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  1. #1

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    To shoot Color or B&W, that is the question

    Finally finished off the roll of slide film I stuck in the camera at Christmastime. I have a roll of Velvia 100, a roll of Provia 100F and a roll of Tri-X sitting here, and wasn't sure what to load for my son's birthday party next week. So I borrowed his d*g*t*l P&S and went out this evening around sunset and took pictures of 3 or 4 scenes. One picture of each scene was in color, the other in B&W. I then asked him which one he liked better from each scene, the color or the B&W. He said color every time. I asked him why and he said "I don't like B&W."

    I showed the same scenes to his older sister, and every time she said "B&W." I asked her why, and this is what she said (she will be 16 this year): "B&W is more artistic. If you take a picture of a cat in color, it's a picture of a cat. If you do it in B&W, it looks more artistic. Same with a building. In color, it's just a picture of a building. In B&W, it's more artistic." I guess I should've figured this out when she took some of her color d*g*t*l pictures and had them printed B&W.

    So I will be shooting the Provia for my son's birthday (did I mention he loves projected slides?) and will hang on to the Tri-X for my daughter's birthday (unless I shoot it before then, in which case I'll have to get some more.)

    ME Super

  2. #2
    flatulent1's Avatar
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    I used to stumble over that question all the time. I solved it by carrying two bodies with me; a modern electronic camera with fancy metering for color, and an olde relic for b&w. Couple of primes and I'm all set. Or if MF, two or three backs do the trick. Rather a pain in the rear to try to do that at a birthday party though.

    Your daughter's remark about b&w being more 'artistic' is interesting... I agree, in a way, but I wouldn't put it quite so boldly as that... but then I'm not a 16 year old girl. It's sure nice to know beforehand!
    Fred Latchaw
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    I am beginning to resent being referred to as 'half-fast'.
    Whatever that's supposed to mean.

  3. #3
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Shooting something in b&w doesn't automatically make it more artistic!

    Anyway... you can make beautiful b&w images from color slides. Try it: you just enlarge a slide onto a panchromatic b&w film. You can play color filtering and focus games if you wish. In the end, you get a nice big neg that you can use for contact prints.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  4. #4
    Roger Cole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keithwms View Post
    Shooting something in b&w doesn't automatically make it more artistic!

    Anyway... you can make beautiful b&w images from color slides. Try it: you just enlarge a slide onto a panchromatic b&w film. You can play color filtering and focus games if you wish. In the end, you get a nice big neg that you can use for contact prints.
    No, it doesn't. But the daughter probably hadn't thought to articulate it any further. What she probably meant was that black and white is an abstraction.

    Of course no color film or sensor renders the scene perfectly the same color we perceive, and some like Velvia are pretty overt abstractions of their own, but more in the way of exaggeration than abstraction. With the color information gone black and white becomes much more about form and light and shadow.

    I'll have to experiment with black and white internegs like that. I really miss Panalure - the last version which was pretty darned good, not the older not so good versions. Mostly when I shoot color now it's Portra 400 or Ektar 100; wonderful films but not the easiest thing to convert to black and white, short of hybrid workflows.

  5. #5
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Cole View Post
    No, it doesn't. But the daughter probably hadn't thought to articulate it any further. What she probably meant was that black and white is an abstraction.
    True. But I think there is a bit of a learned reaction that people simply parrot: color is photojournalism and b&w is art. If enough people believe that and the imagery surrounding you confirms that, then it must be so! The thing is, a 16 year old of today may not have experienced the daily b&w newspaper that most of us grew up with. A lot of us grew up seeing photojournalistic b&w imagery.... do we think of newspaper images as an abstraction?

    Anyway, I didn't intend to run this innocent thread off the rails, I'll just mention that I wrote some rough thoughts on this in a blog post here entitled "What's so special About black and white?". I think there are many things to think about more deeply in the color / b&w discussion. Comments very welcome.

    ~~~

    Again, ME, you can get beautiful b&w images from color slides, via enlarged negs. And the gods of E6 won't smite you (although the gods of b&w might well, for some of my colleagues have deemed this process of conversion to be impure...! But I have found that reciting a dozen Hail Ansels usually takes care of that) If you do play with this, I suggest using Astia as your slide, if you can get some. Japan Exposures has plenty, and lots of other cool stuff too. Watch the exchange rate, sometimes you get really good deals. And Dirk is very nice.
    Last edited by keithwms; 01-17-2012 at 08:28 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  6. #6
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    I think that the OP's daughter is entitled to think that B&W is more artistic. It's her opinion, after all, and how she likes it.

    To me it's very sweet and thoughtful to ask the kids what they like better. They may not care today or five years from now, but maybe 20-30 years down the road, those pictures will be precious to them, and they might even remember the thoughtful discussion they had with dad about 'color or b&w'.

    To me, I just shoot in black and white without asking.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  7. #7
    keithwms's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson View Post
    I think that the OP's daughter is entitled to think that B&W is more artistic. It's her opinion, after all, and how she likes it.
    Of course. But opinions evolve as they become more informed. And as you are surely aware, some young people (not necessarily the OP's daughter, who I am sure is lovely and wise) assume that they can select "greyscale" in PS and instantly transform a lowly colour image into high art. It's up to more experienced photographers to patiently counsel otherwise.

    And, truth be told: even among the sage elders I have detected the learned response that b&w is art and colour is journalism. It's high time to challenge that perception, particularly now that the existence of colour analogue photography is so directly threatened.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  8. #8
    eurekaiv's Avatar
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    Art is about intent not any specific lack or spate of color. The idea that B&W is somehow more artistic is absurd. Are your kids taking art classes in High School? It sounds a bit like something a teacher might have spoken about and had misinterpreted by students who generally only focus on what a teacher is saying for around 2.4% of a 50 minute class period. I say this because I pretty much had opinions just like this when I was 16—along with my Salvador Dali book and MC Escher poster on the wall.
    Sometimes I post my photos on flickr.
    Sometimes I update my tumblr.

  9. #9
    Aristophanes's Avatar
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    Shoot both!

    A variety of art and a variety in art. Why limit yourself?

    The problem is in the question.

  10. #10
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eurekaiv View Post
    Art is about intent not any specific lack or spate of color. The idea that B&W is somehow more artistic is absurd. Are your kids taking art classes in High School? It sounds a bit like something a teacher might have spoken about and had misinterpreted by students who generally only focus on what a teacher is saying for around 2.4% of a 50 minute class period. I say this because I pretty much had opinions just like this when I was 16—along with my Salvador Dali book and MC Escher poster on the wall.
    With the addition of 'I think'.... (that b&w is more artistic) it stops being absurd.

    Art has no absolutes, and everybody is free to think what they want. While I have met many wonderfully mature 16 or so years old people, it's easy to take such a stance at that age. I think it's appropriate to cut them some slack and let them shape their opinion and appreciation over the coming years of their lives, same as you and I were hopefully allowed to do. I think back at some things I said when I was even 20 or 25 years old, and cringe at what came out of my mouth.

    Art is perhaps about intent, but it's also about opinion regarding appreciating it.
    However, in this case, it is about picking color or b&w for birthday pictures.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

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