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Thread: Black & White a natural progression?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    up north in't England

    Black & White a natural progression?

    I've been wondering...

    I came into large format photography as colour photographer having previously used a digital SLR. I did so as I was generally disappointed with the quality of digital. I was also inspired by the likes of Joe Cornish, having seen his gallery prints I knew I had to go LF.

    Recently though I've started to consider shooting in black and white and I'm also considering processing the film myself. I know that many (most?) LF photographers shoot mainly in black and white (having seen many fine examples on this forum) my question is; is black and white a natural progression when shooting LF? I'd never considered B/W before, why now? Is it something to do with the methodological nature of taking a LF photo, is it that the quality of the prints that makes it more 'art' than lesser formats, desire to control the whole process or is it the unconscious need to follow in Ansel's footsteps (maybe not literally)??

    Ha - that knock at the door means my Lee B/W filter set have arrived ...

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Westport Island, Maine

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I find black and white to be more emotionally expressive.

    I find color to be incredibly hard to get wonderful pictures with. Good, yes. Wonderful, no.

    I think Paul Strand said about color: "Why inject another completely uncontrollable variable into an already uncontrollable medium?" He was the Man.

    No knocks on those who use color, it just isn't for me.
    Bruce Barlow
    author of "Finely Focused" and "Exercises in Photographic Composition"

  3. #3
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    My own twisted view of this is that for some scenes color is a distraction. When you strip away color it's easier to see the underlying structures, patterns, and visual rhythms. Depending on what story you are trying to tell, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

    For some people it's all about color and the story they are trying to tell is told by shifting hues and the complex relationships between the hues. As Mr. Barlow said, mastering this level of complexity is very difficult.

    For some people it's all about the structures, textures, and details. B&W is the natural framework for telling this kind of story. In my view, mastering this level of complexity is equally difficult.

    What LF does for photographers is allow them to slow down and really think about what they are trying to do, about the story they are trying to tell. This is what will push people toward B&W for some scenes and color for others. And eventually they may find that they begin to "see" mostly one way or the other. The nice thing is that with LF it's almost always a conscious choice.

    Bruce Watson

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I think most people get "into" B&W because of the HIGH COST of doing color -- it has nothing to do with the aesthetics. Obviously, this consideration no longer applies in digital capture and printing.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  5. #5

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Kaneohe, Hawaii

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I'm just the opposite. I started out doing B&W, but gradually moved to doing almost exclusively color (Joe Cornish's work, is one reason why). I find I can convey the things I see and feel about a location much better in color - one of the reasons emotions are often tied in with certain colors. With B&W you lose that edge, IMO.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Baton Rouge, LA

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I am with Bruce - I do black and white for the aesthetics. Where cost does come in is that there are times when I would shoot color neg film for black and white, but the cost of the film, the processing, and the hassle of sending it off to be processed, deter me.

    The color photographers I like - Jay Maisel is the best example - use color in ways that having nothing to do with the LF world. If I wanted to shoot color, I would use digital. I find that all the detail of LF plus color makes pictures that are too distracting to be great, even if they are good. If you do not need the detail, LF is not worth the trouble for me.

  7. #7
    Eric Biggerstaff
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Denver, Colorado

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    This is a great question and thanks for posting it.

    I started in color and still use it every once in a while, in fact I am starting to carry some sheets with me for the first time in many years.

    I went towards black and white early as it seemed to better fit what I wanted to express when out photographing. B&W allows me to see the world as it isn't, if you will. Also, the photographers whose work I most admired were all B&W photographers so I naturally gravitated in that direction in school and post school. Lastly, I love the hands on process of working in a traditional darkroom so B&W fits my personality well.

    For me B&W plays a sweeter song than does color. I can enjoy color photographs, but they shortly become to "real" for me and I lose interest where B&W images tend to stay with me much longer. There are a few color photographers whose work I really like (Stephen Wilkes as one example). Also, I tend to not like the "bigger is better" rule in color photography these days ( I think people are perhaps more in love with printing technology and seem less concerned with making a great picutre).

    Color and B&W are equally difficult to master in my opinion and I think very few photographers can master each one.

    If B&W strikes a deeper note with you then jump in with both feet and learn all you can. If color is your path, then run down it as fast as you can. Each can be rewarding and each will take a long time to master.

    Don't worry about the cost so much, each will drain your pockets as fast as you can fill them! And by all means, have fun. If you enjoy what you are doing, you will learn more quickly and the experience will be that much more rewarding.
    Eric Biggerstaff

  8. #8
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    Uni - I think your "discovery" of B&W has as much to do with the timing of your entry into photography as it does any progression of style. As already noted, some of us started with B&W, as the world back then actually was B&W. There were a few locations on the globe where color was emerging - mostly spots visited by National Geographic photographers.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I don't know how "natural" a progression it is, I went the opposite way. I did only b&w for many many years and only started doing color several years ago. I like both but I find color considerably more difficult. My little saying has been that color tells you what something looked like, b&w tells you what something felt like. Probably an oversimplification but it's just very hard for me at least to make a color photograph that doesn't look like a post card or a documentary. With b&w you're one step away from reality before you even begin so you at least don't have the post card problem though there are plenty of other problems to take its place.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Washington, D.C.

    Re: Black & White a natural progression?

    I don't know if there is such a thing as a "natural progression" in photography, but after getting into digital photography, I found digital black and white very much inferior to film-based black and white. Medium and large format film can deliver a smooth tonality in b&w that seems difficult if not impossible to achieve digitally--at least with affordable tools. So in that sense, you might as well take advantage of one of the great strengths of large format.

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