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  1. #1
    darinwc's Avatar
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    help in explaining the emotional difference in B&W vs. Color

    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. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by darinwc View Post
    When I use PS to convert a color image to B&W, one image is not inherently beter than the other... they are different.
    Yes, they are different and require intention in order to decide which.
    "Pictures are not incidental frills to a text; they are essences of our distinctive way of knowing." Stephen J. Gould

  3. #3
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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....
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  4. #4
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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. #5
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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?

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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

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  8. #8
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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.
    Paul

  9. #9
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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?
    Last edited by keithwms; 09-11-2007 at 08:22 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  10. #10
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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.
    Last edited by JBrunner; 09-11-2007 at 12:59 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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