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Printing is an ancient art, and color printing has been possible in some ways from the time colored inks were produced. In the modern era, for financial and other practical reasons, black-and-white printing has been very common through the 20th century. However with the technology of the 21st century, home color printers, which can produce color photographs, are common and relatively inexpensive, a technology relatively unimaginable in the mid-20th century.
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The history of various visual media has typically begun with black and white, and as technology improved, altered to color. However, there are exceptions to this rule, including black-and-white fine art photography and in motion pictures, many art films.
Black-and-white images are not usually starkly contrasted black and white. They combine black and white in a continuum producing a range of shades of gray. Further, many monochrome prints in still photography, especially those produced earlier in its development, were in sepia (mainly for archival stability), which yielded richer, subtler shading than reproductions in plain black-and-white.
In computing terminology, black-and-white is sometimes used to refer to a binary image consisting solely of pure black pixels and pure white pixels; what would normally be called a black-and-white image, that is, an image containing shades of gray, is referred to in this context as grayscale.
The movie Pi is filmed entirely in black-and-white, with a grainy effect until the end.
As a form of censorship when movies and TV series are aired on Philippine television, many gory scenes are shown in black-and-white. Sometimes the exposure of innards or other scenes too bloody or gruesome are also blurred, not just rendered in monochrome, in compliance with Philippine broadcasting standards.
However, black-and-white photography has continued to be a popular medium for art photography, as shown in the picture by the well-known photographer Ansel Adams. This can take the form of black-and-white film or digital conversion to grayscale, with optional digital image editing manipulation to enhance the results. For amateur use certain companies such as Kodak manufactured black-and-white disposable cameras until 2009. Also, certain films are produced today which give black-and-white images using the ubiquitous C41 color process.
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Most early forms of motion pictures or film were black and white. Some color film processes, including hand coloring were experimented with, and in limited use, from the earliest days of motion pictures. The switch from most films being in black-and-white to most being in color was gradual, taking place from the 1930s to the 1960s. Even when most film studios had the capability to make color films, the technology’s popularity was limited, as using the Technicolor process was expensive and the process cumbersome. For many years, it was not possible for films in color to render realistic hues, thus its use was restricted to historical films or musicals until the 1950s, while many directors preferred to use black-and-white stock. For the years 1940–1966, a separate Academy Award for Best Art Direction was given for black-and-white movies along with one for color.
Subtlety of Tones“I love the subtlety of tones that black and white images can have. In a world that often boasts about how many millions of colors a TV or monitor is able to produce – I love that in ‘Mono’ there is such a variety of what can be achieved in a photo. Black and White sounds so boring – but the fact is that there are so many shades in between – I love the challenge of bringing them all out in an image!” – Jim
In fact, monochrome film stock is now rarely used at the time of shooting, even if the films are intended to be presented theatrically in black-and-white. Movies such as John Boorman’s The General (1998) and Joel Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) were filmed in color despite being presented in black-and-white for artistic reasons. Raging Bull (1980) and Clerks (1994) are two of the few well-known modern films deliberately shot in black-and-white. In the case of Clerks, because of the extremely low budget, the production team could not afford the added costs of shooting in color. Although the difference in film stock price would have been slight, the store’s fluorescent lights could not have been used to light for color. By shooting in black-and-white, the filmmakers did not have to rent lighting equipment.
Some formal photo portraits still use black-and-white. Many visual-art photographers use black-and-white in their work.
Some modern film directors will occasionally shoot movies in black-and-white as an artistic choice, though it is much less common for a major Hollywood production. The use of black-and-white in the mass media often connotes something “nostalgic” or historic. The film director Woody Allen has used black-and-white a number of times since Manhattan (1979), which also had a George Gershwin derived score. The makers of The Good German (2006) used camera lens from the 1940s, and other equipment from that era, so that their black-and-white film imitated the look of early noir.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is in color when Dorothy is in Oz, but in black-and-white when she is in Kansas, although the latter scenes were actually in sepia when the film was originally released. The British film A Matter of Life and Death (1946) depicts the other world in black-and-white (a character says “one is starved of Technicolor … up there”), and earthly events in color. Similarly, Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire (1987) uses sepia-tone black-and-white for the scenes shot from the angels’ perspective. When Damiel, the angel (the film’s main character), becomes a human the film changes to color, emphasising his new “real life” view of the world.
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In black-and-white still photography, many photographers choose to shoot in solely black-and-white since the stark contrasts enhance the subject matter.
See also dr5 chrome List of black-and-white films produced since 1970 Monochromatic color Selective color References Look up black-and-white in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. Wikimedia Commons has media related to Black and white.
Since the late 1960s, few mainstream films have been shot in black-and-white. The reasons are frequently commercial, as it is difficult to sell a film for television broadcasting if the film is not in color. 1961 was the last year in which the majority of Hollywood films were released in black and white.
As I said yesterday in the post announcing our Black and White Assignment it seems as though Black and White images are making something of a comeback of late as digital camera owners rediscover the beauty of mono images.
UPDATE: Learn more about Black and White Photography with our new Essential Guide to Black and White Photography.
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Throughout the 19th century, most photography was monochrome photography: images were either black-and-white or shades of sepia. Occasionally personal and/or commercial photographs might be hand tinted. Color photography was originally rare and expensive and again often containing inaccurate hues. Color photography became more common from the mid-20th century.
Variety“I find the creative process with black and white images is so… artistic. It’s like molding clay – you can shape it into a myriad of shapes. Black and White images can be strong, high contrast and powerful – or they can be so soft, gentle and subtle.” – Belle
McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana – Ansel Adams – Taken between 1933 and 1942
In a black and white pre-credits opening sequence in the 2006 Bond film, Casino Royale, a young James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) gains his licence to kill and status as a 00 agent by assassinating the traitorous MI6 section chief Dryden at the British Embassy in Prague, as well as his terrorist contact, Fisher, in a bathroom in Lahore. The remainder of the film starting with the opening credits is shown in color.
If the big response to the assignment is anything to go by readers of this blog LOVE black and white photography too (I’ve used a few of the images submitted in the assignment on this post to whet your appetite).
No Distractions“I find that colors can be terribly distracting in some images and can take the focus away from your subject. I do portrait work and find that taking the color out of an image lets the subject speak for themselves. Its raw, it’s stripped back, it’s honest and it allows you to show the true person.” – Shane
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Most American newspapers were black-and-white until the early 1980s; The New York Times and The Washington Post remained in black-and-white until the 1990s. Some claim that USA Today was the major impetus for the change to color. In the UK, color was only slowly introduced from the mid-1980s. Even today, many newspapers restrict color photographs to the front and other prominent pages since mass-producing photographs in black-and-white is considerably less expensive than color. Similarly, daily comic strips in newspapers were traditionally black-and-white with color reserved for Sunday strips.:Color printing is more expensive. Sometimes color is reserved for the cover. Magazines such as Jet magazine were either all or mostly black-and-white until the end of the 2000s when it became all-color. Manga (Japanese or Japanese-influenced comics) are typically published in black-and-white although now it is part of its image. Many school yearbooks are still entirely or mostly in black-and-white.
Black and white, often abbreviated B/W or B&W, and hyphenated black-and-white when used as an adjective, is any of several monochrome forms in visual arts.
Versatility“I love that it’s a format that suits almost any type of photography. Portraits, landscapes, urban landscapes, architecture. Not only that, it’s a medium that adapts really well to all lighting situations. Whereas color photography often works best on sunny days or in brightly lit studios – low light just makes a black and white image moody.’ – Sol
Of course the black and white vs color debate is a very personal one. For every person I ask who loves shooting mono there are others who much prefer the vibrancy of color photography.
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One of the questions I’m being asked about more and more lately is about Black and White Digital Photography.
Which do you prefer – Black and White or Color?What do you like about your preference? Have you experimented much with Black and White digital photography? Interested to hear your thoughts in comments below.
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1 Media 1.1 Motion pictures 1.2 Television 1.3 Photography 1.4 Printing 2 Films with a color/black-and-white mix 3 Contemporary use 4 Computing 5 See also 6 References
Black and White Landscapes: Weekly Photogrpahy Challenge 6 years ago
monochromeExposure compensationNeutral Density black-and-whitePhotographic print toningBromide (photography) Reversal filmPhotographic printingJames Crump picture takingSelective colorIlford Photo Ed van der ElskenSepia tonepicture black
The films Pleasantville (1998), and Aro Tolbukhin. En la mente del asesino (2002), play with the concept of black-and-white as an anachronism, using it to selectively portray scenes and characters who are either more or less outdated or duller than the characters and scenes shot in full-color. This manipulation of color is utilized in the film Sin City (2005) and the occasional television commercial. The film American History X (1998) is told in a nonlinear narrative in which the portions of the plot that take place “in the past” are shown entirely in black and white, while the “present” storyline’s scenes are displayed in color. In the documentary film Night and Fog (1955) a mix of black-and-white documentary footage is contrasted with color film of the present.
I have a few friends who are into Black and White photography and I asked them what it was that attracted them to it. Here are a few of their reasons for getting a little obsessed with Black and White:
Most computers had monochrome (black-and-white, black and green, or black and amber) screens until the late 1980s, although some home computers could be connected to television screens to eliminate the extra cost of a monitor. These took advantage of NTSC or PAL encoding to offer a range of colors from as low as 4 (IBM CGA) to 128 (Atari 800) to 4096 (Commodore Amiga). Early videogame consoles such as the Atari 2600 supported both black-and-white and color modes via a switch, as did some of the early home computers; this was to accommodate black-and-white TV sets, which would display a color signal poorly. (Typically a different shading scheme would be used for the display in the black-and-white mode.)
The earliest television broadcasts were transmitted in black-and-white, and received and displayed by black-and-white only television sets. Scottish inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the world’s first color television transmission on July 3, 1928 using a mechanical process. Some color broadcasts in the U.S. began in the 1950s, with color becoming common in western industrialized nations during the late 1960s. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) settled on a color NTSC standard in 1953, and the NBC network began broadcasting a limited color television schedule in January 1954. Color television became more widespread in the U.S. between 1963 and 1967, when major networks like CBS and ABC joined NBC in broadcasting full color schedules. Some TV stations (small and medium) in the US were still broadcasting in B&W until the late 80s to early 90s, depending on network. Canada began airing color television in 1966 while the United Kingdom began to use an entirely different color system from July 1967 known as PAL. The Republic of Ireland followed in 1970. New Zealand began color broadcasting in 1973, and Australia experimented with color television in 1967 but continued to broadcast in black-and-white until 1975, and New Zealand experimented with color broadcasting in 1973 but didn’t convert until 1975. In China, black-and-white television sets were the norm until as late as the 1990s, color TVs not outselling them until about 1989. In 1969, Japanese electronics manufacturers standardized the first format for industrial/non-broadcast videotape recorders (VTRs) called EIAJ-1, which initially offered only black-and-white video recording and playback. While seldom used professionally now, many consumer camcorders have the ability to record in black-and-white.
Contemporary photo of a Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) on Santa Cruz Island