Why not colour?

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In the other thread, we discuss about sharpness and its pretty much agreed that sharpness duplicate reality. Thus, the reason for LF to record textures, details, etc.. That being the case, why not everyone shoot colour just as we see things in colour? What is it about black & white?

Thanks, Aaron

-- Aaron (ngaaron@singnet.com.sg), January 16, 2002


With black & white photography, the medium - i.e. shades of white and black - is not part of the idea or emotion being conveyed. It is like the color of the ink in a newspaper, you read a newspaper for the ideas being conveyed; not the color of the ink. Conversely, with color photography, the medium - "the color" - is an integral part of the idea or emotion being expressed.

It is my belief, that all too often "color" and "sharpness" are used as a superficial expression when a photographer really has no idea or emotion to express through his/her photograph. The nature of a black and white photograph is such that you "can't hide" behind "pretty colors"; you either stand on your own merit or your fail miserably.

Robert J. Triffin Drexel Hill, PA / USA

-- Robert J. Triffin (RJTRIFFIN@RCN.COM), January 16, 2002.

Here, I pipe up with the sharp people. For colour, it should be sharp -- no soft focus here. That said, the best colour pictures I've seen arn't at all documentery -- no Farm Service detail, but rather a big red square and a blue line kinda thing. Colour photos can be so powerfull when they are just about the colour, and end up being abstract's. I think it was Carter Ratcliff that said that one type of film produced a blue that did not exist in any tube of paint or any artists pallet. Thoes are the best colour. Just my thoughts, I've realy only been able to do maybe a half dozen colour photos that I've been satisfied with -- gotta admit your limits. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), January 16, 2002.


There's on old saying: "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight!" The same is true of photography. Select and utilise the tools and materials appropriate to the optimal expression of your particular interpretation of a subject.

Look at Steve McCurry's book "South Southeast" or Anthony Hernandez's "Pictures From Rome". Imagine them working in black & white. They wouldn't.

By the same token check out Koudelka's "Chaos" or Albert Watson's "Morroc" and consider whether they would achieve the same impact in colour. Probably not.

Any one of these artists could have chosen to shoot in colour or in black & white. Each chose the medium that best suited his approach to both the subject and the craft.

Regrettably, there is a perception in many areas of the marketplace that a colour landscape is a post-card or calendar, whereas a black & white of the same scene transcends the 'commercial' market and becomes 'art'.

Truth is, black and white OR colour - if the photograph is for sale then, by definition, it is commercial. If the photograph was crafted and considered in it's production then, again by definition, it is art.

All too often the medium has become the message. For our freedom of expression we must all do whatever we can to break down the pidgeon-holing that has suffused our pastime.

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), January 17, 2002.

For me color is just too damned expensive. Every once in a while I think I'd like to shoot LF color, but I see in black and white (and green, as in the color of money).

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), January 17, 2002.

Well, it really depends upon the subject choosen. Many pictures that are nice in B&W would look very blurred up it shot in colour. In these cases B&W works very well, i.e. they replace colour areas that would break up the composition with grayscale areas. B&W is (in my opinion) mostly about using contrasts, lines and areas for composition. Colour photographs depends (or breaks) upon harmonizing (or clashing) colours. Some of the colour photographs that I like best are almost monochrome. I.e. they consists of one colour tone, with some small areas/items in another colour. In that aspect, they are almost similar to B&W. But there is of course a lot more to it than just what I mentioned above. The increased technical difficulties in the darkroom if developing colour etc. plays a part, "forcing" the photographer to enhance their ability to see óbjects/scenes etc. as B&W compositions instead. (This of course holds true to all formats, not just LF.)


-- Björn Nilsson (b.w.nilsson@telia.com), January 17, 2002.

Who wants to duplicate reality?
If people wanted reality, they'd spend more time looking out of the window than chasing their tails doing pointless jobs!
Photography is about abstraction. The abstraction of 4 dimensions to two. Both time and depth are discarded in a still photograph, so why not discard colour as well?
On second thoughts; the word 'discard' has negative connotations. To simplify and refine would be a better description of the process.

There are a few photographs that have actually brought tears to my eyes. All of them were taken in Black and White.
Why? If I knew that, I'd be regularly taking pictures that bring tears to other people's eyes.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), January 17, 2002.

Black and White is simply a way to abstract reality so that it focuses the viewers attention. It allows an image to become minimalist in nature yet retain incredible amounts of information. It obviously retains its ability to convey a message because it is still widely used in high profile journalism and advertising.

Most B&W photographers I imagine view color as a distraction when trying to communicate composition, detail, depth, and volume in an image. All that being said, excellent color work is produced by individuals who understand how to use color as a tool for compostion and supporting the message of the image.

Color is also a more difficult genre to work with. One must consider the kind of light involved and how changes affect color saturation, fitration for films, the fact that different colors and their relationships in the image will change how other colors are perceived by the eye and all the variables involved in printing.

On the other hand, it is very easy to shoot color and consistently get mediocre results, because it is so easy to fall in to the trap of using color only as the conveyor of your message, with no substance other then "pretty or gaudy" colors on paper.

FWIW, I use color mostly in 35mm and 120, opting for films that can produce low saturation and somwhat subdued colors. This seems to be the best way I can get the results I want with my subject matter.

-- James Chinn (jchinn2@dellepro.com), January 17, 2002.

the world is already in color

-- doug (doug@ajenda.com), January 17, 2002.

I shoot in color only (in LF). I like color. I shot lots of B&W when I first started in photography some 30 odd years ago, and I enjoyed it, but then I discovered Kodachrome, and rarely shoot B&W now (maybe 1 roll a year in 35mm). I just find that to me color is an important element. I think a lot of LF shooters who use B&W do so because its easier to do your own processing and printing. I dont do that myself, so I stick to chromes only in LF. And I like them sharp, too!

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), January 17, 2002.

"Who wants to duplicate reality?" from Mr. Chinn

Who is? The "color" of modern photography is no more based in reality than black and white is. If true colors that my eyes are seeing in the real world were the middle of the road, then black and white wouldn't be any farther into unreality on the left than what we call color photography would be on the right.

Nothing new. That's why we loved Kodachrome 25, and then got a divorce and re-married Velvia, and ultimately woke up in Photo Shop at the "hue-saturation" slider!

It is a powerful tool, and so is black and white, but for the sake of discussion, lets start at the middle of that road.

"That being the case, why not everyone shoot colour just as we see things in colour?" If we shot stuff the way our eyes see them it would be boring. The "hue-saturation" slider revv's color up to cause interest, and so does "black and white"

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), January 17, 2002.

You open several cans of writhing worms with this question of yours!

I'm with Jim completely on this. All photography is an abstraction of what we physically sense as reality. Color vision is also notoriously adaptable whereas film is not. Sharpness in a photograph isn't to duplicate reality, it is to create an illusion of reality.

What is it about B&W? In many situations color (even in real life not just photoraphy) is a distraction. with B&W that distraction is removed. Also photographic "seeing" in color is much harder to learn than "seeing" in B&W.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), January 17, 2002.

what in interesting thread, one that hits right at the core of my own work. the only difference between B&W and color photography, is that color photography contains color. a stupidly simple observation, i know, but it has profound implications-- it means that the only reason to use color film instead of B&W is if color itself is the subject of the photograph. otherwise, the photograph would be better in B&W (without color's distraction). in other words, yes, color does ground us in reality, and if the purpose of a photograph is to escape reality, then the only time to use color film is when the color itself is the thing that takes us beyind reality.

i think very few photographers realy see in color; there are many B&W photographers out there using color film, photographing subjects that the great B&W photographers chose for their texture and form (things that show up better without color's distraction) and in that kind of work the color ends up being superfluous and actually distracts the viewer's attention. in this category i put all of the calendar-type photography-- the color in that kind of work means nothing, and i always wonder why the photographer used color film.

so how can color be the subject of a photograph; how can color be the thing that takes you beyond reality? that's not an easy question to answer; i'm pretty much devoting my life to its pursuit. (if you're interested, check my work at www.chrisjordanphoto.com.).


~chris jordan (Seattle)

-- chris jordan (cjordan@yarmuth.com), January 21, 2002.

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