The Decision: Whether to Shoot in Black and White or Colo(u)r
A Qualifier: This question is directed to those who shoot both colour and black and white film.
As noted in my signature, I am a fan of a number of different films, both colour and black and white. The decision on which to shoot - a colour emulsion or a black and white one - is often determined by the particular subject matter I happen to be shooting. Generally, if I am shooting people, the nod will go to colour. Landscape work is also usually colour, while architecture could be either. "Fine art" is generally shot in black and white. Candid "street photography" (especially in the winter months) is also generally shot in monochrome. Yet, the key here is "generally." Having shot now for over three decades, my photo instincts often seem to determine which I will shoot. It almost seems at times a matter of "knowing" that something should be captured either in colour or black and white. Still, there are occasions where instincts fail, and I will shoot the same subject - if possible to do so - both in colour and in black and white. Viewed together, I will often - but not always - prefer one rendering to another. Have others out there had similar experiences where you just could not decide - at the moment - whether to shoot in colour or monochrome, so opted (and were able) to shoot both ?
An assortment of F-series Nikons (F to F6, excluding the F4) with quite a few Nikkors, a pair of M6s with some Leitz glass, a pair of 500c/ms with a wide range of Zeiss optics and, just to help keep Duracell solvent, a D800.
Favourite films: (1). KE ("Kodachrome Era"): 35mm: PKM25 and PKR64, HP5/Tri-X; 120: PKR64, PanF, FP4. (2). PKE ("Post-Kodachrome Era"): (a) 35mm: E100G, HP5 Plus/Tri-X and Delta 3200; (b) 120: E100G, PanF Plus, FP4 Plus, TMax 100.
I usually prefer landscapes in BW unless really over-saturated. Also prefer BW for portraits. Colour film has been a revelation - much more than digital colour.
Definitely similar experiences to yours in terms of definite preference of one over the other. Although I haven't shot for as long as you've!
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I don't use color unless it's an important part of what I want to show. Fall colors for example. or it's something color that needs film, like a high contrast lighting situation that needs portra film and would be better in color film than digital, like kids playing in the snow on a sunny day.
Otherwise, for 90% of my photos, B&W is easier to show tones, shapes, people without worrying about meanings of color, distractions of colors, color temp/white balance, etc...
I use B&Wfor land and body scapes an d digital color for almost everything else, but recently gotten into converting digital color to monochrome a lot.Either way, my output is mostly monochrome; just the way I seem to 'see'.
for me it is mostly b/w because i process my own b/w and don't really have
a lab i trust near me to deal with bigger than 35mm cn + e6 film
although somethings where the color really makes the image
i expose in color ... using an electronic gizmo ..
in the last year though, i have started to hand color ( well, sort of ) some of my b/w images
so in the end maybe i should fix the seals on my unicolor drum account for temperature shift and start processing my own color ..
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I too prefer B&W but ... The criterion that I use to decide is whether the subject is enhanced by the use of color. For example I have a photograph of a group of canoes pulled up on the back of a river. Each of them is a different brilliant color. In B&W the photo would be fairly pedestrian but in color each canoe is unique and catches the eye.
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Every time I think I have a general answer to this question, I find another exception. I tend to shoot landscapes in b&w...wait, except for this kind and that kind and...you know, when you come right down to it I decide completely on a case-by-case basis.
When I try both on the same subject, I'm often surprised by the results. Had I but world enough and time, I'd double-dip in color and b&w most of the time, just in case.
San Diego, CA, USA
The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
-The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_
I find color much more time consuming to print so I stick with B&W. I have not printed color since Cibachrome went away.
My decisions as to what type of film I use has nothing to do with subject matter and everything to do with my mood that day. I have been shooting almost entirely colour for the last couple of months and have this last week started seeing mono pictures while out and about so I shall no doubt be shooting mono when current films are used up.
Like you say, mostly "instinct", or a particular scene cries out for one or the other. Or mood. Or what's loaded right now
Obviously if colour relationships in the scene are important (or are clashing) then that might make the decision for you. Or if you want to emphasise form, texture and light, likewise. They're the easy cases.
I find it often goes well if I decide to deliberately shoot it the "wrong" way, e.g. spectacular sunsets in monochrome. With a concerted effort to make a photo work, you can often get a better image than you might have otherwise with the default approach.