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Thread: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

  1. #1

    Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Hello! I've been shooting pretty much exclusively B&W. I just received back my first batch of 4x5 100G. Of the 15, I like one tranny. Three seem passable, but boring. The others were anemic. I think what I found was that the colors I pre-visualized were so much more intense and vibrant that what the colors actually were, and, therefore, what was recorded on the film.
    For those of you who shoot both color and B&W, are the two styles substantially different so that your previsualization processes for each is unique? Best regards.

    Mike

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Are you going to scan these and work digitally? If so, then they are probably perfect.

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Personally, I don't believe at all in the idea of previsualization (defined as Adams and Weston did in the early days, and later admitted to never actually doing). But I believe in seeing, and for me it took me years to feel comfortable with color.

    Not years of shooting it, but years of looking around and being aware of it. About 8 years ago, I started to notice color relationships when I walked around. This annoyed me, because I was so completely oriented towards black and white. I didn't have any idea what i'd do with color ... film, processing, printinting--never mind putting together photographs that worked. Every time I'd look at work by real masters of color like Eggleston and Shore i'd just get intimidated. But I kept looking, and eventually felt comfortable enough to try it. Technologies came around that made the printing seem reasonable, and a friend gave me a longterm loan of a medium format camera ... and my ideas about what could make a color picture work had finally come together. So I tried it and liked it.

    But it took a long time!

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    I find it somewhat difficult to do both at the same time. I tend to see subjects either as black and white or as color, but not as either/or. When I do use color, I tend to photograph totaly different things than what I photograph in black and white. As far as color saturation goes, I prefer films that give colors as close to what I see as possible. For many, many years I used Kodachrome in roll film so I have a history of looking for a certain type of result which may affect my expectations in a sheet film.

    If you don't like the E100G colors, try some E100VS - I find it to be more saturated than the G. There is also a GX version that is supposed to have warmer colors, but I've not used any so I can't really comment on it other than to repeat what Kodak says.

    - Randy

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Interesting subject, I started shooting black and white when I was a kid. I always felt I was able to see subject matter as it would relate to a black and white print.

    Several years ago I started mixing color via velvia 50 and 100 into my photography. I agree with you Randy, I tend to look for different subject matter with color than I do when shooting B&W. It took me a while till I started producing images I was happy with. In black and white contrast was my friend, in color it was the kiss of death.

    I like my B&W images the best but most people who see my work prefer my color. I think the average person lacks appreciation for B&W.

    As a side note, I talked to Clyde Butcher about shooting color and B&W. His opinion was pick one or the other, you will never master both. I tend to agree.

    jb

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by reellis67 View Post
    I tend to see subjects either as black and white or as color, but not as either/or.
    i have the same experience. not sure how much how much of it is the subject matter or my state of mind ... probably the latter, since the world will appear in color to me for long stretches and in monochrome for other long stretches.

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    A few observations:

    I agree with Paul re previsualization and seeing.

    Not everyone can "switch hit" successfully. You might take a look at the book "Ansel Adams in Color" and see what you think.

    Paul's explorations in color with a medium format camera remind that in getting a handle on the different experiences of working in color and B&W, it can sometimes be useful to further differentiate them by working in different formats.

    Some of you may be familiar with the work of Carl Weese; Carl's a master of LF/ULF Pt/Pd. Recently, in addition to his LF stuff, Carl's been working pretty intensively with an Olympus E-1. He's just started a blog, Working Pictures, with daily postings of snaps from the Olympus. These are very much about color as well as whatever it is the camera is pointed at. Looking at the Pt/Pd work on Carl's website and following the blog will be an interesting opportunity to see how an accomplished photographer with well-developed visual sensibilities works those out in two very different media.

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    I'm not one for subtleties: for me, color is part of the subject or not. If it is, then color film is required; if not, then B&W is highly preferred, since it eliminates the distracting and irrelevant color.

    For 4x5 I usually carry both, and use whichever is appropriate for each individual shot. For 8x10 I generally carry only one (usu. B&W), and I skip potential images that would be better suited by the other.

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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    I've been going down the same road, photographing in color for the last year or so after many years of exclusively b&w. John Sexton says that spending time doing b&w will improve your later color photography. He may be right but overall I haven't been thrilled with my color work. B&w creates an element of abstraction which removes the photograph from the realm of reality and automatically takes it out of the postcard category. Many of my color photographs look to me like postcards. They seem no better than what any halfway decent photographer could do, pretty pictures of pretty scenes.

    When I started I thought I'd make the same photographs as I made in b&w except that they'd now have color in them. But that hasn't happened yet. I think the reason is that as soon as I know I'm photographing in color the colors in scenes or subjects form the initial attraction, i.e. I evaluate things as COLOR photographs rather than as photographs with color in them if that makes sense. Still plugging along though, I'm going to give it another six months or so and if things don't improve I'll go back to b&w.
    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.

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    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Developing an Eye for Both Color and B&W?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Heald View Post
    For those of you who shoot both color and B&W, are the two styles substantially different so that your previsualization processes for each is unique?
    I've been playing with this very topic much of this year. I've been trying to figure out why some people excel at B&W, some at color, and few at both (really, I'm primarily a B&W photographer who has been trying to figure out why my color work sucked).

    The short answer to your query above is "Yes." I've got a theory as to why this is so (long post to follow)...

    We have an HSV model to describe color. This model describes a color space with the three dimensions of hue, saturation, and value (aka lightness or brightness). The rest of this post assumes you know and understand the HSV model.

    In order for a print to communicate, it has to have some level of visual contrast. Otherwise, there's nothing to see. All you'd have would be a "color block" at some given hue, saturation, and value. One can create effective visual contrast with differences in hue, and with differences in value. I have yet to figure out how to create effective visual contrast with differences in saturation. I think one might be able to do so, but it's an entirely artificial construct that doesn't seem to occur in nature, so I'm going to drop saturation out and limit this discussion to just hue and value.

    Clearly, if you create visual contrast along the value axis alone you have a B&W print.

    Color prints, on the other hand, usually rely on both the value axis and the hue axis. I have made some very effective photographs that had almost all their visual contrast on the hue axis, with only about one stop of value differences. I'm thinking of a hillside I shot this spring - a thousand different greens, but very cloudy and flat light.

    My point here is that B&W uses just one axis of the color space, while color always uses at least two. Hardly any photographers I've spoken to about this have ever thought about it. Yet, it seems to be the primary reason why people do well in one or the other (B&W or color) and can't seem to do well in both.

    In practical terms, B&W photographers learn to look for scenes that exhibit strong contrast. Light and shadow are their only tools, so they look for light and shadow. It's not surprising to see B&W photographers working in bright sun; they want the contrast.

    Color photographers, OTOH, look for different hues. They tend to look for ways to enhance their colors without overpowering the various hues. To that end they often work in overcast light, and don't shy away from rain (which can enhance colors found in leaves, rocks, etc.). They don't want the contrast. Too many hues with too much contrast overpowers the viewer, so we learn to look for scenes with lots of hues and not much contrast, or lots of contrast and not many hues. It's not hard to verify my supposition; think about it when looking at color photographs -- what are the differences between the ones that really work for you and those that don't?

    What I'm saying is, color and B&W are sufficiently different that they require different working methods. If one insists an applying B&W working methods to color work, one shouldn't be surprised at poor results. The same is true of applying color methods to B&W work.

    And this, I think, is the root cause of why people tend to be good at one or the other and not both. Mostly, it's because they haven't spent enough time thinking about what they were trying to do so that they know to modify their working methods to favor a better result.

    I know when all this finally dawned on me, my color work improved markedly. Clearly, YMMV.

    Bruce Watson

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