help in explaining the emotional difference in B&W vs. Color

Discussion in 'Photographic Aesthetics and Composition' started by darinwc, Sep 10, 2007.

  1. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    I often carry Color and B&W film into the field.
    Color and B&W certainly has a different feel to it. But I am having a hard time quantifying it. When I use PS to convert a color image to B&W, one image is not inherently beter than the other... they are different.

    What are your thoughts on how you feel when viewing B&W vs. color?
     
  2. panastasia

    panastasia Member

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    Yes, they are different and require intention in order to decide which.
     
  3. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    B&w emphasizes certain things and de-emphasizes others. I think it emphasizes contours, geometry, and texture. Abstract shapes and connections are sometimes more clear in b&w than colour.

    I think there is some relevant physiology to consider. We have two kinds of vision: cone vision is "colour" and used primarily when there is plentiful light, and the other (rod vision) is much more dehued, and provides less accutance but spectacular sensitivity. I think this is important to bear in mind because it means that we might naturally associate dehued, "softer" subjects with lower light.

    Because of this physiological issue, perhaps b&w is more connected in our thinking to abstract shapes and feelings, as opposed to vivid detail and hard edges. What are the things we notice at night? We don't search for tiny details so much; instead we notice shapes and light vs. shadow and such. So the brain might actually be trained -via the rod/cone mechanism- to interpret b&w photographs in a different way. B&w images may connect more naturally to the parts of our thinking that try to assimilate disparate elements of a scene, to make intuitive connections.

    In other words, when there isn't much light/information around, our brains probably rely on intuition to connect the dots. In stark contrast, colour cues are probably more associated with direct information that requires very little abstract thinking, e.g. a big red stop sign!

    Because of the low light issue, I do think that b&w images can intrinsically connect a certain feeling of dreaminess. Not all the time of course, but as a thought experiment, just imagine a b&w image of a sleeping child versus a coloured one....
     
  4. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    IMO, there is no definitive answer to your question.

    I think, at least for me, it is a matter of my own sensitivity to the "tonality" found in black and white. When I see a b&w photograh for the first time, I will always first notice the tones and how they interact with each other before I examine the actual subject matter. It may sound weird but that is just what happens for me, so it is in my reaction to the tonal relationships that are occurring.

    For me, with color, there is no such reaction that forms within me. It simply is what it is and I am not free to ponder it for any other possibilities, rather I am forced to see exactly what it is.

    As I read what I just wrote, I am not so sure that will make any sense to anyone but me. Just my 2 cents.

    Chuck
     
  5. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    My constant struggle is to "learn" a B&W "eye".

    Sometimes it's easy - like when you see a bright sun shining through the slats of a deteriorating old barn roof onto a dark interior floor.

    But that's "so obvious". A typical example of contrast and light extremes.

    I think you're onto something by carrying two cameras, one with color and one with B&W. I often do the same - but really have to be more disciplined about doing side-by-side shots in each format.

    Maybe that would help?
     
  6. w35773

    w35773 Member

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    I have only been a (film) photographer for a short time, but I have thought a lot about this very subject. Personally, I feel there is one main dynamic at work which make B&W a much more powerful medium in which to work.

    Since I see in color, color becomes mundane. Certainly, there are color scenes which are truly breathtaking and those that are deserve to be rendered in as vivid a color as possible. However, most of what (who) I see and photograph, I have seen many times in color and do not really SEE it (them) until I compose a shot in B&W. Only then can I really appreciate the shapes, tones, textures and relationships which are mostly obscured by the presence of color in my world.

    Black and White gives me a whole new appreciation for vision and helps me really look at the world in which I am always immersed.

    Regards,
    Russell
     
  7. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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  8. DrPablo

    DrPablo Member

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    Keith,

    Under normal illumination our rods are not playing much of a role in monochromatic vision -- our cones still are. Rods are indeed monochromatic, and as you say incredibly light sensitive -- but they don't kick in until luminance levels are very low, and they're also extremely low acuity compared with cones (because there are relatively few of them on the fovea, the area with highest acuity on the retina). But any given cone cell is still monochromatic -- it happens to be that some respond to blue, some to red, and some to green. So it's still largely cone vision that allows us to appreciate black and white photos.
     
  9. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Paul you missed my point completely. I'm not saying that we look at b&w photos with rods.

    What I am saying is that most of the visual signal in low light is monochromatic and less acute. And that may affect how we interpret b&w imagery. (not how we actually see it) That's a big difference. Our visual system consists of sensors and also a very powerful and complex interpretive apparatus; the latter can override the former in some cases.

    Just try to imagine a coloured version of Brassaï's night work in Paris. Does it work for you? Why not?
     
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  10. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I believe that frequencies of colors stimulate parts of the brain and that the stimulation evokes associations in the subconscious, part physiology, and part experience. The black and white image largely avoids creating these type of reactions to color, and so displays shapes, forms, and textures devoid of these stimuli, and so those qualities become the stimulus, without distraction.

    A color image is more complete, and covers a broader range of visual inputs, and has the power of our reaction to colors along with the pattern and texture contained within.

    B&W is distilled, and concentrates on a narrower range, wielding a smaller tool set, but using what it does have more powerfully.
     
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  11. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I wouldn't just look at the deep psychological level. There is probably a strongly ingrained cultural response that comes from our continuous exposure to brightly coloured advertisement, contrasted with many people's attempt at ennobling their subject by shooting in B&W.

    What's the most common reaction I hear about B&W ? That it looks more serious, more grave, more intimate, etc. But does it have anything to do with fundamental vision, or is it more because a specific aesthetic has been pushed onto B&W once colour became readily available?
     
  12. Robert Brummitt

    Robert Brummitt Member

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    Black and White is surreal and color can be representative. This is my interpretation.
    I work with both. Love both. Like a painter I can do a line drawing or charcoal sketch or I can switch and do a water color or oil painting.
    I can isolate something even from its color and show what I see.
    Its all up to me. What I see and feel.
     
  13. Videbaek

    Videbaek Member

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    It isn't useful to think of colour in terms of some kind of opposite, as so many photographers seem to do with the B & W vs. colour dichotomy. It isn't a dichotomy. Black is a colour, white is a colour. There are millions of shades of black, millions of shades of white. Each and every shade of grey in between is a colour. A black and white photographic print just works with a different colour palette than a colour print of the same subject. If you choose B & W film for a subject, you choose a colour palette for certain aesthetic reasons. The great renaissance painters would execute preparatory drawings as studies for their large paintings. The preparatory drawings would be done in black chalk, brown ink, red chalk, etc., the better to familiarize themselves with the range of light and shadow on the subject, representing the colour they saw in terms of value within one colour range. Then, once they understood the subject completely and had finalized their picture composition, they would begin the large painting using the full colour range at their disposal. I think of B & W photography as drawing, and colour photography as painting. It's only a metaphor, but it works for me. Which is better, drawing or painting? An absurd question. The one cannot exist without the other. The better one can draw, the better one can paint.
     
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  15. rpsawin

    rpsawin Subscriber

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    I don't know where this quote came from but...

    " If I want to show you something I shoot color. If I want to tell you something I shoot b&w." This holds true for me in the way I respond to images and how I shoot.

    Bob
     
  16. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    I like thatone -- succinct and it aligns with the notions that B&W tells behavior and motion, color tells about materials. Evolution helps those who play along.
     
  17. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Painters...professional painters at least... will usually do a 'value' study before applying color. Since any color of the same value will register as an equivalent gray in a black and white photograph, seeing color in terms of value is essential. 'Seeing' in black and white, is the ability to perceive value and understand how it will affect the image. Form, texture and the arrangement of elements are only revealed when there is adequate contrast in value to render their weight in the image as the photographer intends them to be. In a sense, a black and white photograph that works has only this fundamental structure to insure its success. The importance of value is such that Picasso is said to have declared: "If you run out of blue, use red." which is testament to the notion that color is a secondary consideration to value. What's more, the professional painter usually limits his palette to certain colors...not the "millions of colors" that film or digi devices use. Hence, there is deliberate choice on the part of the painter which the photographer is denied unless he chooses to heavily manipulate the image. Since many don't, their work is far more limited despite the apparent paradox of having a complete array of colors rendered on their medium.

    So.....in my opinion, the best of black and white photographs are far more expressive than color ones because the photographer exercises, a priori, far more control of the medium. Of course, that's so all encompassing a statement that it's DOA I guess, but it's the way I feel about it.
     
  18. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    I think it's obvious that modern day photographers are uniquely gifted.

    If one were to go back to the cave drawings of the Neanderthals, one would readily see that they were drawing in color.

    This tendency towards "flashiness" continued throughout the ancient era and particularly flourished during the Renaissance and later periods of representational oil paintings. Clearly, these earlier artists were slaves to the idea of color - a very distracting element which diminished whatever art they hoped to achieve.

    Indeed, it was not until the invention/evolution of photography that the true pure aesthetic of B&W was discovered.

    Yes, while skeptics might argue that B&W photography was simply an interim step because the original chemistry did not yet permit the rendering of light onto the chemical media in color - the true believers knew otherwise.

    They had discovered MONOCHROME.

    In fact, they had discovered that there really was no color in the world at all!

    Nonetheless, luddite elements infested the photographic community and ultimately created film-based emulsions which were capable of rendering color. Of course, this was a shocking turn of events because it meant one could produce photographs that did not actually represent monochrome reality at all - but instead presented a false "colorful" world.

    Fortunately, we have now come to our senses and recognized that color is not a reality at all. It is merely a distraction.

    This is why you never see color photos in newspapers and magazines anymore. And certainly, the web remains a bastion of monochromism along with television, both broadcast and cable.

    Yes, color has been banished as a false god. We can now all dress in black clothes as if we were artistes living in NYC's East Village circa 1983.

    Isn't it wonderful? :rolleyes: :D
     
  19. Jon King

    Jon King Member

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    George,

    I'm really sorry, but your explanation of the world just flies in the face of how I understand color and black & white to be.....
    http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1100879

    If I need to choose between you and Calvin.... sorry.. :tongue:

    On a more serious note, I agree the posters that feel that good B&W images emphasize the shapes, the tones, and texture. I think that compelling color images are harder to make, since the the color needs to enhance the other aspects of the picture, not detract from it. I do hope to get better at it - I'm taking some color photography classes at a local art college - perhaps I'll get it some day.
     
  20. Videbaek

    Videbaek Member

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    Cheers "copake ham" for the blunt-force sarcasm, enjoyed that. I agree with your sentiment. I've heard quite a few photographers say "I just don't like colour" and, after my gag reflex has abated, I just shake my head internally. It doesn't matter. I guess B & W work is habit-forming because it's easy and cheap to develop films yourself ... heck, this is probably true of me. And it's probably a good thing for photography that quite a few good photographers work only in B & W.
     
  21. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I'll take the liberty of changing the original question from, "What are my thoughts on how I feel when viewing B&W vs. color" to "What are my thoughts on how I feel when viewing ANY PHOTOGRAPH."

    Initially, I do not "think". I "feel" - accept the emotional stimulus afforded by the work - or try to. The way this works - I can honestly say that I do not know. The study of perception in itself and its effect on the human psyche is a fascinating one, and like most studies in the area called Psyche, or Soul, or Being - are nearly - or in fact, absolutely - deviod of any sort of concrete proof.

    So far, I have come to the conclusion that color photographs and black and white photographs are different in their effect. I have seen listings of the effects of color - and have read many theories - but, without proof, the WHY remains a mystery - and a delicious one at that.

    I LOVE color - as much as I love black and white ... or monochrome, or sculpture or dance - or drama - or comedy ...

    Why do I have to know WHY???
     
  22. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Svend,

    As you can see from Jon's post - my idea was certainly not original. In fact, I had some memory of the Calvin and Hobbes comicstrip story he links to, though not the actual link itself and kind of turned the logic around. "C and H" used to be one of my favorite comic strips. Bill Watterson's wit and wisdom is well regarded:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvin_and_Hobbes

    It's too bad he felt burnt out and stopped the strip.

    I shoot both B&W and color, BTW. :smile:
     
  23. manfromh

    manfromh Member

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    People have said that creating a good b&w image is harder than creating a good color image. I see it the other way around. I think it takes a better photographer to create a powerful color image, where color adds to the emotion and doesnt take it away. I hope that made sense. I personally have created more b&w images I'm happy with, than color images.
     
  24. sun of sand

    sun of sand Member

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    "color theory" Colors have weight in their value. Too close a shade and the work is muddled. Just the right color in the right place and you have vibrancy and motion. You apply a filter with B&W to approximate color weights. Without the filter the image is/can be muddled. Apply a red filter and green falls back
    apply a green filter and green comes to the front ..or you could skip that chapter and just say the tones separate in much the same way as they do in color for us.
    I don't believe there is any difference. Using black and white film is just a new way of seeing color. I often take Color photos and simply desaturate em to see if there is any difference ..none. A good color photograph will make a good B&W same as a good color painting will make a good B&W painting. There is a reason why there are filters and that reason is "Contrast"
    Same reason for why always using a dark red filter isn't the best thing to do ..eventhough it seems "really cool" to do just that.
    B&W gives you the ability to paint a little bit and color is more like finding a painting
     
  25. roteague

    roteague Member

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    One has emotion, depth and a sense of power ... the other just lacks color. :tongue:
     
  26. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

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    I completely disagree. Many really great color photographs lack the kind of lighting that gives soul to a B&W shot. And there are plenty of situations in which a B&W fails to communicate in the way that color can. The two are not the same thing, and not at all interchangeable IMO.

    One major reason that I work in B&W is that it is less literal than color. If I'm photographing a child, I'm looking to say something about childhood in general, or maybe my own childhood, and monochrome is a big part of that. I like images that feel like distant memories.

    - CJ