The Decision: Whether to Shoot in Black and White or Colo(u)r

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BradleyK

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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 ?
 

analoguey

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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!

Sent from my LT26i using Tapatalk
 

jp498

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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...
 

removed account4

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hi bradley
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 ..
 

Gerald C Koch

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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.
 

ntenny

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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.

-NT
 

ic-racer

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I find color much more time consuming to print so I stick with B&W. I have not printed color since Cibachrome went away.
 

Peltigera

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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.
 

polyglot

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Like you say, mostly "instinct", or a particular scene cries out for one or the other. Or mood. Or what's loaded right now :wink:

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.
 

ROL

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Having been through that rationalization myself, it finally came down to the realization that aesthetically, not commercially, I could no longer be drawn into rocks by the false, siren call of color while the open sea of pure light and shadow called. Other than sunsets, a hackneyed calendar subject of little legitimate photographic interest for me, I firmly believe that color work is now almost entirely and firmly within the domain of digital. Your "instinctual knowing" which style to shoot seems a purely personal justification. Nothing wrong with that, but frankly, I would posit that if you cannot decide upon two identical compositions, one color and one not, you are fully committed to neither.
 

cliveh

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Colour is a different mind-set and I tend to see in black & white, but sometimes appreciate colour. It is difficult.
 

jp498

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I want to shoot color when my camera is loaded with B&W film, and shoot B&W film when the camera is loaded with color. There.
GAS solves that, but not when I only want to carry one camera.
 
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What suits one person may not necessarily suit another, or many others. Colour or B&W work is a very individual thing.
That said, if you have your own darkroom, B&W would allow you to be productive and explore and exploit your capabilities and creative expression with B&W.
Colour, however, is almost always now a hybridised process taken care of by pro-level labs. You can of course indulge in RA-4, with the attendant ratio of cost to waste.

I shoot B&W in my ZeroImage pinhole, processed at the lab and vetted for printing later. Colour (E6) is used to showcase my chosen subject (rainforests and scenes in isolation) — something B&W would never be suitable for. 99% of my work is in colour, but from time to time I do thematic work in B&W concentrating on evocative pathos and mood. So what would you use B&W for? And then, what would you use colour?

If you are using large format (e.g. 4x5) shoot both, without hesitance; what you naturally gravitate to will become obvious, without even trying. Others cannot (and should not) overly influence you with choice because choice is a purely individual thing, based both on style, characteristic and your creative interpretation and knowledge of the subject.
 

Peltigera

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<snip> Your "instinctual knowing" which style to shoot seems a purely personal justification. Nothing wrong with that, but frankly, I would posit that if you cannot decide upon two identical compositions, one color and one not, you are fully committed to neither.
I am certainly not fully committed to anything. Any given subject can be rendered in a myriad ways and I do not want to restrict myself ahead of time to just one of those myriad.
 

ntenny

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I am certainly not fully committed to anything. Any given subject can be rendered in a myriad ways and I do not want to restrict myself ahead of time to just one of those myriad.

I feel the same way. If I were better organized and more technically skilled, I suppose careful pre-exposure visualization would obviate the need for shooting both, but as it is, some of my favorite images come as surprises of the "I didn't really think that would work" variety.

-NT
 
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