Photographing for Black & White or Colour | 35:Chronicle

35mm, black & white, boats, close-up, colour, infrared, landscape, nature, photography, spring, summer, waterscape

Discussing the Age-Old Debate.


Not wishing to make it sound like I’m imagining the two forms in a boxing ring, I use the word ‘or‘ instead of ‘versus‘. It’s not a win or lose decision, nor should it be a fight between the two so, I’ll get this said right off the bat – there’s absolutely no wrong answer. The simple reason for this is that both colour and monochrome have their place in photography and this has always been the case since the advent of colour photography back in 1861. We see in colour, for one thing, so that alone should give colour output the edge, right? Well, as it happens, no, not at all. What I’m hoping to achieve here is to pass on a collection of my own personal, simple thoughts on a subject that never seems to go away, and, which may help anyone considering this very question with the intent of applying such notions to their own work. Although it’s a question that I have considered during almost every shoot or processing session, I believe, for myself at least – that I have simplified the issue to a point that now, for me, it’s no longer a difficult decision. Perhaps this will help others too and, whilst I may not be considered an authority on the subject, well over twenty years behind the lens affords me a pretty full insight. Pinch of salt, an’ all that – but read on if you’re interested.

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In the Dog-House? | 720nm Infrared

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You may have gotten bored already and zipped down the page, noticing that I have only posted black and white images here. This is deliberate. No, I do not shun colour output, nor do I dislike it. I simply feel that if colour output is desired, the colours in the frame should be the sole reason I realised that I wanted to create it in the first place. Whilst I might produce an aesthetically pleasing BW from the colour RAW too, this would not discourage me from preferring the colour version. I’m getting a little ahead of myself at this point, so let me back-up a tad. What I should have said was that, I prefer black and white output, black and white prints, even previewing in black and white in camera. My brain just seems to think better in black and white. But it’s not for everyone and, learning to see light and dark colours as shades of grey came with time – but it’s how my brain interprets a scene more naturally than it does so at interpreting and processing colour, unless, the colours create something special. But black and white should not be (as it so often is) seen as the grail, in photography or, the best way to see an image. I can understand why many do, and yet, I also – can’t. It’s subjective, of course. Like colour, it’s a mode of expression, often over or under utilised. I know this to be true because I have been very guilty of this, too many times. 

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Horse-Chestnut or, Sticky Bud.

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For sure, the very first reason anyone should create either in colour or monochrome is – personal preference. However, I find colour distracting, largely unimportant and, mostly unnecessary; in the main. As one having way more than a passing interest in photography, my learned and experienced notions of light, composition, message and interpretation, contrast, texture, scene or frame interest – all of these things and more besides, reside in my brain and help me to make what I hope to be a successful image. Whether there is colour or not, doesn’t even become a consideration to me, unless, as I have mentioned, the colours have shouted at me already. Sometimes they do, mostly though, they don’t. If I make a shit frame – it’s my own fault and in no way is the presence or absence of colour responsible for it. 

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The Wellspring | Full-Spectrum.

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Rather than wax-on, paragraph by paragraph (the last thing I wish to induce is reader-fatigue, or even worse, your waking up to find your keyboard imprinted on your forehead!) – I shall instead, bullet the main points which I believe are most conducive to each output. Please remember, these are simply elements which work for me and, I speak for or against no-one else’s opinion. Hopefully, some of this will explain itself. 


Considerations for Colour Output:

  • Personal preference (either for screen viewing or, for actual prints).
  • When more accurate or  representational reproduction is required.
  • When presenting colours and shades create a desired contrast by their very existence (in other words, the colours are the actual reason you make the frame).
  • When the distraction of colour does not overpower the message of the image.
  • When a potentially lesser contrasty or less punchy image is desired – where heavier contrast would interfere with colour intensity, textures or overall / general dynamics.
  • Lower ISO usage where higher ISOs would increase colour noise (though with good APS-C and FF sensors, this is way less of an issue than it once was).
  • When shooting longer wavelength IR.

Considerations for Black & White Output:

  • Personal preference (either for screen viewing or actual prints).
  • When a more ‘artistic’ look and/or feel is required. No, colour is not unartistic per-se, but the brain processes in colour and therefore, any black and white image causes it to reinterpret in, for want of a better description, a more artistic way. 
  • When the removal of colour allows for greater appreciation and, undestracted absorption of the content.
  • When greater contrast may be utilised to increase the punch of an image.
  • When shooting at higher film speeds where otherwise shooting on colour would not necessarily be conducive to higher noise values.
  • When the content of the image speaks for itself and does not require the use of colour to emphasise itself.
  • To remove the illusion or potential appearance of an era or time-frame; this is dependent on content, of course.
  • When WB cannot be pre-set accurately or, is unlikely to be achieved in post.
  • When content, light, contrast and texture are the image key there is often little requirement for colour.
  • When shooting infrared: longer wavelengths can yield pleasant faux-colour results with knowledge and experience, shorter wavelengths, less so, once you head north of 720nm.

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Telford Woz ‘ere… | 720nm Infrared.

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Many of these elements are of course, by our own nature and preferences, completely subjective and your views or interpretations may differ; though not all of these principles can work for every subject, I have found them to be extremely useful for me as starting points when I make the choice to reproduce in either colour or monochrome. For posts containing glorious colour please take a look at any of these posts: Travelling Light, Closer Still(s) PT.IIPT.IIIPT.IV or, click the colour tag on any of my entries and, feel free to have a mooch. If you got this far – thanks for bearing with me (and, I’m sure that those little square imprints in your forehead will disappear shortly!)

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14 thoughts on “Photographing for Black & White or Colour | 35:Chronicle

    1. I think your comment is the highest praise possible to receive.. and I’m taken aback. I certainly prefer black and white. It challenges me more and I get to think about tones rather than colour. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. But the challenge is always present, and I love it. I am delighted to know that some of my frames reach out. Thank you.. Seriously, thank you! 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Alena. I do think that a shot in colour should be colour for that reason and, in black and white such frames tend to look, to me, also, very ‘flat’.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think monochrome or colour it’s just a choice and a person can make a lot of choices in his or her life.
    I like colour film, but I can’t develop it by myself and make prints. And I think that it’s a bit useless thing to shoot on film in order to just scan this film later. During my internship in a photography museum I saw a lot of analog colour prints. And unfortunately, 30 years or even less is enough to destroy colours. They are seen of course but they are different (though someone could like it anyway). Colour films die faster too. That’s why I shoot in colour in digital. Because I think I could keep files somewhere and print them one more time if it’s needed. But anyway I’d like to make a colour print once if I’ll have such an opportunity. And I wish to shoot on a colour film more. Haha 🙂 Just because colours are amazing. It’s just extremely important to stop thinking in black and white when you shoot in colour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Alena. I do agree that it has all to do with personal preference and of course, you’re absolutely right about the curse of time on colour film images. Way back when I shot using film, even then, black and white was my choice of output and shot very few colour colour rolls. The beauty of shooting digital, and also taking into account that storage is so cheap now, storing RAWs is not an issue and we are in a time where we can easily eat our cake and, have it. Future softwares may allow us the ability to get even more out of those digital negatives and for colour shooting, who knows, maybe a new revelation could be on some distant horizon. For now, as for a long time, monochrome will remain my favourite, so long as colour isn’t my primary reason for making a frame. Then and only then, will I think in colour. Its a treat to have have the option to see one way. Or another.. Thank you., Alena, for your considered input! 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an interesting read. I’ve tried my luck at black and white photography and for some reason, they don’t turn out to be as captivating as yours. Perhaps, I need to get my perspectives right.

    I’ve looked at your other black and white pictures and they are indeed very powerful. As an example, the last picture in this post strongly reminded me of C.S Lewis’ The lion, the witch and the wardrobe. As a child, this was how I had imagined Narnia in winter. The first picture reminded my mom of a Famous Five or a Hercule Poirot setting. Lovely captures!

    Cheers
    Leah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Leah and, especially for your kind words. Like any behind a lens, however, there is always much still to learn and no two are ever at the same place. We all see and feel, interpret and portray – differently, and, reading your comments only remind me of what I went through in no short measure for many many years, and, still do today, when it comes to how I want always to improve. We all have our own perspective and approaches – not so much right or wrong, just different, Leah. I surmise that this is where the idea of ‘style’ comes from.

      Regarding your comment “tried my luck” – don’t see it as trying, see it as doing and push with the idea if that is the direction in which you wish to go for a while. Look for strong subjects, contrasting light and shadow or light and dark colours together (the top image was of a purpose-built dog-chapel made for a film set, and whilst I committed a cardinal sin in my book of over processing a little – something which I shy away from in the main yet felt it necessary due to extremely dull conditions barely lighting what I saw as a unique scene, it appeared to me immediately as an aesthetically apt mono-subject. Colour would have served no purpose, there). Strong lines and sharper light are also favourites for me but without wishing to ‘lead’, they are too, good things to look out for. There are many styles of black and white (as in a ‘feel’) and whatever you shoot, try processing for colour and for mono, keep both versions of each image and you will soon see what works for you, I am sure of it. Just remember to play around and have fun with it and don’t judge yourself too harshly when some don’t work out as you might have hoped. It truly is the best way to learn – by seeing what we don’t like, we eliminate little pieces of the undesired part of the equation every time. And it’s all for the good.

      Loved reading your comment re: CS Lewis – I never saw the image that way until you said it but I can get where you’re coming from. It’s a lovely little spot that screams out for the infrared treatment!

      Have a great week and thank you for following and getting in touch.

      Warmest.
      Robert.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Wow, that’s a precious piece of advice. There’s a personal testimony attached to each of your posts which I really enjoy.

      Over the years, my monochromes don’t seem to stand apart or resonate too strong a theme which I notice in yours and in some of the other professional works. Nevertheless, now that I can finally afford a better camera, I have decided to give it another shot. Thank you again!

      Best,
      Leah

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice as such, just pointers really and didn’t someone once say that free advice is usually worth what it costs? Like I say in post, pinch of salt, but if anything I post helps, great! Rest assured, your new camera won’t help you see any better, though it may help your workflow, so, I hope you get what you want, what you need to help you flourish. From what I see of your work, I think perhaps you judge yourself a little much but, don’t we all? We are our own worst critics and it’ll never change so long as we seek to improve. Another good thing, Leah.

      As an aside, I really appreciate that you see the personal in the impersonal. Our pictures are important to us but seldom to others and so, your comment resonated with me. Thank you! I love what I do and certainly don’t expect others to share my levels of enthusiasm. But it’s warming to know that something we do, reaches someone else in a positive way.

      Enjoy your week, Leah; and your new camera!
      Warm regards,
      Robert.

      Liked by 1 person

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