Colored filters in black and white street photography
Do you generally use a yellow or orange filter when taking street candids outside, or is the loss of a stop or two not worth it? I personally find white skies distracting and always enjoy a bit of dynamic between the sky and clouds. I find that most shots are taken without a filter, however I occasionally come across a few that are just so dynamic thanks to the sky.
I use a yellow filter for my 35mm street, but colored filters are very expensive for my P67 lenses, so my MF street goes unfiltered. I also love the heightened contrast, but I think for street, it is more important to get close to the people and try to minimize the amount of sky in my photos.
Generally for me, if I use anything on the street, it will be exactly the opposite: a green-yellow or a blue filter. A Wratten #11 is pretty much the only filter I use hand held, but I also use a #80A sometimes. The 80A is actually a color conversion filter for color film, but I use it in lieu of a "proper" blue filter intended for b/w photography, which would be a #47, I believe.
Warm filters are a great way to darken shaded areas. This may be quite harmful in many street pictures, and awesome in others. You have to think about it shot by shot.
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A yellow filter will correct the spectral sensitivity of B&W film a bit closer to that of our eyes. It won't do much for for blue skies and nothing for bright skies. If you suffer from harsh contrasts in your street photography, you may be interested in trying XP2. It has a high sensitivity and can deal with contrast like no other film I know.
Originally Posted by Krzys
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Orange darkens the blue sky more than yellow, but increases contrast and changes the way B&W film sees color.
Originally Posted by Krzys
I have a suspicion that high contrast is your real issue. Bright skies are not helped by filers, other than maybe a graduate filter. If you hesitate to use XP2, forget the filter idea and try a high-speed film like an ASA 400 and overexpose it by a stop (use it at 200), shorten the development by about 20% and you will get more control over shadows and highlights during printing.
If in doubt, overexpose and under-develop!
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And I would definitely bear in mind filter factors if you generally shoot a faster shutter speed.
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I would suggest that Ralph is on the money when he suggests that high contrast is more than likely your problem.
I myself often use an orange filter for popping out clouds, or lightening brickwork, or cliff faces that are orange (sort of) coloured.
If I'm shooting people then I find a yellow/green filter can be very useful, but be wary of certain coloured clothing going very light sometimes.
Ralph's suggestion of reducing your film speed and development is sound. I myself, depending on the contrast of the day will rate my street film, which is Neopan 400, at 400 on a cloudy day, 320 for cloudy bright, 250 for fairly bright and 200 for really bright, which in Melbourne at 38º latitude in midsummer, is very contrasty. Much more contrast than in Germany, where I have spent considerable time shooting over the last 25 years on holidays.
Generally I find that I can almost always print within ½ a paper grade for most of my negatives. That is, I print virtually all negatives between grade 3 to grade 3½ on my colour head. Sometimes I find I am right in the middle on grade 3¼ very rarely do I need to go to grade 2¾.
With a bit of practice you will find what works for you, once there, you will know.
Last edited by Mick Fagan; 09-03-2009 at 06:22 AM. Click to view previous post history.
"A yellow filter will correct the spectral sensitivity of B&W film a bit closer to that of our eyes. It won't do much for for blue skies and nothing for bright skies."
A yellow filter will darken the sky a bit. Yellow is, after all, minus blue. I often use a light yellow filter to bring clouds out a bit by darkening the sky slightly.
Are clouds standing out against a darker sky the main concern in street photography?
I think 2F's suggestion of using a blue filter is good.
Shadows and shade have a bigger blue content, and using a yellow or orange filter deepens them even more.
But if, as was in the question, you like to darken a blue sky, there is no way round a yellow (or yellow-green) or orange filter.