drop in the bucket compared to my B&W work.

    Since going digital, more of my work has been in color, but with my recent addition of Silver Efex Pro, I am going to be creating more B&W images again.

    I remember Zone VI Studios (Fred Picker) sold a small filter that you could wear around your neck. When you looked through it, it deleted the appearance of most color to help you visualize what the B&W shot would look like.
     
  18. I'm not so sure B&W needs to be in your mindset to pull off good B&W. Happy accidents occur all the time in color and visa versa only now you can actually switch it on the fly digitally if need be. I never had the privilege of doing the old school darkroom method but have an appreciation for learning things "hands on" instead of the ultra disposable method we currently use. Whatever way one learns to see B&W isn't important, seeing tonal values before you shoot and getting the camera to capture that value be it represented in color or not is important.
     
  19. Rob T

    Rob T

    870
    Aug 27, 2008
    SoCal
    I don't think anyone is denying that "happy accidents" can happen regarding good B&W photos. I think the issue here is more of what constitutes a good B&W photo, and what it takes to pre-visualize it.

    Obviously the ability to do that greatly increases the likelihood of getting a good B&W photo than just hoping for a "happy accident".

    Are you are saying that being able to pre-visualize tonal values generally is all you need to know to get good results in either color or B&W?
     
  20. e_No

    e_No

    May 16, 2009
    Downey, CA
    Well said. I'd like to think I'm so skilled I make good shots whenever I try, but I know well enough that images are gifts (I don't like accidents), and we just have to be ready (i.e., skilled enough) to receive them when they come.
     
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