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Tuesday, 26 August 2014


I fully agree, which is why I happily (and very willingfully) focus on color photography, for the reward of succeeding at it - sometimes.

Being late on the articles, I wanted to say that this "Morning coffee" series is very nicely executed, and published in time for the start of the day here in Western Europe. How convenient for us!
Congratulation on the move. The house looks very nice, and the garden... Amazing! A city dweller like me can only dream of such space and trees!

There is indeed a lot of bad black and white these days. I'm pretty much a color photographer, but now and again I find myself making a photograph black and white and I find it hard.

But I sometimes also wonder about the motive behind making a photo black and white. It feels to me that one should really set out to make a black and white photo, if that's what one ends up with, but then I might look at a photo I've taken, see that there is something in it, but it struggles to be seen among the unfortunate color in it and I'll turn to black and white.

Then there is the "classic" advice of "black and white makes a photo more dramatic." Yes, and committing slidercide on the mid-values and leaving nary a tone that isn't pitch black or blown out white, that'll increase the drama as well.

A couple of years ago I visited Auschwitz. I didn't, I couldn't, take a lot of photos there. I brought my camera at the time, a run of the mill DSLR, and I photographed as I'd do; in color. The one result from that I got that I was pretty pleased with was a triptych from Auschwitz Birkenau. I brought prints of it with me to show at the photo club I belong to (I know, these still exist, but members mostly seem to be older men) and got a tip from one of the senior members: "Make them black and white, they'll be more dramatic that way."

This is all true but, unfortunately, there is no going back. Even if we were to revert to the pre-USA today era (then there was at least the technological justification for shooting exclusively in black and white) photographing in black and white today is solely an esthetic choice. It is the same choice that a painter makes when putting a brush to canvas and choosing to paint only in shades of grey. Its an artistic choice that's made despite the fact that the world around us (as perceived by the human eye) is in color. Yes, I said it, the world is in COLOR and, as Paul Simon said, "everything looks worse in black and white." Long live Kodachrome....or maybe not.

I swing between B&W and color...depending on mood, place, intent, and...
PS: but when I am not able to do both in the same time, when I'm going to take a photo I first decide if B&W or color...

Dear Mike,
To begin to understand your thoughts on luminosity values and so it doesn't turn into another misunderstood BW sensor post, I think examples are necessary. Obviously not with online images but books. Mike would you be kind enough to suggest a couple of photography books as examples of good prints?

To me, colour must:
a) add meaning to a photograph
b) flatter tonality
These criteria are rarely met at the same time. Therefore I rarely "publish" or print in colour.

>>Scanned B&W film always looks wrong to me. It's missing the paper curve.<<

Well, yeah. The point of a film scan is to reproduce all of the detail and tonal scale of the original negative. It essentially becomes a positive version of the negative; somewhat like an unprocessed Raw file. To make a scan look like a photograph you have to apply a curve or two so that the resulting image looks pleasing to the eye.

That said, have you tried to find a dedicated film scanner these days? It ain't easy. Scanning B&W film could become a skill found only in pro labs.

Interesting you find scanned B&W 'wrong'. Do you find it less 'wrong' than B&W digital (as I do), or just differently 'wrong'?

My question of the month: is there a trick to undoing a glued roll of Tri-X 120 in a changing bag? I scrabble around with blunt fingernails for a minute trying to undo the damn things...

Speaking of black-and-white photography, I've been waiting to read about your experience with the Sigma DP Merrill that I seem to remember you saying that you picked up a few months ago.

Hi Mike,

I shoot primarily in black and white because I am color blind. I originally tried to manage color by simply using camera profiles and correcting white balance. Then I fiddled around with presets, but I was never happy with them. Eventually I gave up. I'm simply not comfortable managing color because I never know if the viewer is seeing the image the way I want them to see it.

Here is my question: You mention that most black and white today is poorly done. Can you explain what you mean by the tones being out of balance? I have my own ideas on this, but am interested in what you consider to be a properly toned black and white image.

[At least you REALIZE you're color blind. Rimshot, LOL, and exit, stage left --Mike]

Ok, Mike, here is a suggestion. What do you think of the role of cell phone movies in police brutality cases?

Okay, looking forward to "office hours" so you can show me the differences between good and bad tones on paper (or bad curves).

My general impression is that with digital many people go for massively blocked up blacks because they like the way it looks on screen. Also there has been a trend for super dark, "dramatic" clouds (this goes way back of course, but digital allows for some real excess).

Some images are better in B&W, some in color. With digital, its no longer necessary to carry two cameras and decide on the spot which to use, or to do a relatively complex conversion from color to B&W in the darkroom. We now have Photoshop, and other processing programs. Using the three channels lets me control tonality in converting from color to B&W, and I can compare the two versions when in doubt as to which works best. I can even make prints in both modes, and create different images of the same subject.It gives me much greater control than film ever did. Ain't technology great?

"B&W essentializes. Elementalizes."
It can. But it can also miss the point. Artificially constraining oneself to b&w, either with film or with some digital mono method, is like playing billiards with one hand.

Of course neither is always right or wrong, stronger or weaker. It depends on the subject. B&w can be as distracting as garish color. To me, mastering the use of color is mastering photography. It's learning how to use that third powerful dimension (form, tone, COLOR) to convey meaning and, most of all, emotion. Learning to use this dimension also means learning when to suppress it entirely.

Color is difficult? You betcha. But, like 1-handed pool, photography would be far less fun without it.

[Not too sure of your analogy there. As we've discussed before, you're at least as much a partisan of color as I am of B&W. The two of us discussing it is about like a Democrat and a Republican talking about the role of government—we gotta be a bit careful to stay cordial. [g] --Mike]

Maybe you could show us some examples of well done B&W vs poorly done?

Not arguing here against your good point. Simply wanted to quote one of our masters for those not inclined, at the moment, towards black and white.

Start of quote:

The prejudice many photographers have against colour photography comes from not thinking of colour as form. You can say things with colour that can’t be said in black and white… Those who say that colour will eventually replace black and white are talking nonsense. The two do not compete with each other. They are different means to different ends. - Edward Weston - [cited in: Introduction by Bryn Campbell, “European Colour Photography” (exhibition catalogue), The Photographers’ Gallery, London, 1978, p. 14]

Ya, I agree with you - what I do also find interesting that, from what I see, those photographers who are new to film tend to be very pleased with some truly crappy results. But hey, getting too anal about it is also not the way to go, as far as I am concerned.

This is something that I want to understand better, digital black and white. The how to's;- whether in camera or post processing. I hope in the future Mike, that you and Ctein and others, devote more time to it.

That's a heck of a portrait.

In scanning B&W film, I get the best results by developing the film in the low contrast D-25 developer.

As implied, B&W is still very much struggling to get a more uniformly "good" look in the digital realm. Certainly not impossible, just not easy for many to achieve- particularly for those not familiar with what a good darkroom print actually looks like. Fortunately, better current results can, in fact, be seen on gallery walls- rather than on monitor screens.

Have the feeling that many "newcomers" are in some way still (at least on some level) operating as if B&W is just the same image with the color taken out- because that's what the software does. That fallback perception may influence not only the overall aesthetics, but also the technical/printing aspects.

Have people tried setting EVF cameras to B&W (but still record RAW) so that they can view the scene in greyscale on the screen before taking the photo? Does it help?

Seems to me that this is a very useful feature of EVF-type cameras.

Scanning B&W silver negs certainly has its limitations, there are certain negs that just won't fly. That said- I'm amazed at the results one can get... most of the time.

In my experience, the problem with shooting B&W is that it pretty much has to be an all-or-nothing decision. Otherwise, if you are choosing between color and B&W on individual pictures, it starts to feel like a gimmick. I have done several B&W conversions that I was happy with. But if I put together a portfolio of mixed B&W and color pictures, it looks terrible. I can create separate B&W and color portfolios, but then it always feels as though half of the portfolio is missing. I'm not willing to completely give up on color photography, which means that I fall into the "nothing" category. But I could easily see someone falling on the all-B&W side of the fence and being very successful at it.


To my mind black and white is unnatural. But when I think of all the effort, skill and time that went into a decent black and white print (from a film) I am forced to admire it. I am not sure if it is beauty of the picture or the effort behind the print that makes me do that.
I certainly do not want to go back to my old dark room days. Happy to see the last of black and white and film days. I guess, now it is fashionable to talk of how much one loved and enjoyed the "good old" film days.

"Most photography now is in color, and most black-and-white is poorly done."

Is that what they call a polemic?

I love B&W photography, both historically and for *some of* my own work. I've even had decent results doing B&W inkjet prints.

But I find myself more and more resistant to using B&W for my new work. It gives me the same feeling as radical cropping, or heavy use of sliders -- I feel like I'm doing violence to the image, overworking it.

BTW, I didn't like the look of The Man Who Wasn't There -- it looked to me like it had been shot in color and flattened to B&W, which in fact it was.

And the photo at top of the article - does it pass muster? And how was it digitised?

I cannot imagine these (rather poor scans from press release photo’s) http://nigelvoak.blogspot.it/2013/11/another-age.html working in colour.

In fact on the one or two occasions I shot music in digital colour, I found the results lacking the drama of a good black and white photograph.

I must admit I have not tried digital B&W. It is strange, but I cannot think in B&W when shooting what I know is a colour image.

I come out of the "golden era" of black and white photography (the late 80s through 2000, when we had such an amazing range of materials). Using B&W materials almost exclusively for 10 years really developed my ability to interpret a scene in black and white. To the detriment of my ability to photograph in colour.

I find that when I'm photographing, I need to choose whether I am shooting for colour or for black and white. Yes, the RAW file can go either way, but my intent at the time that I click the shutter is ultimately going to drive what satisfies me in the image. The use of B&W film nicely eliminates the choice at the time of exposure. I know the image will be back and white and whatever analysis and interpretation is going on behind my eyes is limited to a monochrome image. Invariably, when I take a picture thinking that the image could go either way, I am left with something weaker.

Scanning B&w negs is tricky, but not impossible. 16 bit gray scale is a must, and adjust the curves so the d-min is well above the black point of the curve before you scan. A straight scan just doesn't have enough bits for the shadow detail. Adjust the tonal scale after the scan. A quality scanner will do a better job, but even a cheap scanner will give good results (albeit at a lower resolution.)

And then there is that Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin's father persuaded his kid the world was black and white until the mid-fifties, black and white pictures being actually colour pictures of black and white subjects.
I agree it's more difficult to photograph in colour, however strange that may sound to many people. With black and white you concentrate in forms, textures and shapes; you thus capture the essence of the subject. With colour photography you tend to look for subjects with a strong colour content. Therefore colour will dominate the picture visually. And you'll have to be extremely careful with colour harmony, which isn't always easy to obtain. This makes for two very different ways of photographing, but both have their charms. There's no sense in being a black and white partisan or a colour fanatic. In my little universe they both have their place.
The worst kind of black and white is the one you get after converting Raw files to black and white. Tones never seem right, no matter how long you take fiddling with sliders. A good starting point is to convert the files to grayscale on Photoshop and work from there - but still the pictures won't get even close to Tri-X or FP4.
I agree scans are quite poor compared to a good print, but some films stand the test better than others. This deterioration is clearly visible with Tri-X, but not so much with Ilford HP5 - in my experience at least. You will care to notice, however, that some labs make prints from the scans when you order prints, making any assessments on scan vs. print very difficult.
Finally, since I haven't been in touch for quite a long time: congratulations on the new TOP headquarters!

I always shot film with HP5+/Perceptol/200ASA/yellow filter.

When I changed to digital, I set my camera (5D, then 5D2, then 5D3) to BW, yellow filter, and spent some time making the camera RAW output match my film work straight out of the camera.

Haven't had to think about it since.

I enjoy making pictures in both colour and black-and-white in digital. I never used to to do that much colour work, until using digital. In Photoshop Elements, I just use the colour sliders to make BW .
I was somewhat forced into the digital medium after 3 spinal surgeries, otherwise I would have stuck to BW film and the darkroom. Perhaps because I was forced to change, I kind of found a way to satisfy myself. To me, B+W composition is how the light is in contrast. And in Colour, composition is how particular colours are in contrast, more so than the light.

Not to get too far into the subcomment tree, but you said "I should start a list of genuine masters of color photography, as opposed to great photographers who happen to work in color. It would be a short list, but a dazzling one."

I assume Alex Webb would be on the list. His book, The Suffering of Light, is mind-blowing.

In the film days, I always tended to "see" in B&W better by simply knowing that's what the camera was loaded with. Looking for the tones, shapes, etc.

Nowadays, my dirt simple and personally revolutionary way to go about this is to change the film simulation on my handy-dandy EVF to show B&W. Voila - truly seeing and shooting in B&W prior to hitting the shutter(within the confines of your viewfinder or LCD at least). Hooray for mirrorless! For the film purist, you could make the commitment complete by shooting JPG only. (This approach also has the side benefit of increasing the utility of the coloured focus peaking outlines. Hooray for manual focusing!) (Further parenthesization... it would seem that I am a bit smitten by the advantages of mirrorless.)

Mike, I don't think I'd be the only one willing to have their digital B&W offered up as examples of what to do wrong, especially as part of an "an extensive, researched, well-presented post" on the subject of B&W tonality. You clearly are seeing and understanding things that I'm not, and I'd love to get some insight into what those things are. I'd happily have one or more of my photos dissected in public in exchange for such knowledge.

"Converting a color digital file to B&W feels artificial to me somehow and prevents me from appreciating the photo in B&W."
Get a K1000 or a Spotmatic & go shoot some TRI-X.

Mike, could you recommend a book for B&W technique?

Should one start with the Zone system?



About 12 months ago I went back to shooting on film, primarily using Ilfords FP4+ in a Pentax K1000. I still carry my Pentax DSLR and I still love it but, I have to admit, my K1000 is now my go to camera. For me, there is something with FP4+ that isn't emulated in digital. I even used software that is designed to produce images in the style of film. It's close but not quite there. Have I learned anything? Yeah, a heck of a lot. My composition has improved, the way I put an image together is far better and I 'see' in a way that is more conjucive to the type of photography that I want to shoot.

Mike's advice is not only sound but is essential to anyone who wants to create beautiful images.

Curious about why XP2. Thanks.

[Just because so few people have darkrooms or any interest in setting one up. Purely a practical matter. --Mike]

Buy one of these:


Followed by a DVD of Alexander Payne's film Nebraska.

The quest for nice tones, the Holy Grail of the b&w photographer… So many attempt, many deceptions. And then sometimes, one picture sings nicely.

I guess it keeps me shooting.

I do a fair amount of black and white work using digital files. Rather than thinking of the process as "converting color files to black and white," I think of it as deferring a portion of the process that was previously automatic in the film camera, and completing that deferred portion later in post where I may add filters, adjust exposure, etc.

Whether you shoot BW film or record a raw image and convert in post, you are still converting a color source into BW.

Whenever I shoot black and white on my 5DIII or 7D or RX100II, I set the camera to shoot black and white jpegs - no raw - there is no colour file at any time. I know this limits my options in post, but I like the idea that I'm working only with black and white and my substandard 'roll of film', and it's up to me to make the most of it.

Some of my B&W - not perfect, but...

I find myself being drawn more to B&W now (but not for everything). Maybe when you're all set up I can drop by and see some good B&w, seeing as you're just down the road (if you call ca. 1 hr just down the road).

Mike says: "I'm glad I got to live through the end of the B&W era."

Para phrasing one of the greatest movies of all time..."OVER! NOTHING'S OVER untill we say it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor....."

B&W forever!


Not too long ago, Mike discussed digital B&W and gave a few examples of what he liked and why: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2014/03/the-sigma-dp2-merrill.html

For me, I just see in black & white. I have learned to see "values" as you say and rarely shoot any color film. Large format black and white film for me hits the tone sweet spot with such gradual changes from white to black. When I make an image, I want the viewer to see what I saw and felt when it was shot and color (for me) just documents reality too closely. I have many books of great color photographers and can see photos while I am out shooting that should be in color. I just choose not make those photos.

Not my experience at all. I get great bw conversions. The original M8 taught me quite a bit and I have merely extrapolated that experience to my present cameras. I still get kudos for my bw and they sell well.

Mike, interesting post especially seen I really enjoy the monochromatic print. There has always been a lot of bad B&W photos. Unfortunately over the years, I have contributed many to that pile. It took years to develop the craft to produce a "fine print" in the darkroom and the masters of that process had much admired skills. Adams famously said that if he produced one really good print per year it was a successful year. It is much easier and less expensive to produce photographs now especially if they only exist digitally. I think now we just see so much more work than we did in the pre digital, pre internet era that while the absolute number of bad prints are higher perhaps the percentage of good B&W remains the same. Or at least I'd like to think so.

It's always tough to give negative examples on a blog... To point to an example and say "this is bad," I would be insulting an actual photographer, and I'm very reluctant to do that, generally.

Hi Mike,
May I volunteer my color pics as negative examples. You don't have to mention me by name. But even if you do thrash 'em and the photos were traced back to me, I still wouldn't mind. For the sake of art... and parsimony (it takes good money to get an expert critique :). My fantasy is that you wouldn't find any of the volunteered pics "good enough"—as negative examples, that is. (g)

As for B&W, I used to do conversions as a last resort, to save a so-so color pic. It turns out that my better B&W conversions were the ones that already looked good in color. That is, photos that were taken in good light, or had plenty of negative space in them. Like this one:

(Click here for larger image.)

Roger Cicala wrote an article about a year ago, titled "Fun With Color Vision."


He discussed the L*A*B color space and what one could do with it, and it was an eye-opener. (That's not really a pun, is it? More like an unwitting association? Anyway ...) He showed an example of a carousel and playing with different color channels. It made me think differently about color.

As for digital and color vs B&W, no conflict. That sensor is monochrome. It takes engineering trickery and computing power to get a color image from it. So, I do not see a conflict with digital and B&W. But I do think you need to think different. Just as one needed to garner the experience with papers and filters and chemistry and so on, one needs to garner experience with channels and profiles and ... papers. Still papers.

(It ain't a photograph unless you print it!)

"Have people tried setting EVF cameras to B&W (but still record RAW) so that they can view the scene in greyscale on the screen before taking the photo?” -Robert Roaldi

I had a Nikon camera that would do this. Basically I would set the camera for RAW black and white, and my Adobe software would ignore Nikon's BW setting in the RAW file and show me color. I found this very useful. I wish I could do it with every camera I use, including my phone. For me, seeing the image in B&W on the screen makes it much easier to compose, even for a color photo.

"This is something that I want to understand better, digital black and white.” -Fred Hayes

One way to learn about digital B&W is with presets in Lightroom. It’s a way to look over someone else’s shoulder and see how they work. Take a group of your good but not great photos, make some virtual copies and start playing around. It’s a good, low pressure, fun way to learn. Here are some of my favorite presets for Lightroom.

Vintage Cameras

Matt Kloskowski

Erik Kim

Digital B & W can be beautiful, but the sibilant rhonchi raster of an inkjet printer can never match a silver print magically materializing in a developer tray.

Interesting complaints on converting color digital images to black and white. Soon, I will buy a new camera and ship it to MaxMax.com and have it stripped down to just the monochrome sensor. This will allow for only monochrome images. Plus I will have the anti-aliasing filter left off for the sharpest image possible from the sensor.

Might I mention being bored with most normal color photography. Which is why most of my photography has been infrared over the last year.

The Myra Wiggins book is providing some interesting ideas for future images.

Color is a huge reason I became an artist. I can appreciate the historical value of early black and white photography, but I do not appreciate a lot of modern black and white photography. I assume modern photographers print in black and white because the color original failed. Different strokes for different folks.

Here's how I shoot in B&W with digital.

When I see something that in the past I'd have shot with Tri-X or whatever, I set the camera to B&W and take the shot. The B&W JPEG is a "proof print".

These days if I don't have time to set the camera I just take the shot and let it be color and then remember to do the conversion when I put the picture in Lightroom. This generally works out OK too. Capturing in color used to bother me a lot... I am not sure what changed, but after a few hundred frames of practice with the iPhone I got more comfortable with it.

I then do a basic B&W conversion in Lightroom and then fuss with the curves until it looks like a pretty good print on my screen.

This works for me. I can get a good tonal range with modern sensors, even in the iPhone. I think my stuff looks as good as anything I did with film, and modern sensors capture a lot more detail and smoother tones than 35mm black and white film did.

I can understand why one might not be able to work this way. It took me a long time to get happy with the process. But I did make it work, and I like to think that I have a reasonable visual sense.

So even though I know you only mean that it doesn't look right to you, I have a bit of trouble understanding blanket statements about digital B&W being "wrong"... it's certainly *different*, the same way digital movies are different from film movies. But I think wrong is the wrong word here.

Obligatory recent B&W picture:


Oh, and I do agree, B&W is a great way to make anything look better. Or to fix white balance issues.

Discipline is a wonderful concept that works best when force fed. How many of us lost our "B&W eye" when digital color arrived for exactly the same price as digital B&W. If the camera see's in color then that color seduces and eventually has it's way.

Your "real person" verification system of letters and numbers reminds me of a story. A couple built a fence around their front yard and one day found the gate open. Figuring it was their child they added another component to the latch, making it harder to use. Next day, still open. In the following weeks they proceeded to build an elaborate and sophisticated latching system requiring many steps to open until one morning they found their milk, their newspaper and their mail on the curb. A letter from each delivery person read that they could no longer figure the gate system and would deliver the products to the curb from now on.

I suggest that if your "gate" gets much harder to use you might consider comment postcards. Just write out your comment and drop in the mail

Just another voice to the chorus of people encouraging you to expand on the details of great tones and how to get them, Mike.

In reply to this post and to Robert Roaldi. I am using a Sony A7R and when I leave the files in raw + Jpeg and set the colour to Black and White then set the contrast to low I can think in black and white and process the resulting files to match the vision that I was wanting when making the images so it does work. As you are also seeing thought the viewfinder a Black and White world it changes how you think about composing the images. If you then work with Lightroom it tends to show the image as a black and white image for preview (on my computer at any rate).

B&W film photography is becoming ever harder to do. Not the taking of the pictures, of course - you can still buy film and load up an old camera. But what then? How many places still offer film developing & printing services? And when you've got the prints (horrible little 6x4 prints at that), what then?

I had a good period about 25 years ago when I had a little 'darkroom' in a space under my stairs, a changing bag, and a developing tank, and I used to shoot HP5 and FP4. Then I was persuaded to use XP1 (and later XP2) which meant that I had to get the films professionally developed. Then I had to give up the space under the stairs, so I could no longer print from the negatives. I tried scanning the developed negatives but I was never happy with that. Now I use a DSLR and convert to B&W, and actually I'm pretty happy with that. Yes. it's different from using film but it's better than the half-way house I found myself in for a while.

Last winter I gave my developing & enlarging equipment away. There was an appeal in AP magazine for equipment - a school in the midlands which had installed a darkroom a year or so earlier was embarrassed by its success and needed more equipment for an expansion. I was happy to donate; if I hadn't, sooner or later the kit wold have been in the dumpster.

A color photo is more attractive on a monitor screen while a B&W photo looks better as a print. A few decades from now there will be whole lot of people with no pictures of their children growing up ..color or no color.

I think the problem with digital B&W is that it is obviously a choice, and therefore looks like it was merely done for effect. As a result it can't help seeming rather corny.

I still do make the odd B&W print, but usually because the mood lends itself to the exploration of tone. I don't find many colour photographs look 'better' in B&W, more that some B&W photographs don't look good in colour. The trick is to spot them.


Please do compile that list of masters of color. I think many (myself included) could get a lot from it.

Colour can be wonderful, but many times it is anecdotical, doesn't add much meaning and does make an image more complex. B&W forces you out of a direct representation of reality, something I am particular fond of, since I tend to avoid descriptive photography. With the new generation of cameras with decent EVFs I never see an image in colour. I see in B&W, frame and compose in B&W, import into Lightroom as B&W, edit in B&W, process and print in B&W. This even is a more B&W workflow than shooting B&W film, where you saw thru the VF in colour.

As you say, B&W offers many different ways to interpret a negative / digital file. (I recall an exhibition where they showed two prints by Ansel Adams of the same negative -- almost like night and day.) But at the same time you say that today most B&W shows poor tonality. I would be interested
to know what you consider good or bad tonality (or a permissible or bad interpretation of the same shot). I understand that you don't want to point to bad examples of others, but may be you have some shots of your own that did not work out. Or you can put side by side an two interpretation of a negative / file of yours--one with good and one with bad tonality.

As to color vs B&W: I think some photos work in color, some in B&W, and some in both. For me, the advantage of digital is that I can make the choice once I have the shot (although in most instances I know at the time of taking the photo whether it will end up B&W or color). The exception is when I shoot the M Monchrome, which I do more and more often. Interestingly, when using the MM, with the exception of one occasion, I never wished I had the option to shoot color.

"Have people tried setting EVF cameras to B&W (but still record RAW) so that they can view the scene in greyscale on the screen before taking the photo? Does it help?

Seems to me that this is a very useful feature of EVF-type cameras.

I did do this for a while, decided it against it going forward. Short version is that I am getting much better results just relying on ETTR, and thinking about how the scene would look in b&w.

At least for me the reason is similar to why you shouldn't rely on EVF to gauge exposure when shooting color - you should use the built in histogram and light metering tools instead. The image you see in the EVF has little to do with what you'll get when processing, and often enough rather high contrast.

More importantly, if you have the same file to process in monochrome, two different approaches will yield vastly different results (thinking shooting the same scene using Tri-x 400 and some sort of ISO 25 film). Since you'd be shooting with how the EVF presents it, all your shots will be shot with that look in mind.

And since everything is better with pictures, here is one of my early attempts at BW. Used EVF in color, exposed to the right. Post processing was targeting tri-x-like render, as at the time I had a thing for the Salgado look.


As someone who uses a digital camera to produce mostly color prints, I'd be happy to stipulate (as in the legal sense) that what I do is easy, that any idiot could do it and that it is certainly not real photography. Once we get that out of the way, then perhaps all of us (both the real photographers and the phonies like me) will be able to just get on with our work and we won't need these screeds every few months.

[C'mon, Greg, that isn't in keeping with the spirit of this site and I think you know it. --Mike]

I think I'll try my own experiment with black and white. I'm going to set one of my two good cameras to monotone and keep it that way for as long as I can. It's my grab-and-go wrist strap equipped EM5 with a 25 1.8, so pretty small. I'll shoot raw and import with a preset and try very hard to avoid the colors I know are a click away. Hardly in the spirit of your Leica film challenge but it might work for me. I'll still shoot a few color landscapes with the other camera, but that's ok.

[Let us know how that goes, would you? I'd be interested. --Mike]

Funny thing, when I shot film the image in the viewfinder was always in color regardless of what film was in the camera. I have to pull out the old III F and see if it is still true.
I am not sure I understand what you are trying to say but I am pretty sure I disagree..

B&W might be hyperreal, but, in fact it is less realistic, and therefore more romantic a medium. Billy-Bob was probably smoking something. Color could be more realistic, but usually isn't because realistic color is so hard to get. Unless, like Wes Anderson, the filmmaker is going for some 80's Polaroid look. Which is very much like shooting in B&W. If you get my meaning.

There was once a great portrait photographer (James Hamilton) that worked for the Village Voice during the '70s. He took stunning portraits with a "regular" 35mm camera and (mostly) available light, and yet his photographs were almost three dimensional compared to every other B&W image in the paper. Later, I found out the reason was pretty simple- the photos he submitted, even for newspaper publication, were carefully printed with a full range of tonal values...

[Have you seen "You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen"? If so, how are the reproductions? --Mike]

Thanks for The Morning Coffee and for this discussion of Black and White. I saw a nice B&W photo at a local juried exhibit that was an inversion of Paul Caponigro's Running White Deer-it was a vertical shot of a darker herd of animals in the lower foreground with a high key background- that had deservedly won an award. While we were looking at this photo, a fellow photographer told me he just didn't get Black and White; I didn't even know where to start about its history, importance to today's photography (digital), and this photo's reference to a black and white classic, so I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing.

I like B&W, but for now I won't go back to film. I started reading this post first thing Tuesday morning, went back to the comments last night, then read Leica for a Year with comments, then read Why it has to be a Leica and page 1 of comments, and just now have returned to the original post's additional comments. Jeez, Mike, my short morning coffee has turned into an internet study course; I've enjoyed all the different expressions of thought on the subject, which I'll internalize and adapt to something that works for me.

I currently use a Pentax K-01 with AF zooms and a Sony Nex 3 with Super Taks-28,35,and 55 mms. The Sony is where I tend to see black and white; more accurately, I see the world in black and white when holding the Sony. Trading between these 2 cameras makes my synapses work harder, but I am having more fun than when I just shot with one camera.
Thanks for TOP, and congratulations on its new HQ (I have a print of Dave Fishing).

End of what b&w era? Yours? Yeah, well... You sold out and caved to digital a while ago, so no surprise. But for some of us, the glory of the b&w film era goes on strong with no end in sight, thankfully.

Mike, totally agree, in regards to the fact that most photography is now color, and most black and white-and-white is poorly done ( including my own work ) I think its far easier than ever to make good color photos in the digital age, I find at least for myself that black and white conversions from color can be tricky, to do of course there are a few out there that can do it beautifully. For myself for the past 10 years I have been scanning my black and white film, learning as I go, 99% crap and occasionally a 1% bullseye!

A lot of interest in this topic, but I'm wondering if it isn't being over-thought too much? A good BW photograph is not such an arcane or mystical product of tones.

I've been using cameras for a long time, and with black and white film it was always composed with a colour image in the viewfinder. That didn't seem to be an obstacle when BW was the intended, indeed the only final result. There was pre-visualisation of the result obviously. BW lends itself to certain motifs and you look for them, as you do for the beauty of light moulding surfaces and textures.

It's not a case of converting colour to BW - it's about visualisation. There is a wealth of variation in what can be achieved in photography, and I think it's not productive to limit the artistic effects of BW to "good range of tones" which is what I'm feeling about a lot of the thoughts here.

As for changing your EVF to BW - wow! how is that going to work? Your starting point is going to be a conversion based on what parameters? How is that going to enable you to judge the scene?

I realize that this may represent a mental deficiency on my part, but there are few photos of my own that I do not prefer in B&W, no matter how good they may look in color. Color seems a distraction from pure line, form and tone. "Elementize" is a good word, Mike. Can you copyright it?

My greatest takeaway from a workshop with Jay Maisel a few years back was:

"Nothing in your photograph is neutral. Everything is either working for you or against you." I think this thought process also applies to color vs. black and white. If color is not helping the photograph, then it is hurting it. For most images, that is how I approach the decision.

I've also been shooting lots with the Olympus EM1 in Raw + Jpg mode, with the screen and resulting jpg rendered bw. I then have the Raw file as a color alternative or to process for BW in a program like Silver Efex.

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