View Full Version : Abstraction via black and white

David Brown
02-21-2011, 12:57 PM
In the quote thread, Maris said:

Black and white involves luminance pictures rather than chrominance pictures. Luminance only pictures do not get sent to the brainís visual lobes for interpretation but instead to the part of the brain that unravels abstractions; a very rich mental experience compared to the mere naming of subject matter.

This rings a dim bell in the far reaches of my mind. :confused: Is this true? Can anyone comment on the science or psychology behind this? If it is accurate, it explains a lot about the attraction of black and white.

02-21-2011, 01:21 PM
As a psychology major, I will say that asserting "luminance only picutres do not get sent to the brain's visual lobes..." is bordering on rubbish.

At night, our cones are largely inactive and thus we are effectively only seeing with out rods, or "luminance" receptors. Does this mean that our visual cortex is not stimulated? Heck no! Any signal from our eyes will be sent to our visual cortex; afterall it's vision.

And just because we are looking at a black & white print, it does not mean we are somehow only seeing luminance. We are still seeing color, granted the subject is relatively neutral, but our cones are doing the heavy lifting even when looking at b&w.

I think it's a beautiful analogy about the power of black & white, but from a physiological standpoint it doesn't hold water.

David Brown
02-22-2011, 06:22 AM
... from a physiological standpoint it doesn't hold water.

Thanks. I suspected as much.

Anyone else?

01-06-2013, 01:26 PM
Just happened upon this thread. Interesting subject.

... from a physiological standpoint it doesn't hold water.

Thanks. I suspected as much.

Anyone else?

Personally, I think the black and white image removes the distraction of color. In a color image, the subject matter can often be overwhelmed by the color itself. Color can overwhelm my perception of light and shadow. In a color image, I want my focus to be on the subject—anything else should simply add mood. Background material should not be too busy. This is why I feel it necessary to have as narrow a depth of field as possible when doing people shots in color.

In black and white, the lack of color distraction gives me more opportunity to enjoy the visceral nature of light and shadow. Things become more poignant, more striking. I can't quantify what it is I see (or don't see) other than to say it's simpler.

I guess that I could say it's like the difference between watching baseball and (american) football.

01-06-2013, 01:36 PM
Black & white is often much stronger than colour, as it allows us to see composition and structure in a simplified way. In short a sharper cut to the chase message for the brain.

01-06-2013, 04:08 PM
... from a physiological standpoint it doesn't hold water.

The physiological standpoint is limited and twisted by default.

What was quoted in the 1st post is being know and used heavily in cinematography for decades.