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Why Black And White Film Photography.

Take Control. Although coloured filters can still be used to manipulate contrast when shooting digital black and white images, it’s more common to save this work until the processing stage. Until a few years ago Photoshop’s Channel Mixer was the favored means of turning colour images monochrome, but now Adobe Camera Raw has more forceful tools (in the HSL/Grayscale tab) that allow you to adjust the brightness of eight individual colours that make up the image. It’s possible to adjust single of these colours to make it anything from white to black with the sliding control. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the whole image when adjusting a particular colour as subtle gradations may become unnatural looking. And adjusting the brightness of a red or rosy shirt with the red sliding control, for instance , will have an impact on the model’s skin, especially the lips. The Levels and Curves controls could also be used to manipulate tonal range and contrast, but the HSL/Grayscale controls allow you to create differentiation between objects of the same brightness but with diverse colours.

Dodge and Burn. Dodging and burning is a procedure that comes from the traditional darkroom and is usually used to burn in or darken highlights and hold back (brighten) shadows. Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools allow a level of control that film photographers can only ambition of because you should target the highlights, shadows or mid-tones with both. This means that you could use the Burn tool to darken highlights when they are too bright, or the Dodge tool to brighten them to grow local contrast. It’s a good fashion of giving a sense of better sharpness and enhancing texture. Plus, because you could set the opacity of the tools, you should build up their effect gradually so the impact is subtle and there are no hard edges.

Use Filters. Graduated neutral density (AKA ND grad) and polarizing filters are just as advantageous in monochrome photography as they are in colour. In fact, because they manipulate image contrast they are arguably more advantageous . An ND grad is collaborative when you want to retain detail in a bright sky while a polarizing filter may be used to reduce reflections and boost contrast. Alternatively, view taking two or more shots with diverse exposures to create a high dynamic range (HDR) composite. Don’t be afraid to use a ND grad with a standard neural density filter if the sky is brighter than the foreground in a long exposure shot. Coloured filters, which are an essential tool for monochrome film photographers, can also be useful for manipulating contrast in digital images. They work by darkening objects of their opposite colour while lightening objects of his own. An orange filter, for example, will darken the blue of the sky while a green one will lighten foliage.

Look for Contrast, Shape and Texture. The complimentary and opposing colours that bring a colour image to life are all reduced to black and white or shades of grey in a monochrome image and you have to look for tonal contrast to make a shot stand out. In colour photography, for example, your eye would instantaneously be drawn to a red object on a green background, but in monochrome photography these two areas are likely to have the same brightness, so the image looks flat and monotonous straight from the camera. providentially , it’s possible to work adjust the brightness of these two colours discretely to introduce some contrast. However, a great starting point is to look for scenes with tonal contrast. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule look for scenes that contain some strong blacks and whites. This should be achieved by the light or by the brightness (or tone) of the objects in the scene as well as the exposure settings that you use. The brightness of the bark of a silver birch tree for example, may inject some contrast (and interest) in to a woodland scene. Setting the exposure for these brighter areas also makes the shadows darker, so the highlights stand out even more. Look for shapes, patterns and textures in a scene and move around to find the best composition.

Shoot RAW + JPEG. The unsurpassed monochrome conversions are got as far as by editing raw files which have the full colour information, but if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously and set the camera to its monochrome picture Style/Picture Control/Film Simulation mode you get an indication of how the image will look in black and white. As many photographers struggle to visualise a scene in black and white, these monochrome modes are an invaluable tool that will help with composition and scene assessment. many cameras are also capable of producing decent in-camera monochrome images these days and it’s worth experimenting with image parameters (usually contrast, sharpness, filter effects and toning) to find a look that you like. Because compact wont cameras and compact cameras show the scene seen by the sensor with camera settings applied, users of these cameras are able to preview the monochrome image in the electronic viewfinder or on rear screen before taking the shot. DSLR users could also do this if they activate his camera’s live postulation channel , but the usually slower responses mean that most will find it preferable or check the image on the screen post-capture.

Try Long Exposure. Long exposure shots may work really well in monochrome photography, especially where there’s moving water or clouds. During the exposure the highlights of the water, for example, are recorded across a wider area than they would with a short exposure and this should help enhance tonal contrast. The blurring of the movement also adds textural contrast with any solid objects in the frame. If required , use a neutral density filter such as Lee Filters’ Big Stopper or Little Stopper to reduce exposure and extend shutter speed (by 10 and 4 stops respectively). naturally , when exposures extend beyond respecting 1/60 sec a tripod is wanted to keep the camera still and avoid blurring. It’s also advisable to use a remote release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibration and produce super-sharp images.

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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.

“In Defense of Black and White Photography”, by Joel Tjintjelaar, in “B&W Minimalism” magazine

Looking at a person’s face and especially the eyes, without the distraction of the color, the viewer can connect easier with the emotional status of that person.

Both great images. There’s really no good argument for preferring monochrome over color generically—it’s a matter of the individual image.

Black and White helps to show off the compositional elements without the distraction of color. The elements of the frame and their interrelation pop up and occupy the position they deserve.

But I know what you mean. And I think it’s because in black and white photos the colors never “unmatch” and are never off or could be considered “wrong”.

With the term negative space we mean the areas in the frame that lack recognizable objects, ensuring there are no distractions to deflect our attention from the main object. Black and White highlights these areas, a property that can be further emphasized with the use of strong contrast.

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“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity” Alberto Giacometti.

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As Bresson wrote about color photography: “I am half afraid that this complex new element may tend to prejudice the achievement of the life and movement which is often caught by black and white.”

Intense colors have their one dynamic, creating emotions, contrast and visual intensity that are extraneous to the essence of our object. Distancing ourselves from the colors, we remove such distractions and concentrate on the substance, allowing us to “see” and understand what we’re shooting. We start considering things like contrasting light, negative space, lines and shapes – the essential ingredients of photography.

You can read more articles about B&W Photography on my blog: “Inspirations”

Read this article on the web. It was commented by an artist ‘Sneye’ . It goes like this: I once tried to illustrate the “emotional gamut” of monochrome. Having allocated one axis to brightness and the other to contrast and then describing the “feel” of different areas of the field obtained, I was impressed with the richness of expression allowed by this seemingly primitive medium.

It goes from murky and industrial (low tone, low contrast) to airy and dreamy (high tone, low contrast), to mention only two “moods” (I got to about a dozen). Adding tint and graininess as variables would widen the creative space even further.

The possibilities are almost endless. My point is, some colour photographers tend to regard black and white as a monolithic modus operandi. However, being surrealistic to start with monochrome is a vast field of expression.

Unlike colour, it can’t really go “wrong.”So, in short,according to me B&W photographs have an appeal because of following reasons:1. It might serve a purpose to approach something that is irredeemably intimate, already there, in there with us, now, behind the eyes? Ourselves, as present to ourselves as the things we see before us, in color; but what of our memories, and our visions for the future? Faded, translucent in comparison.

Lacking in color; like a black and white photograph.2. They can also serve a way of recalling the past. With its lack of presence (as compared to colour, with our perception of the present). B&W photographs immediately remind us that they were taken in the past.

Their presence to us is in part a lack or presence, a semi-presence.3. B&W images also have a classic appeal. They have earned their place in the history of the popular imagination.

“Colour is everything – Black and White is More”, by Yvette Depaepe, on 1x – Curated photography, presenting a video and some beautiful Black and White images

As Robert Adams wrote “Form is beautiful … because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life maybe chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.”

Robert Adams wrote: “Art like philosophy it abstracts. Art simplifies. It is never exactly equal to life. In the visual arts, this careful sorting out in favor of order is called composition, and most artists know its primacy. Art takes liberties, then, to reveal shape.”

I hope you’ll find useful the following article from my blog”

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You just have one source of error less than in color photos (or three, considering all three color channels).

In a black and white image we may miss the color information of a beautiful sunset, but on the other hand we can enjoy light better. Light and shadows are accentuated by the lack of color. Think about the strong impression of the long intense shadows or the strong silhouette of a backlit subject, greatly highlighted in monochrome images.

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).

But some scenes do look better in color than B&W but feel free to experiment.

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Traditional monochrome art photography involves manipulation at every stage of the process, from the choice of aperture and exposure on the negative through the development of the negative and the creation of the print. Kodachrome had to be processed by Kodak; the first color negative film came in 1941, and developing and printing color is far more complex than monochrome processing. Also—and this is a subtle point—color photography is different than black and white, in the way one visualizes the images and what one emphasizes. Ansel Adams did some work in color, and it’s not in the same class as his black and white work.

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.

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

Maybe this is the first time in history, when despite the invention of a new technology more than a century ago, people insist on doing things the old way, at least in artistic photography. If you google “Fine art photography” you’ll find that more than 50% of the images displayed are Monochromatic. Why?

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I’ll start with a quote by Ted Grant: “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.” Removing the color from a portrait, allows the viewer to concentrate on the facial features and decode the person’s emotions. This quote introduces our first argument.

“… the value of art lies at least largely in the value of its expression of emotion.” (Alex Neill, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics).

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If such a picture is rendered in B&W (or any monotone), the discord of color disappears and we judge the image on geometry alone thus improving the image. For this reason, an image of just one flower almost always looks better in color due to the matching natural palette, (as our brains and instincts expect it to), but a picture of mixed items in an unnatural arrangement, such as random items on a desk, (except for Martha Stewart’s desk 😉 ),  may look better in monotone due to the likelihood that each item has a color palette which is in discord with the other items.

Have you ever wondered why black and white photography still exists? People, fascinated with the advances in technology and the will to present the world as we see it, have started experimenting with color photography back in the 19th century. The first commercially successful color process, the Lumière autochrome invented by the French Lumière brothers, reached the market in 1907. So why are there photographers presenting their images in Black and White, when color photography is so widely available?

A wide range of tones is essential for a successful photograph and Black and White allows for a tonality that ranges from absolute black to pure white. The same cannot be achieved in color photography, due to the resulting oversaturation and color burning.

I wouldn’t say that they generally have a higher aesthetic appeal.

Regarding colour, it is what we see on the orchid, the hibiscus, the gladiolus, the leaves of the croton, the mango, etc. These are “normal” colour palettes for us or natural palettes. When taking pictures, if the image does not fit the golden mean or the natural palettes, it does not appear aesthetically pleasing.

Finally, there is another strong reason for choosing black and white and this is the opportunity to increase the viewer’s experience. We are used to see in color and presenting the world in B&W pushes spectators to pause and explore the essential ingredients of the image – composition, forms, texture and the main object, without the bias that the color vision adds to the perception of the world.

Indeed, certain scenes may look better in sepia, cyanotype, selenium or other toning than B&W since it may be closer to the expected color palette of the majority of the scene. Where earth tones are expected, such as a desert scene, may look better in sepia than B&W and may even look odd in cyanotype. On the other hand, where sky tones are expected, such as a waterway, cyanotype may improve a B&W image but sepia may possibly ruin it.

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.

It is quite easy, via framing and composition, to create an image which has the fibonacci geometry. If we take a picture of just one flower or just one plant or maybe even a collection of plants from the same native geographic area, we may even hit the natural palette in colour. Chances are that most colour pictures we take will not have the natural palette.

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

Unlike painting, classic photography was born and grew in Black and White. The days of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other masters of photography that we admire today, are associated with black and white images and quality photography.

Black and White Landscapes: Weekly Photogrpahy Challenge 6 years ago

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The theory of color film goes back to an 1855 paper by the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and there were a wide range of experiments in color film over the next 80 years. (The Technicolor process for movies—two strip, then three strip—actually involved shooting black and white with filters.) The first color film for practical use was Kodachrome, introduced for 35mm cameras in 1936 and in larger sizes (medium format and sheet) in 1938. There was already a strong tradition in monochrome art photography with figures like Atget, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams, which effectively defined what art photography was.

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:

4. Reducing photography to its essentials – shape, form and pattern

We see the world in color and thus reality is connected with the presence of color. Consequently, a black and white image tends to distance us from the accurate depiction of reality and transfer the viewer to a kingdom of abstraction, reducing the image to pure tones, lines and forms.

When the color component of an image has been removed, the viewer can undistractedly observe the elements in the frame, the relation between them and the effect of the compositional elements – lines, shapes and forms, but also the lighting and the tones.There is a whole new world to explore – a world of forms and interconnections.

Today’s photographers work in both monochrome and color. A photographer can create great images in either. Take two great photographs, one, by Eliot Porter, in color:

Light is the essence of photography, thus every tool that stresses it and his opposite – shadows – helps to make a better image.

As a minimalist photographer, I use every tool that promotes my pursuit. There is no doubt that the absence of color alone gives the work a more minimalist feel. But there is another feature that moves the B&W image to the same direction and this is the accentuation of the negative space.

In other words, B&W conversion gives a timeless quality to the images and,for reasons connected to the roots and traditions of classic photography, offers a greater visual delight.

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

Maybe because of the influence of classic (film) black and white photography we tend to react emotionally more when we see an image in black and white. Even the chromatic noise in black and white contribute to the creation of a mood.

Photography, in order to be successful, must reduce the scene to its essentials, discarding part of the information. This can be done with the frame selection, the composition, but also, and to a significant extent, in my opinion, by the way of removing the color information.

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

Additionally, b&w is subconsciously associated with certain moods like melancholy, loneliness, fear, sadness, isolation etc, while the ability to push the tones to absolutely black or white helps create atmosphere and drama.

UPDATE: Learn more about Black and White Photography with our new Essential Guide to Black and White Photography.

One of the questions I’m being asked about more and more lately is about Black and White Digital Photography.

This is the thing which makes certain scenes/sounds appealing. It derives from what we now see/hear in nature or is buried deep within our primal instincts through DNA. Regarding shapes, it is things such as the arrangement of petals in a flower, leaves on a branch, branches on a tree, seeds in a sunflower, chambers on the nautilus, the pine cone, etc. In short, the Fibonacci series and the golden mean.

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