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When do you choose color vs BW?
Old 07-21-2019   #1
Ccoppola82
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When do you choose color vs BW?

For my film work I have always selected BW because it is what got me into film and I love darkroom work. After being inspired by some great color photographers, I’ve been giving some thought as to when to use color vs BW in both film and digital. For example, in a very good video I watched with Sam Abell, he says “blue is too strong a color, so I shoot in grey skies” and things along the lines about bad weather makes good photographs. So, I would like to pose the question to members her that shoot both color and BW, when and why do you choose one vs the other? Interested to hear feedback.
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Old 07-21-2019   #2
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This will be an interesting thread as I tend to be on the fence.
Lately been shooting mostly just medium format B&W. Finally after many years I've secured access to a community darkroom and it is a delight being able to do the whole process up to printing with my own hands.


But still, I have quite some Color Neg film frozen and some slide. The former I don't load very often now as it will later take ages for me to send into a lab and then it's for scans. Slide, with the initiative of some photo club members, we are splitting the use of some E6 kits and develop on an agreed period. I have to find an afternoon to finish off some leftover Provia frames.


Having a single proper medium format camera without interchangeable backs makes the decision more crucial, as it locks me into the choice.


I haven't warmed up to 35mm B&W. I prefer the larger and fewer frames of medium format. This opinion might change as I print some negatives from early this year if I find a rainy day.

Consumer Color neg film goes along nicely for a snapshot aesthetic in 35mm and I find myself using it during summer.
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Old 07-21-2019   #3
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Color is if I want to have more information.

To me human candids are bw. It divides humans from the rest more clearly.
I like to take candids on film and with bw it means easy to print under enlarger.

I started with ORWO slide film, btw. Sometimes I just like to take pictures on color film.
I do take most of digital in color and like it just as color film.
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Old 07-21-2019   #4
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This only works in B&W for me.

Jozefkerk Assen
by Johan Niels Kuiper, on Flickr


This only works in color for me.

Forget Your Past
by Johan Niels Kuiper, on Flickr


I really don't know why. But it's gotta be the one or the other, and often it's really chance what I have loaded and what I shoot, and whether it works.

I like it that way. If photography were an exact science, I'd be painting or drawing I guess.
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Old 07-21-2019   #5
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I hardly ever am in the situation to choose. I only take one camera usually with me. But when I wish I had color is when the scene is low contrast and it has different colors.
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Old 07-21-2019   #6
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Though I shoot digital/capture in color I generally have my eye out for scenes that I think will result in good monochrome/B&W images. As far as color goes I generally prefer scenes with just a few colors say for example two or three strong/bold colors that contrast well against each other giving a strong graphic feel to the image or for portraits/people softer colors that help bring out the person/subject.
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Old 07-21-2019   #7
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My love of photography began with B&W. A friend showed me some B&W drugstore prints he had made to use for sketching. I loved the photos. I went out and bought my first serious camera a couple of weeks later. Then came a darkroom and the whole thing started rolling. I shot a lot of slides but mainly I used miles and miles of Tri-X for many years.

When I started using digital cameras I mostly shot color because color was what you got with Raw files. After awhile, I started looking at these old files and discovered most of them had more appeal when converted to B&W. At that point I began to pay more attention to shapes, textures and light than to colors. Today the vast majority of my photos are composed as B&W. All my cameras are set to preview the images in B&W. When using EVF cameras, I see the scene in B&W.
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Old 07-21-2019   #8
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My friends prefer color so if I am shooting with/for them it's color. On road trips where I am in a location for a couple of days I randomly shoot color for variation, depending a bit on the weather.
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B&W vs Color
Old 07-21-2019   #9
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B&W vs Color

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ccoppola82 View Post
For my film work I have always selected BW because it is what got me into film and I love darkroom work. After being inspired by some great color photographers, I’ve been giving some thought as to when to use color vs BW in both film and digital. For example, in a very good video I watched with Sam Abell, he says “blue is too strong a color, so I shoot in grey skies” and things along the lines about bad weather makes good photographs. So, I would like to pose the question to members her that shoot both color and BW, when and why do you choose one vs the other? Interested to hear feedback.
As Elliott Erwitt said: "Color is descriptive. Black and White is interpretive." That about sums it up for me.
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Old 07-21-2019   #10
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I've been shooting mostly B&W for the past year but am looking forward to loading some color film as soon as I can finish this last B&W roll in the camera. I love both, but my B&W inspiration has slowed down to the point where I have trouble finishing the roll so I want to shake things up; I've been seeing a lot of scenes that would work lately if only I had color film loaded.
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Old 07-21-2019   #11
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I've been shooting only black and white. I think it gives me more artistic freedom over a given scene. I can more easily make different parts of the scene pop or drop out, depending on what I'm metering, without the rest of the image looking mediocre (black and white is pretty forgiving). And I can push it pretty hard in low light scenes when necessary, with great results.

It's weird, but with color film I find myself capturing what the eye is literally seeing. But with black and white, I'm more able to make a personal statement about the scene using highlights and geometry.

Then again I'm pretty new at this, discovering things after every roll.
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Old 07-21-2019   #12
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When? In 1998 I chose black and white and have stuck with it for my own work since.

Maybe that wasn't what you were asking...

Marty
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Old 07-21-2019   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by illerucis View Post
I've been shooting only black and white. I think it gives me more artistic freedom over a given scene. I can more easily make different parts of the scene pop or drop out, depending on what I'm metering, without the rest of the image looking mediocre (black and white is pretty forgiving). And I can push it pretty hard in low light scenes when necessary, with great results.

It's weird, but with color film I find myself capturing what the eye is literally seeing. But with black and white, I'm more able to make a personal statement about the scene using highlights and geometry.

Then again I'm pretty new at this, discovering things after every roll.

Check out Alex Webb's photography; he does the same thing but with color.
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Old 07-21-2019   #14
rob.nyc1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Pillers View Post
Check out Alex Webb's photography; he does the same thing but with color.


Wow I just checked him out. Really amazing stuff, thank you for sharing! If only I had an ounce of that talent


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Old 07-21-2019   #15
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This is an excellent question. It has always been very easy to answer the question "why do you shoot B&W" but never quite so when it comes to color...
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Old 07-22-2019   #16
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As a short addendum to my post above, I will go with color over B&W only when the colors add to the mood of the scene photographed. Hard to describe but, IMO, many times color detracts from the image.
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Old 07-22-2019   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
As a short addendum to my post above, I will go with color over B&W only when the colors add to the mood of the scene photographed. Hard to describe but, IMO, many times color detracts from the image.
This is what I used to do when shooting digital. Now I only do black and white, because it's beautiful and I can print it in the darkroom. But sometimes I come across something that makes me want to do colour. At some point I might, but not too soon.
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Old 07-22-2019   #18
Bill Clark
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Only digital for color. I can change color digital to black & white.

Black & white film only. No color film anymore. I still use C-41 to develop Ilford XP 2 Plus film. I’m falling behind as I have a few rolls of film to develop.

I don’t really think or fuss about it as I sometimes use a film camera and at other times digital.

I like my iPhone. Made some nice panos with it. Family reunion on my wifes side made a group photo, a little over 100 people, with my iPhone. Photos came out just fine. I was lucky!

Hope this helps.
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Old 07-22-2019   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Archlich View Post
This is an excellent question. It has always been very easy to answer the question "why do you shoot B&W" but never quite so when it comes to color...
Because some pictures need color, or they won't work the same:

Garry Winogrand:





Vivian Maier:






Joel Meyerowitz:


Fred Herzog:
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Old 07-22-2019   #20
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For me, color work is the domain of digital capture exclusively now. When I work with film cameras, I always fit B&W film.

I see very little point to dealing with the complexities of color film processing, the limited DR and latitude of color transparency, or the difficulties of inverting color negatives to positives. I can do all of them easily enough, but why bother with all that? Doesn't make any sense.

B&W film is easy to process and easy to render as I like it, and retains all of its charm for me.

When capturing digital, I capture exclusively raw image data. I might have B&W or color rendering in mind when I make the exposure, based on whatever the scene and my mood at the time of shooting happen to be, but I leave the decision on how to render it to the rendering time after the capture is made. Proper focus and proper exposure give capability to do either with equal versatility and quality.

G
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Old 07-22-2019   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
For me, color work is the domain of digital capture exclusively now. When I work with film cameras, I always fit B&W film.

I see very little point to dealing with the complexities of color film processing, the limited DR and latitude of color transparency, or the difficulties of inverting color negatives to positives. I can do all of them easily enough, but why bother with all that? Doesn't make any sense.

B&W film is easy to process and easy to render as I like it, and retains all of its charm for me.

When capturing digital, I capture exclusively raw image data. I might have B&W or color rendering in mind when I make the exposure, based on whatever the scene and my mood at the time of shooting happen to be, but I leave the decision on how to render it to the rendering time after the capture is made. Proper focus and proper exposure give capability to do either with equal versatility and quality.

G

I usually capture RAW + jpg. However with film it’s a struggle to decide lately. I’ve got such little experience in c41, but doesn’t it generally have a larger dynamic range than most digital sensors? I’ve seen massive overexposure of films like ektar and portra and they still maintain highlight detail. With digital, I suppose one would work in the opposite way and expose for highlights and raise shadows in post....but is the resulting dynamic range the same?
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Old 07-22-2019   #22
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I would say it depends on the subject. I usually go for b/w (most of the times) when I think the current lighting (either natural or artificial) create an interesting mood, or when it would create a more dramatic picture on otherwise (for example if I went for color) bland scene.

I go for color when the scene has a good set of not common colors, like a sunset, a sunrise at sea, or a portrait when the subject is wearing an interesting outfit that would go unnoticed when on b/w. Also go for color when creating snapshots for friends.

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Old 07-22-2019   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ccoppola82 View Post
I usually capture RAW + jpg. However with film it’s a struggle to decide lately. I’ve got such little experience in c41, but doesn’t it generally have a larger dynamic range than most digital sensors? I’ve seen massive overexposure of films like ektar and portra and they still maintain highlight detail. With digital, I suppose one would work in the opposite way and expose for highlights and raise shadows in post....but is the resulting dynamic range the same?
I've measured the DR in all my modern APS-C and FF sensor cameras (cameras made post 2006). I can get 12-13 stops of useable dynamic range out of all of them at base ISO, and typically two less at the highest usable ISO setting.

I've never gotten more than 11 stops of usable DR out of any color negative film in C41 processing, and generally not more than 8 to 10 stops out of any E-6 transparency film. Transparency films have far less latitude (over exposure tolerance) than either color negative, B&W negative, or digital sensors.

The digital sensors have long since outstripped film with respect to usable sensitivity. It's no problem at all to shoot with ISO 3200 and 6400 even with a middle of the pack APS-C sensor camera, where very few 35mm films stand up to even ISO 1600 with clean results.

Exposure and rendering procedures for the two media are entirely different because their sensitivity curve and behavior at the highlight and black point limits are completely different, but you are correct in general: It's best to consider exposing digital capture much like you do with slide film, avoiding highlight saturation and letting the rest of the frame fall where it might. With digital capture and raw files, you can recover vast amounts of detail from the dark end but very little from saturated areas; digital capture is essentially linear prior to raw conversion, with the black point defined as "how much noise can you tolerate before you call it" and the saturation point has a hard edge beyond which there is no data at all. With any kind of film, the shoulder is rounder and slower at both ends of the limits, but the length of the linear portion of the exposure curve much shorter.

They're just so very different and the techniques to work around their inevitable limitations so different, that comparing them often descends to more religious dogma and beliefs than it does actual information. Since I use them side by side, often, I see precisely what I can and cannot get with both of them under the same circumstances. It's obvious to me that for my photography, digital capture is far more versatile and capable, but film invariably looks somewhat different—even with my own notions of rendering it post scanning!—and I still love how it looks in certain situations.

To me, they are both perfectly valid, expressive, and useful capture mediums. They see light differently and with their own unique characteristics. My job as a photographer is to understand what a particular camera and film/sensor sees, and then use that to make photographs that satisfy what I want to produce regardless of which I choose...

G

BTW, I measured the exposure variation in this original capture at just a hair over 13 stops ...


Leica CL + Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6
ISO 400 @ f/8 @ 1/50

A couple of bits were saturated but there wasn't any significant detail to be had in those bits anyway.
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Old 07-22-2019   #24
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I shoot digital almost exclusively these days. As a result I make the choice after the photo has been shot - in post processing. Some images work better as black and white, some in color (though anyone who has seen my photos here will see that my final images are in color perhaps 90% of the time). Sometimes ok - often, I cannot tell in advance which is going to turn out best but I press the button anyway because there is something about the shot I like or think I will like when I have finished with it. I will of course take some shots because I have seen from the outset that they are made for black and white - strong contrasts, interesting tone, captivating shapes etc. But even there I still shoot in color and convert in post, mainly because (a) I have many more options in Post, and as a result usually get better black and white images from images converted in post than in camera, (b) it keeps my options open - a color version might after all work better and (c) I do not like shooting jpg these days if I can avoid it - and with all except a couple of cameras (two Leica Ms designed for monochrome shooting in RAW sensors designed only for this and maybe some others?) you cannot capture black and white RAW images. This seriously compromises final image options and sometimes quality. After shooting RAW for a few years I can almost always see the compromises in images if shot and saved as jpgs.

This strategy works for me as I enjoy post processing and experimenting with images. This candid portrait was shot in cafe in the Adelaide Hills. It was shot in color but when viewed afterwards it was obvious that in color there was nothing special about it - just another color photo. But when I converted it, I loved the result - the tonality gives it something of the look of old (pre WW2) images I sometimes see. And it made a feature of the diffused backlighting and 3D effect this created by the play of light and shadow on the face. I do not think I predicted this in advance - it was just how it turned out and was revealed to me as I experimented with it afterwards.

Candid Portrait of a Stranger by Life in Shadows, on Flickr

Sometimes I intended an image to be in color but was foiled by factors outside my control - eg garish colors in the background which draw the eye too much or mixed lighting that produce unpleasant effects. I think this photo was one such image that works better as a black and white shot for one of these reasons.

This is an example - one of the jackets worn by people in the background was brightly colored and made it the main subject which is not what I wanted. I decided a nice soft monochrome photo was the best way to portray the young female subject.

Concentration by Life in Shadows, on Flickr

This is a shot where I felt that if it was going to work just needed monochrome rendition to get the best out of the beauty of the young subject and lift it a bit above being just another color shot.

Cafe Study 39 by Life in Shadows, on Flickr

In short I guess I am saying that until I see an image on my screen I never am really sure of how best to present it.
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