Balancing Black and White & Color Shooting?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by brian steinberger, Aug 7, 2011.

  1. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    I recently decided to get back into shooting color (E-6) along side my black and white work I've been doing for years. I'm finding it very difficult to transition from one mindset to the other when out shooting. I have no problem going out and shooting color exclusively, and I have no problem going out and shooting black and white exclusiely, but I cannot seem to find a way to shoot both at the same time.

    Color is a sunrise/sunset or cloudy day shoot, and black and white I feel much more comfortable shooting in any light. But if I go out in overcast light, when I can shoot both I have a hard time switching back and forth. Usually whatever I start shooting I find myself shooting that for the rest of the day cause my mind gets stuck in that mindset.

    Make sense? Anyone else have this problem? Is it too much to master black and white and color or should I just stick to one?
     
  2. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Transparency photographers will always expose for the upper mid tones to highlight and let the shadows fall where they may.
    Black White film photographers , for the most part expose for the shadows and develop for highlights,
    This will have a huge difference in apeture or shutter settings, and is the kind of thing you do not need to be figuring out when photographing.
    Others here may have figured out a system for this , For colour negative and black and white I have the same 160 ISO settings therefore I feel comfortable
    switching between colour neg and BW film.
    Nailing transparency is trickier for most and for me I would find it very difficult to try to do both in the same settings. So you make perfect sense to me.
     
  3. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    Thanks Bob, I understand the difference in metering. That's not a problem for me though. The problem is more just seeing things. When I get locked into one or the other it's hard for me to change my way of seeing things when shooting.
     
  4. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Then you should stick to one thought process and not switch.
     
  5. Ottrdaemmerung

    Ottrdaemmerung Member

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    When wondering whether to shoot a given scene in B&W or color, I ask myself what makes me want to photograph it? Is it the color? If so, I'll shoot color. Or is it the contrast in the elements of the scene, like the patterns of light and dark? If so, I'll shoot B&W.
     
  6. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    I had the same problem but a couple happy accidents and a change in how I think about metering solved the problem.

    First the happy accidents. Somewhat regularly I'll put film in my FM2 and set the ISO on the dial but not put a tag in the slot on the back. Then that camera may not get used for a week or two and low and behold all I know about the film inside is the ISO.

    When this happens, IMO there's only one good option for metering, pegging the mid-tones; that provides workable frames regardless of which film is inside.

    When this happens I think more about composition and filling the frame well than I used to with color. I also think more about how the color will affect the shot than I might with B&W.

    This is actually fun because the results are normally just fine.

    Second was my change in thought.

    For a long time I've understood that the most important subject matter in my shots is in the middle, the shadows and highlights for me are just there to support the main subject, there are occasions where they become more important but that isn't normal.

    I would try with B&W to shoot to the shadows and with color to place the mid tones and like you found mixing these shooting styles a pain.

    Then I read Dunn & Wakefield's Exposure Manual. It finally clicked, my subjects could/should dictate my shooting style, not the film in the camera. Since that point I have incident metered everything at box speed regardless of the film in the camera. As long as I have done what the meter has said, I have had no failed exposures, period. Plenty of shadows, plenty of highlights, great mid-tones, easy printing.

    So now when I look at a scene I just shoot what's in the camera or if I'm shooting with my RB I'll carry two backs and shoot both color and B&W exactly the same way.
     
  7. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    This is kind of what I'm thinking. I think black and white first most of the time. Alot of my work is documentary work and sometimes I wish that I had a photo in color of certain subjects. Maybe stick with black and white for film and get a d*g#t@l for color snaps?
     
  8. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    Maybe it's a matter of having to carry two camera systems? I have a Mamiya 645 pro system which I could shoot B&W and color at the same time, but I prefer my MF rangefinders for black and white. So when I go out to shoot I'm carrying a Mamiya 645 SLR system for color, and a Mamiya 6 or Bronica RF645 for black and white plus tons of lenses. Maybe it's overwhelming.
     
  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Too many choces is a real problem and you even have to choose between 645 & 6x6 with the RFs.

    On my last vacation I took my RB (with 3 backs plus a 90 and 150SF) and a Holga and some waterproof disposables. The disposables were for snorkeling, surfing, and other wet/dirty snaps, the Holga was for any normal snaps, and the RB for anything remotely serious.

    If I was packing for that same trip again today I'd leave the 150SF at home. I only used the 150 once, it's view felt out of place because I'd been using the 90 so much.
     
  10. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    When it comes to colour, I tend to prefer more subtle colour to colour that jumps out at you. Shots like the ones attached.

    It might be worth your while to try, as an experiment, looking more for colour subtlety, rather than colour that shouts.
     

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  11. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    I usually shoot B&W, but when something pops up that begs to show off its color, I pick up my camera loaded with Velvia. Some scenes can only be rendered because of its color, specifically flowers or sunrises and sunsets, or an oddity that only shows itself by color. I taught my kids that B&W is best for abstracts of natures geometry, or textures. It takes a little practice, but soon you will see the differences and know instinctivly when to choose.
     
  12. kraker

    kraker Member

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    Great examples of subtle colour, Matt. I don't know about the OP, but this is giving me some inspiration. Thanks.
     
  13. Adrian D

    Adrian D Member

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    I too very much like MattKing's subtle colour shots. Inspirational indeed!

    Like the OP, I too experience a little anxiety in this regard, and find that I make a conscious choice to go out for the day with one or the other. I mostly shoot B/W for which I use cameras from 35mm to 7x5, all manual with seperate metering (I love getting involved with the nitty gritty of exposure etc,) but now and again I'll take out the Minolta x-700 loaded with velvia, set the dial to 'Program' and just revel in the carefree auto everything approach. Thanks to the meter in that camera, the results (exposure wise at least!) are usually spot on.
     
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  15. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I used to carry one body loaded with black and white film and one with colour, but later decide that I couldn't "see" in both at the same time, and for more than twenty years have shot more than ninety percent of my work shot C41 or E6.
     
  16. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I also have a hard time switching modes of seeing. The metering differences and so on are just technique and can be learned, but whatever mental mechanism is responsible for saying "Look! A picture!" is tough to recalibrate. When switching back and forth, as I have been this week while on vacation, I find I keep having my attention caught by compositions that then make me say "oops, wrong medium". Or else I don't say it, and find out later that the photo that would have worked great in color has turned to mush as all the subtle variegations of green came out as the same middle grey.

    -NT
     
  17. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Nathan is right. Even after many years of shooting both B&W and color, it was difficult to think in both modes in the same outing. It wasn't a matter of metering, which had become routine. It was all about seeing. Recently I've began to try most B&W in large format and color in digital. Perhaps it helps, or perhaps in my declining years it doesn't matter as much.
     
  18. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    My medium is B&W but just for the fun of it or call it an experiment why not have someone other than the photographer load two cameras - one with color and one b&w of the same ISO and take two different focal length lenses. Go out and shoot concentrating only on subject and composition. Expose at box speed and meter for the subject and lighting conditions not worrying about the subtle differences between the types of film since you would not know which was in each camera. See what comes up after processing.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  19. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I.M.O the parameters that make a successful monochrome pictures in form of tones and shades of grey are a completely different ball game from the colour contrasts that make good colour images, an old friend of mine a lady who is a photojournalist who's been shooting nothing but black and white images for more than twenty years was complaining the last time I saw her that she had been working for a couple of weeks on an assignment in Africa for Christian Aid (a charity) who needed colour pictures for an ad campaign, she was complaining that it had ruined her vision she couldn't visualize images in black and white any more, I personally try to stick to colour either C41 or E6 for my personal work.
     
  20. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I carry two cameras which operate differently. For instance a Pentax K-1000 and an ME Super. I'll load the K-1000 with Legacy Pro and the ME Super with Elite Chrome. Sometimes it will be a Yashica Mat versus a Pentax, etc., etc.

    It is the different feel of the camera and/or the method of operation that puts my brain into color mode or black and white mode. It almost works like a switch.

    I photograph mostly black and white. I'll often run through a roll of film each time I go out but a roll of color can last me for a couple of weeks. As I run around, I'll either sling both cameras or leave the "color" camera in the car if the weather isn't too extreme. If I'm walking along and I see a sunset or a colorful kite or a butterfly, etc. I'll reach for the color camera and, by the time I have it adjusted and focused the way I want, the feel of the controls and the way they operate are what make me think, "Color."
     
  21. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I have the same problem. When I carry both B&W and COLOR, I tend to shoot mediocre images on both. I have trouble seeing scenes in both modes at the same time or switch fast enough. It also becomes the source of major annoyance and mental block preventing me to evaluate the scene. For me, it can't be the equipment as the same happens with digital. (where I can convert to B&W after the fact)

    These days, I only carry one or the other - which often ends up just B&W.
     
  22. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I switch back and forth effortlessly because I use the same speed film for both unless I am shooting waterfalls.
    I have two Nikon SLRs, one for C-41 and one for black & white.
    Four film backs for the Hasselblads , two for C-41 and two for black & white.
    Multiples film holders and Grafmatic 45s for C-41 and black & white, each clearly labeled.
     
  23. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    So this seems to happen to more folks than just me! I'm still working at it. For sunrises and sunsets I just figure on shooting color. It is nice that with the Mamiya 645 I can take two backs along. If it's sunny I just go with black and white, and if it's overcast I've been taking mainly black and white though this fall when it's overcast I'll be reaching for color more.
     
  24. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Yes!!! A famous photographer, can't remember which one, noted that the subject of a color photograph is the color itself. It is different for BW which emphasizes a physical object. Therefore, I am not surprised that it is hard to shift gears.
     
  25. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I too recall seeing a similar statement, but it seems to me that it is a statement that could only be made by a photographer that shoots black and white almost exclusively :smile:.

    As a devils advocate I might say something like: "Colour is more authentic and natural, but if the subject of a photograph is its planes and shapes and textures, then it may be best to take the reality of the subject's colour out of the equation, and choose the more artificial but simpler black and white rendition".
     
  26. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Subscriber

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    Here's my two cents. If you don't mind lugging around the extra gear, take it all with you. Do your best as the subject calls for within the scope of your vision.

    However, just because you have decided to dabble in color once again after such long inactivity, do not feel obligated to do so. And if you choose to choose one over the other for an outing and see a composition that favors that which you left behind, do not feel obligated to expose a frame.

    You might take everything with you and, once at your destination, lock the camera crap in the car. Go for a short walkabout with only your vision and see what beckons to your creativity.

    I think your putting way to much pressure on yourself. Gets in the way of creativity.