Lighting and B&W

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by marsbars, Aug 3, 2009.

  1. marsbars

    marsbars Member

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    I read everywhere about the sweet light, the color temperature of light, etc. Does the color of light make any difference with black and white. I mean does B&W really care if I shoot at dawn, or noon, or even at civil twilight? I know that the different times of the day give different shadows and angles.
    I recently went to a seminar on shooting flowers and the speakers made the comment about shooting only on overcast days or before dawn so that the light was mute, or at least using a diffuser to even the light if it is bright out.
    Does the quality of light affect the way that the tones of gray are represented from the real colors in a scene?
     
  2. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Contrast of the light obviously matters. The color of the light matters too; depending on the film you are using different colors will show up different tones in the print. You might find that your film is slower in tungsten light than in daylight because some films are somewhat less red-sensitive. You can adjust tonality radically by using different colored filters.
     
  3. wogster

    wogster Member

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    It can, few if any B&W films ever made, have exactly the same colour response between blue, green and red light, so the same scene shot on a sunny summer day at noon when there is a lot of blue in the light and the same shot just before sunset or just after sunrise when the light is redder will look different. Direct sunlight can produce very harsh shadows, carrying a diffuser or reflector can help even things out, so can fill flash. If you only shoot on overcast, but rain free days, you don't end up shooting very much.
     
  4. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Yes, definitely. And for this reason, people do use colour filters with b&w films... particularly with panchromatic b&w films.

    However, b&w photographers are generally concerned with the relative weights of the tones and the contrast between them... not absolute tone accuracy. That is a big difference between b&w and colour photography.

    A coarse example: if you saw a colour photograph with a red sky and red clouds, you'd probably consider it unrealistic. But it is quite common for people to place a red filter over b&w film to separate the clouds from the sky on the tone scale.

    So the roles of filtration in colour and in b&w photography are very different. In colour work, filters are typically used to manipulate the colour temperature, e.g. to permit more accurate recording of all the colours and/or to provide a warming or cooling effect***. In b&w work, it's more about controlling where the different colours will fall on the tone scale.... and there are no absolutes. In b&w, a colour can be translated into white or black or anything in between... it all depends on what role you want it to play in your image, and how you light and filter and expose to make that happen.


    *** P.S. this is not to say that colour photography has to be literal, it certainly does not!
     
  5. Thomas Wilson

    Thomas Wilson Member

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    The short answer is yes, B&W film does really care. Using colored filters in B&W photography gives you significant control over contrast and to a lesser degree, control over shadow detail. This is true in landscape and portrait photography.

    There are as many guides to filter use for B&W shooting as there are filters to chose.

    You mentioned color temperature specifically. Cool white fluorescent lamps (4100°K), for example, will almost never be used in a deli meat case because the cool color temperature sucks all of the red out of the meat on display, leaving a dull, grey unappetizing slab of mystery meat.

    You might notice that your complexion looks a little ashen or that you seem to have aged a dozen or so years if you are used to the lights in your home bathroom, and then find your self in the mirror in a rest stop bathroom on the interstate.

    Whether you shoot the slab of mystery meat or a self portrait under the nasty, lifeless available light, your black & white film will record the textures and contrast pretty much as you see them.

    Most of the new compact fluorescent lamps are color balanced to be between 4100°K-4200°K. Yet another reason to stock up on incandescent lamps.

    I generally use a light yellow filter when photographing women and children.
     
  6. Bruce Watson

    Bruce Watson Member

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    John Sexton produced a book decades ago called Quiet Light. It's the visual expression of an idea he has. He really likes to shoot B&W in very low light -- very soft, but not necessarily very flat. He does produce some very calming images this way.

    There is a whole school of thought that one should only shoot on overcast days or at dawn or dusk to "control" contrast -- that is, to limit the subject brightness range (SBR) to make it easy to capture on film. This I think is a holdover from times when we didn't understand how to control the resulting density range on the film, and from color shooters from the days when color films didn't have the dynamic range to handle large SBRs. For color negatives those days are past. Modern tranny film is still limited in the SBRs they can handle; some can only handle SBRs of 3 or 4 stops.

    Interesting to note that photographers like Adams made some of their greatest images in full midday sun however. They took advantage of the high SBR to show light and shadow, and to show texture. But as you say that's not the "current style". Except for a few of us rebels who actually like sunlight.

    Of course, different lighting is required for different scenes. It largely depends on what you are trying to do. Dappled sunlight is a nightmare for a portrait session for example -- bright spots on the bride's face aren't going to cut it. But it may work fine for that shot of the river splashing among the boulders, and give you a completely different feeling than an overcast day. Bright vs. somber and all that.

    What people are trying to do is to get you to recognize that different light has different effects on the scene. And really, you photograph light, so you need to get to really know and understand light.

    As to the color of light for B&W shooting. Of course the color of light matters. And as the color changes the grayscale tonal relationships change with it. That's why color filters (reds, oranges, yellows, etc.) work with B&W. More things to learn and understand about light.
     
  7. jford

    jford Member

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    Whenever I look at a photo and like it, I'm reminded of the fact that it's all about light. Sometimes it's easy to think that it's just a matter of recording the thing you're looking at on film, and what you're looking at might be an interesting pattern or form, but the light makes the difference between a vaguely interesting picture and a great one.

    I keep trying to find the time to experiment with light. The problem is the best light always happens at the kids dinner time, so I'm not out in it nearly enough. Ah well, soon.

    John.