Thinking in B&W has become such a habit for menover the years that I must force myself to think and shot in colour. You are not alone in that regard. For me to load a camera with colour film means that I will have film in that camera much longer than if it were B&W. Obviously I see in colour but when I am looking for subjects to shoot everything seems to render to shades of grey so needless to say I don't load much colour except for when I KNOW the subjects will be in colour. My point is, you are not alone.
Thy heart -- thy heart! -- I wake and sigh,
And sleep to dream till day
Of the truth that gold can never buy
Of the bawbles that it may.
Not "seeing" in color and not "seeing" in B&W is generally not the problem. It is typically an excuse for not matching your previsualizations with your desired results. Photography, color or monochrome, is by definition, "writing with light" – not seeing color or tones of grey.
The remedy is to begin and practice seeing light. The distribution (or compostion) and range of light (any inferences intended), both color and monochrome, will fall into line naturally once you command light. Use your spotmeter while dry shooting to begin to understand where and of what intensity the light is. A study of the Zone System (AA's "The Negative") will be helpful in this regard if you have no innate ability to judge light by eye and heart.
I was thinking about this today and I think it comes down for me to the following example: I can make a photo I'm happy with under constant lighting (under a cloudy sky for instance) that "works" in color. Imagine a collection of colors arranged together. It can work (for my eye at least) even though the light is constant. Such a photo would fail (again, for my eye) in black and white. Textures work, tonal variations work, and such. But I have an easier time with color as a thematic construct. Without the color, I produce nice stuff, sometimes good, but not often stuff I'm happy with because it's black and white, often it's good despite the fact that it's black and white.
Maybe it sounds silly, but I feel like I don't know how to make a descent photo in b&w under constant light.
In my opinion, B&W is about shape and contrast, colour is about well - harmony in colour. B&W is the percussion section and colour is the strings. To the human eye, vibrant colours- especially red (blood or ripe fruit for a hunting primate) will completely dominate a scene. When you switch from shooting in B&W to colour you need to concentrate on how a single splash of bright colour will distract from shape and tone while going in the other direction you need to learn to ignore the distracting bright red, if it is going to be just an insignificant middle grey in your print.
It's possible to learn to go to and fro but maybe the best work comes from sticking firmly to one or the other to avoid artistic confusion.
That's very true Steve, I find that it takes a different thought process to see colour contrast and complementary colours that make a successful colour photograph than the masses, contrasts and tones of a monochrome picture, it's a different mindset .
Originally Posted by Sirius Glass
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While I agree with your post in general, I don't agree with that statement above. I probably should have written the original post in a way that better described the issue as I see it. I realize that light is light and thanks to Mr. Adams' books as well as others, I think I do an okay job of seeing light. The issue, for me anyway, is more of a mental block due to having to deal with a new element in the target image. I am getting better at matching my final results with my pre-visualizations in b&w. The issue with color is that I'm still visualizing in b&w. As I said before, I'm sure everything will be fine once I get used to the process and the materials.
Originally Posted by ROL
Here's an image off of one of my first 5 rolls of Kodak Gold processed in a CPP-2 with JOBO C-41 press kit. It's a model of a chemical lattice in the Science Tunnel in Cali, Colombia. Since I was part of a walking tour I didn't have time to think and got a better result than I expected. Exp: 1/50, f2.5 with ETTL flash.
Colour is easier to see in, in my own experience. The simple reason why I wind up doing mostly b&w is that I can't manage the colour workflow all the way through on my own. So I prefer colour slides and fujiroids because then I can at least get a finished product in my hands without investing in ilfo etc.
Originally Posted by rcam72
Anyway... with all due respect to ROL's comments in post 13 above, I'll just restate a basic point: in b&w, many tones can be transformed into another simply by adding or subtracting light on the subject. In colour, that's not true at all; if you add light to blue you just get (lighter) blue etc.... you just get the different shades and tones and not a different hue like red or green or whatever. So the relationships between the hues are very different from the relationship between (b&w) tones. It takes more than added or subtracted white light to relate them.
On the subject of how to "see" a colour composition, let me suggest looking for compelling combinations of shapes and tones, just as you would with b&w.
To help with that, here's a compositional exercise that may prove useful or at least amusing. Find a compelling subject and defocus so that you don't see sharp boundaries but rather see blurred images through the lens. This may help you to see how the colours interact rather than all the minor complexities.
This little exercise works with b&w too, of course.