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Thread: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    currently Boulder, CO; formerly Seattle, WA.

    Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    Ok, I've been wondering this for a long time, and I'm trying to find a way of saying this without seeming condescending or judgmental. But I really am curious. For me it has never really been a consideration, once I discovered large format color negative film and decided to stop trying to be an Adams or Weston, I knew color would be my preferred medium. Almost all of the photographers I look up to shoot color, the only real exception being Hiroshi Sugimoto. Now, I am not saying that I have anything against black and white, but that for the type of work I do I have no desire to shoot it. And this in turn leads to my preference for viewing color photographs too.

    So, in an attempt at understanding, why do you choose to shoot black and white over color? Is it for aesthetic reasons such as adding a layer of abstraction? Is it process oriented, ie. you like developing and printing in a traditional darkroom? Or because black and white materials are cheaper? Do you think of things in black and white, focusing more on shape, tone, and texture than color? Is it based on the subject matter you tend to shoot?

    Also, if you shoot both black and white and color, how do you decide which to use for a particular subject? If you are putting together a body of work (say for an exhibition) how do you mix the two? Or do you? Do you feel ok putting a black and white print next to a color print? Or do you think of them as separate things that cannot be mixed in a series or show?

    Sorry for the long winded question, but as a devout color shooter I am just trying to understand......

  2. #2
    bob carnie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Toronto, Ontario,

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    I believe Black and White silver print materials have better archival properties.

    though I am now working with colour neg for tri colour carbons so the argument would then be silly as carbon pigments are very good.

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

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    I shoot both, about half and half. As to which I use for a given photograph, it depends on what I'm trying to accomplish. If I'm trying to show the underlying textures and visual rhythms of a scene, then color can camouflage exactly what I'm trying to expose. On the other hand, if the subject is about color or the relationships between colors, then color is the only way to go.

    So... is your photograph about the shape of the clouds, or the color of the sky?

    Bruce Watson

  4. #4
    Greg Lockrey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Temperance, MI

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    B&W is art. Color is illustration.
    Greg Lockrey

    Wealth is a state of mind.
    Money is just a tool.
    Happiness is pedaling +25mph on a smooth road.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Seattle, Washington

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    The short answer is, I shoot B&W because I prefer B&W. Why do you shoot color? It's not a simple question to answer, and Im not convinced we always know the answers to these kinds of questions. I could regurgitate arguments I've read that seem cogent, or cite precedents that validate the choice, in my mind, or share anecdotes about my formative years, but none would necessarily represent an accurate basis for my preference. Maybe the choice is a simple one for others, but it's not for me. Probably not the response you were hoping for.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2012

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    For a long time I've always shot a mixture of B&W and color. It is always a little tricky trying to figure out how to display my images. I shoot similar whether I'm using color or B&W and obviously get very different results with each. I really like that I can make fiber prints in my darkroom, but at the same time, I'd rather be out taking photographs than in the dark dealing with chemistry.

    Color has an additional creative layer. I find it more challenging than B&W. When I'm looking at other mediums (painting, sculpture, drawings, etc) I'm always more drawn to and impressed by the color work. Interesting color is just as important as composition in my opinion.

  7. #7
    Vaughn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Humboldt County, CA

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    People see color differently -- color blindness, or just differently. B&W thus tends to be a bit more universal, but there are plenty of exceptions.

    I find that a great majority of people using color material do not actually use color effectively in their composition -- just like the majority of B&W photographers fail to use light (light intensity?) effectively in composition.

    Fortunately, most of the folks here seem to either of both much better than the average.


  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Portland, OR USA

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    I've known several photographers who have a really good eye for color. I don't. We envy each other.
    Give me line, structure, contrast in black-and-white. I do shoot color. I like it almost monochromatic, like b&w. Can't help it.

    Peter Gomena

  9. #9
    8x10, 5x7, 4x5, et al Leigh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Maryland, USA

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    Quote Originally Posted by adam satushek View Post
    ...why do you choose to shoot black and white over color?
    We often got that question from students at school. Our standard answer was...

    Black and white is a fantasy.
    When someone sees a b&w photo, they know they've been transported into another place and time.

    It's a unique art form, interpreting reality in a way that's not possible with more 'realistic' techniques.

    - Leigh
    If you believe you can, or you believe you can't... you're right.

  10. #10
    おせわに なります! Andrew O'Neill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Coquitlam, BC, Canada, eh!

    Re: Why do you shoot Black and White over Color?

    When I was a kid, all my crayons were black and white. My sister took all the coloured ones. All my work in my formal training years (drawings, etchings, lithographs) was black/white. I guess I just feel more comfortable in a world of gray tones.

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