O.T. B/W vs. Color (was Digital Camera)

O
Posted By
OldnSenile
Oct 21, 2003
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(Started a new thread ’cause the old one was 110 posts long and this topic (within those) was somewhat off-subject.)

I have always wondered why black and white photos appeared (at least, to me) to have so much greater impact (than color), in the work of the artistic photographers, and of the elite journalists as well.

My tentative conclusion has been that, what is important is the simplicity which results from elimination of the distraction introduced by color. For example a subject’s emotional state (sadness, happiness) is expressed primarily by facial expressions or body position, not especially by color. I think it is the elimination of this distraction, that permits us to easily concentrate on (and understand) the fundamental concept that the artist has presented to us.

That is not to say that color does not add to the artistry and information of a photo. I just think that color also adds to its complexity and, without careful effort on the part of the photographer, could actually contradict the point being presented through expression and setting.

I have absolutely no expertise on this subject, and near-zero artistic talent, so I am quite open to alternative viewpoints.

OldnSenile

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CS
Chuck_Snyder
Oct 21, 2003
OnS – I’ve always appreciated good black-and-white photos but rarely have been able to make one that didn’t disappoint in some way. One of the hurdles to overcome for me is that my brain processes in color and black and white photos are in grayscale. Two very different colors side-by-side in a picture may turn out to be nearly the same in grayscale, so the conversion takes away the apparent contrast that’s present in a color photo. I guess a good B/W photographer (and Leen is a great one) can think and see in grayscale and compose accordingly. Obviously, that’s not the only requirement for a good photo, but it’s a technical detail that reduces the chances for me of getting a really good one.

Chuck
BF
Bruce_Frazier
Oct 21, 2003
I am certainly not an expert by any means, and I haven’t stayed in a Holiday Inn Express lately, but, I have heard time and time again from any number of the Great Photographers of our times, that they almost to a man (or woman), feel they can’t control color as well as black and white. Whether this is control of the printing process or on the film, I am not certain, but just about all of them have stated they don’t feel they can control color as well as black and white.
RC
Richard_Coencas
Oct 21, 2003
One of the major differences between B/W and Color (film) photography is how forgiving Color is. A stop or two over or under will still give acceptable results with Color, but with B/W good exposure is crucial and the photographer will probably need to do some amount of dodging and burning regardless of how much you meter.

Interestingly the Museum of Modern Art in New York would not even consider displaying Color Photos until into the 70s. Black and White has long been considered the medium of Fine Art Photography. I think when you see a black and white photo, you are drawn into looking at it in terms of light and shadow, tonal range, and texture. A color photo often has the look of a "snap shot". But times have changed and you are seeing some fine art photographers working in color, but there is still a prejudice towards black and white.

My 2 cents,
Rich
LK
Leen_Koper
Oct 21, 2003
Chuck, I’m flattered; you are overrating me. I’m still in the learning process. I’ve been taught how to look at my subject and-most important- what the light does to the subject.
Richard, I think you are right about "…looking at it in terms of light and shadow, tonal range, and texture…"

Nevertheless, when working in colour, usually we have to look in the same way as in monochrome. The only exception is when the colours are the main subject. But, about like Richard states, colour often seems to be forgiving. It, however, is not. Color often distracts from the mistakes in lighting our subject.

Controlling ones lighting means bringing out tonal range, shape and texture of the subject. This is what separates the men from the boys, i.e. the skilled photographer from the rest. Lighting control is a skill and can be learned. I have been so lucky to have met excellent teachers at the right time in the past and that’s why I consider it my duty to help others as well.

In my opinion there should be hardly any difference in appreciation between monochrome and colour images. Just like there is no difference between an oil and an acrylic painting. These are two different ballgames (Go Marlins-GO!-any New Yorker around? BOOOH!) and each requires its own skills, just like baseball and softball.

Leen
(I apologise for relating to the World Series-I know, it is US property) 😉
CS
Chuck_Snyder
Oct 21, 2003
Leen, re the ‘World’ Series…..its name would imply it could/should belong to everyone!

🙂

Chuck (Yankee fan since 1956)
GD
Grant_Dixon
Oct 21, 2003
In fact it belonged to Toronto for two years and very likely a third if it had not been for a strike. There are those who believe that the strike was caused to rob Toronto of the series. I believe there is an obscure rule that said if it is won three times in a row buy an alien nation the game will be banned the fields of dreams as there would be no more dreams. Can you shed light on this chuck.

Grant

Oh yes almost forgot the rally cry in Toronto’s is Yankee go home. What can you say about a team that played in their PJs
CS
Chuck_Snyder
Oct 21, 2003
Grant…..what can I say? I believe the World Series will be eliminated just as soon as the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox win it again…

Chuck
GD
Grant_Dixon
Oct 22, 2003
Chuck

There is this story going around about Rudolph W. Giuliani’s demise. Giuliani being such a notable person was allowed ine special requests. Never shunning hardship he asked for a to tour hell before his last rest place. He expected to see a display of the fire and brimstone. When he got there it was more like Dante’s version, a frozen waist land. In shock Giuliani blurted out the question " Was it the Cubs or Soux that took the Series?

G.
CS
Chuck_Snyder
Oct 22, 2003
Grant, very good! I believe that story will stand the test of time; the only thing that will have to be changed in the future is the reference to Giuliani, who will be long gone when the rest of the story is still relevant.

Chuck
LK
Leen_Koper
Oct 22, 2003
I still remember the duels between Witney Ford and Sandy Koufax (LA Dodgers) and his wonderful left handed catcher John Rosebero who hit his first homerun in the World Series….
BTW, I don’t care who wins the Series, I hope baseball wins. My comments on the Series until now: I ‘m positively amazed by the extremely high level of the Marlins’ catcher in the first game (I wasn’t able to see more than 6 minutes of the 2nd game-I hate homeruns; they are boring )

Back to Elements. And more particularly to the B&W vs. colour debate as I think baseball uniforms should be mainly white with just only a little colour added. 😉

Leen
T
TheSadOne
Oct 23, 2003
As a photography student I can tell you this.
Within B&W pic.s you have nothing but values… it punches up everything you do, if you know how to do it correctly.
Darkroom work is possibly the most important part of photography, because of the fact that you can lighten/darken a photo…

My best work has to be these 2 pieces.
1)A hallway at Pratt school of continuing education (Manhattan, where I did some work this past summer. The hallway was a last ditch effort to get my last picture done. I spent 5 min. on the pic, though when I printed it, the whole thing came out light. It was basically a picture of perspective showing the lockers… down the hallway to a door marked ‘EXIT.’ It was an invocative piece that I have to say was a dreamscape… every person who has seen it loves it; It was a fluke, but it’s one of my best work.

2)14th street subway station (Manhattan); If any of you has ever been on a manhattan subway platform, you know how the supporting beams by the track all have the station name. The sign said ’14TH STREET’ and I happened to snap a shot of it while no one was on the platform (pretty rare) so you see the sign, a tunnel, and no people… I made it a little darker than it should have been to get some sort of a underground/subway feel of it… It’s my 2nd best.

I have done many others, one even a picture of a sigh that says ‘CLOSET’ on it; people like that one, I don’t know why, don’t ask me. The main reason that B&W is better than color is because, if done right, it’s punchier. Plus you don’t have the color to get in your way of admiring (or not) the work; It’s just a distraction. It’s all about values… I have done others, my favorite has to be of one as a train is just ariving on the LIRR and people are just starting to move, because people can relate… everyone has waited for a train at one time or another, but that is waaaay off topic…

Mark W.

EDIT: As this is already way to long (which I now realize) I think I should point out that I usually like to not have my pictures too complicated, I like the way simplicity unravels in people’s minds; I’m even writing a book about it. So, for the record, I’m biased.
CS
Chuck_Snyder
Oct 23, 2003
TSO – can you post your pictures somewhere for us to see? They sound fascinating! I know the area where you took those shots….lived in Washington Square Village on West 3rd for a couple years.

Chuck
LK
Leen_Koper
Oct 24, 2003
TSO,
In my opinion the decisive moment that determins the quality of your image is when you take the photo.
You wrote: "Darkroom work is possibly the most important part of photography, because of the fact that you can lighten/darken a photo…"
Darkroom work is like painting a house; a good house will be a good house, but it will look better when well painted. On the other hand, a badly contructed house will stay badly built for ever, no matter how much paint you put on it.
Digital imaging and darkroom work are about the same thing: improving the impact of an image and nothing else.

Leen
GD
Grant_Dixon
Oct 24, 2003
Leen

I am totally in agreement with you on this one. While the darkroom is a wonderful tool that should never be over looked, it is the latent image that is important. From the moment the shutter is click the deed is done the information is stored on the film. The job of the darkroom technician/artist is to make the most of it but from that point on lots can go wrong. In the hands of a good technician the absolute best that the image contains can be reproduced but you still can’t make a silken purse out of a sows ear, although you can make the best sows ear possible.

Grant
RC
Richard_Coencas
Oct 24, 2003
Grant and Leen,

I don’t disagree, but there is a reason Ansel Adams wrote 3 books. The Camera, The Negative and The Print. Control, technique and artistry in all 3 aspects of the process are necessary to gain a quality result. Applies to traditional as well as digital darkroom.

My 2 cents,
Rich
LK
Leen_Koper
Oct 24, 2003
Richard, I agree with you too. I really admire AA, I have seen everything ever on show in Europe, I think he really is the greatest and an source of inspiration to all in landscape photography.
In my opinion he wrote these books as it is possible to share his vast knowledge about technique, but as it is nearly impossible to explain a vision, he limited himself to mainly to the technical side of imaging.
Once he said something like the negative is the sheet music, the print is the performance.

Leen
RC
Richard_Coencas
Oct 24, 2003
Leen,
You can teach technique, but vision is more ethereal. 🙂 Rich
GD
Grant_Dixon
Oct 24, 2003
Richard

I guess if Leen replied then so should I. I am in total agreement with you. There are many steps in gaining "quality" results!

My main complaint is that a banal image with proper loving treatment by a skilled technician will still be a banal image, all be it of high technical quality. On the other hand an image of great import will no doubt suffer from shoddy work but will still be a great image. A few years back I went to a Man Ray exhibit and I was appalled at how terrible he printed. His image "Les Larmes" (Tears) not only had dust on it but also left a small hair on the negative. For a minute I felt like the audiophile when asked what he thought about his first live concert he said "Not enough base!" In the end, while the image deserved better printing, it didn’t lessen the artistic impact of this piece to me.

g.

Just one man’s rant
RC
Richard_Coencas
Oct 24, 2003
Grant,
I am a great fan of Man Ray, and I agree with you 100%.
Rich
LK
Leen_Koper
Oct 24, 2003
I agree we all agree.
If you all like Ansel Adams, are you familiar too with the images by John Sexton? When I saw these the first time at the German Photokina about 25 years ago I thought it was produced by Ansel himself.

Leen
O
OldnSenile
Oct 25, 2003
Chuck & "The Sad One":

I guess there are a few different (N.Y.C.) subway lines that have 14th street stations, but I passed one of those every day, for four years, commuting to Brooklyn for my undergrad education. (That was 50 years ago, though.)

OldnSenile
PB
Paul_Bullen
Oct 25, 2003
Mr. Old and Senile,
Your have come to pretty much the same conclusion about black & white photographs that I did. *Assuming you can get it printed with the right contrast*–which pretty much requires using custom labs these days–black and white has an advantage over color in that it is harder to screw up a black & white photograph. (I once had my own darkroom as a teenager in the late 60s, but not since.) And it is largely because non-crucial stuff in the photograph is much more prone to undermine the picture in color than in black & white. This is especially true of photographs taken with flash inside messy apartments. I think there is more to it than this, but for the reasons you gave, it is harder to make a bad black & white photograph.

On the question of content, what Grant says is true, but what depresses me is how a photographer who knows what he is doing technically can make a completely almost anything beautiful. How you feel about this may depend on where you think your comparative weakness is. I guess I feel that my technical abilities can’t keep up with my creative ones (both of which are functioning on a pretty modest level–but my point is that it is relative).

I was surprised to find out from a long TV program on Ansell Adams how much of his technique involved interventions in the dark room, with dodging and burning and all sorts of things. In that sense, Photoshop Elements levels the playing field quite a bit. And if digital color photos can successfully be transformed into black and white, we are also liberated from the photo processing that turns everything gray. It does depend on how well digital cameras can make black & white since Kodak will not scan black & white film to CDs when processing (I don’t know how well this can be done on one’s own, with a inexpensive scanner). For me a main weakness in digital cameras is that they do not allow for high-speed (ISO 3200, 6400) black & white shooting. I assume that is a matter of time, but I don’t know what is involved technologically.
–Paul (Bullen)
I
imacgirl
Oct 25, 2003
I came across this in the excellent Scott Kelby Book "The Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers", it’s called the "Ansel Adams Effect" on page 278. You must have a Channel Mixer ( a free add-on can be found here < http://share.studio.adobe.com/axBrowseSubmit.asp?d=164028&am p;dn=Richard+Lynch> in the Hidden Power download). Jim DiVitale came up with this for an instant Ansel-like effect which changes a color digital image to black & white. Of course, it does help to have a rather dramatic landscape shot to try it on.

On the Channel Mixer select Monochrome, this changes the Output Channel to Gray.

1) Increase the Red to +160%

2) Increase the Green to +140%

3) Lower the Blue to -200%

Leave the Constant at 0%

Barb
T
TheSadOne
Oct 30, 2003
I wish I could, I may post my pictures online soon though, I would be taking a digital picture of a B&W picture, because my scanner isn’t worth beans… unless I can use the one in school… we’ll see, in any case, they’ll be up in about a weeks time.

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