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Thread: Shooting color film for Black and White images

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jan 2004

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    Purists- this might be heretical but...

    I have been shooting black and white for some time, primarily HP5plus and TMAX. However, I have pretty much converted to a dry darkroom- I process my negatives in a drum, and then scan and photoshop contrast adjust and inkjet print.

    I have been thinking about starting to shoot color, so that after I scan, I can then use color channel adjustments to better tune the tone relationships before I convert to monotone. Honestly, I am tired of fiddling with traditional filters, and have only had limited success previsualizing their effect when in the field.

    The downside for me is that I will probably have to pay $1.90 per sheet for a lab to process (ouch!).

    Has anyone else made this conversion, who primarily is interested in Black and White output? Any film recommendations for this, or any other tips along these lines?

    Can anyone think of benefits I have by sticking with black and white film (aside from the cost, and obvious loss of control I have by doing it myself)?


  2. #2
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    To find out if shooting color and converting to monochrome will work for you, why not do a test? Shoot the same scene in color negative and B&W (hell, throw in a color transparency for fun). Scan them all. Manipulate all you want, then make prints. Look at them side-by-side. If using a color film to print B&W works for you, then why not do it? Use the best tool to get *your* job done.

    Me? I've done the test. I found that I get better results using color film for color output, and B&W film for B&W output. By better results, I mean better shadow detail, better highlight detail, and better tonality. But that's just me, my subjects, and my processing. YMMV.

    Bruce Watson

  3. #3

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    You don't say which type of colour film you intend to use, but if it's tranny you;ll will get a marked difference in the tonal range recorded on the film (much less).

    If you intend to use colour film as an alternative to a filter (red say), you will not get the same result as using B&W with the filter - when the filter is in place you need to extend the exposure to compensate fo the lower light levels hitting the emulsion, effectively over-exposing in the red channel. Unless you apply the same filter for the colour film, you will not record all the red shadow details at the same level as with the B&W film.

    But don't dispair! I often do as you are planning and sometimes the 'B&W' results from a colour shot are better than the straight forward monochrome, as you point out you can maniuplate the different channels to achieve a different result.

    As you process your own film, there really is not much difference in cost, especially when considered against the overall expense of LF photography.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Nov 2003

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    Won't you lose dynamic range with the color film. For deep detail in lights and shadows, I would think B&W film will be hard to beat. If you make two identical images, color and B&W maybe you can create some useful masks and layer them.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    Not that I want to corrupt you, but I have a guilty secret to confess. I use color transparency film for most of my photography these days because I am lazy. Having chromes in my files makes it easy to edit and find older images. Getting back from a project and having to edit 50 chromes takes a few minutes; editing negatives, especially color negs that aren't easy to eyeball, means making scans and test prints - hours and hours of work. I tend to favor longer range film like Kodak EPN 100, but even so, I realize that it is a trade off compared to using negative film. For most situations the shorter tonal range doesn't hurt me, and I find it much easier to scan transparencies on my Epson 3200 than to fool around with color neg, or fret about loosing all the detail that I've painstakingly captured in B&W. I do 50-50 black and white or color, and it is nice to blend channels to achieve filter-like effects. But, like I said, I am lazy, and I never used filters very often even in the "olden days." I also like the fact that the pro lab will process E6 in an hour or so - I can run an errand and see my results the same day.

    Shooting chromes is also good discipline, even for a lazy guy like me. I'll often shoot just one, especially for "what the hell" shots, or I'll blow through a roll of 120 chrome for a portrait without bracketing. You learn quickly that way... understanding your range and placing highlights properly for your film requires a spot meter. So I guess all that time (and hard work!) spent on the Zone System in the 1980s wasn't exactly wasted.

    Readyloads are also nice for lazy guys like me. Your milage may vary with all of this, but nobody has ever looked at my images and told me that they would have been better if I had used black and white film. Film is only a capture medium, not a religous dogma.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Shooting color film for Black and White images

    You seem to be aware of (and on top of) the tonal differences between printing or scanning from a monotone versus multicolored piece of film. I therefore have no comments about that aspect.

    But for me, the greatest difference between color and B&W is the sharpness, acutance, clarity, or whatever, of B&W over all color materials. Life is full of trade-offs. Nothing is perfect. With photography, when you gain color you give up extreme sharpness.

    The fuzziness of color materials varies with format, speed, etc., just as the sharpness of B&W varies with developer. And perhaps a 5x7 print from a 4x5 color negative will look just fine for your purpose.

    Recently, we shot an outdoor advertising job with models on the city hall granite steps in full sun. The film was 120 HP5 Plus, FP4 Plus developed in ID-11, and XP2 Super in C41. The prints (11x14) from the traditional film were dramatically sharper with much better detail on the flecks in the stone steps.

    The difference was not immediately obvious until all the prints were viewed side by side. I think many people who have always used chromogenic films really don’t realize that they’re missing something. And then there are others who purposely take artistic advantage of the mushiness to reduce the amount of retouching required on portraits.

    So I guess the bottom line is that if you are an acutance fanatic who uses Rodinal and FX-1, you may notice the change with a color original.

  7. #7

    Shooting color film for Black and White images


    You might want to try the dr5 process for some really outstanding black and white transparencies. This process allows you to shoot conventional black and white negative film which is then processed in the dr5 chemistry and you get back some of the best, easy to scan and cleanest black and white chromes you'll ever see! Check out Dave Woods website at for the wide range of films you can use and examples of the subtle differences each emulsion gives.


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