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Wednesday, 04 August 2021


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Curious! I assume you are not colour blind like me (red-green) but my experience is close to yours. I too bought one of the last B&O Monochrome TVs and used it long after colour TV arrived. It was also superior for displaying older B&W movies of course which may have been a factor. I never learnt the names of a lot of colours though it didn’t bother me and only found I was colour blind when tested for National Service (Draft?).

I am quite colorblind, and the way you describe luminance vs chroma is a great way to put it. B&W photos have *so much more* information (to me) than color photos, which are mostly brown and gray, with a splash of blue or yellow (I assume?) here and there, like my real world. I've always shot 90% B&W as a result, with the 10% color relying completely on camera/PP to decide what's right.

In this particular example, the girl with the turtle seems to have a yellow shirt. Most everything else is B&W, with a little brown (the 'headless' boy's shirt?). Thanks, this is already in my 'examples that help me understand color' file!

It's worth noting that the ability to preview the image in B&W is a very new phenomena, circa the early 2000s, via the digital screen/viewfinder. So even the greatest B&W photos before the 21st century were visualized on a ground glass, a focusing screen, or through an optical viewfinder/rangefinder - even the "no glass" sport finder frame - all in color. Assertions that using a monochrome-only system is somehow an advantage should be considered in light of that history.

I too, can't not see in color and find using a B&W preview distracting. BUT, for me, the ability to apply filters in post-processing creates the ability to produce the relative luminance values I perceived in the natural color scene.

My personal project is BTS motorsports, where motorcycles, team liveries and pit furnishings are a riot of contrasting, bold colors. I often find that using a software filter (reminiscent of using a deep red filter with B&W film to render a deep blue sky as we perceived it) can restore some differentiation in luminance between a deep red and black, or a green and blue livery. For me, it's been a huge help in my attempts to use B&W final images to emphasize the personal character of participants, in a genre dominated by color images and action scenes.

Being red-green color blind makes me unqualified to comment on this. Few people like any of my colored shots (much too vidid, too bright, too colorful, too unrealistic) but they look subdued to me. The lesson is, if there is one, is that we all tend to see color differently.


I have perfect colour vision, but the grid illusion hardly worked at all for me. The tree between the two girl's heads on the top far left corner seems to be green, but I think that's because all I can see is a mixture of green lines, dark shadow, and maybe a bit of white. The blue grid lines almost work.

My photographic eye tends to be dominated by shapes, lines, light and shadows, and movement, so I tend to see in monochrome. Some subjects that I photograph are more aptly defined by their color elements—hue, saturation, etc.—rather than shape, lines, etc. So, like Ctein, I easily switch between monochrome and color. I mentioned this in a conversation with a fine art photographer friend. She indicated she’s the reverse: she’s sees the color elements first, then shapes, lines, etc. Her work is dominated by color, while my non-sports work is dominated by, yup, shapes, lines,, etc. Sports, for the most part, is dominated by the moment and the story, where teh action is the most important element and color, shapes, lines, etc. are secondary. However, I can’t image using a B&W-only camera as color often is important and I’d hate to miss a color photograph while limited to B&W.

Bob Keefer's comment is fascinating. I'd love to see examples. I'm quite willing to believe, but it's rather counterintuitive.

This is interesting, when I first looked at the picture on my old (6) iPhone I could see the illusion, but as some as I expanded the picture even just a little bit all I could see was the lines. I guess once you are onto the trick it doesn’t work anymore, at least for me. My increased visual acuity after recent cataract surgery may be a contributing factor, I know it has changed my perception of certain colors to the extent that certain digital black and whites that I added sepia toning to will have to be revisited as the color is wacky

The way the mind works is quite fascinating. Glancing at the grid photo, it look like colour - but if I concentrate hard on the colour perception and the grid, I can see the coloured grid with the grey scale photo behind, until I lose concentration. It's rather like looking at an Escher illusion.

I've never had a mono only camera. But I did shoot exclusively B&W film for years and only moved to colour after the advent of digital. IMHO the issue is not the monochrome output of the sensor but the photographer's perception of the input through the viewfinder - after all, whether shooting rangefinders or SLRs on film, I always saw the world in colour and internally visualised the B&W output. I have tried switching mirrorless viewfinders to B&W to shoot to that output and dislike the sensation because I am just bypassing the internalised artistic sensations. But I also find it very difficult to switch at will between OVF and EVF because the former is simply a scaled version of the real 3 -dimensional world as perceived by my eyes, whereas the latter presents as a prepared 2-dimensional image removing the necessary internalised process of converting what I see into the output image. Having said that, I finally went for it and bought a Leica Q2 which has a much better EVF than the much older lower resolution mirrorless EVFs I had previously used and have had far less difficulty because of the 3-dimensional presentation of the image on the screen. I am very interested to try a Sony A1 with its 8k plus EVF to see whether it's better yet.

Interesting Mike! Thanks for posting this. Like you, I found the Red grid ruined the illusion. I have a coworker who seems addicted to mixed color text in his emails (shudder.) i have noticed that I perceive the color of the text as distance differences, the red text appears as if it floats above the black background (I run dark mode, a black background on my Mac) and the other colored texts appear to me to be a different size font. I’ve assumed this is because different wave lengths are shorter. Possibly the delta in wavelength between colors affects my minds perception of the distance with the high percentage change from Red to yellow creating an interpretation of a greater distance? I really enjoy being shown how faulty my unshakable view of the world is!

I immediately see red grid patterns most everywhere, then green and yellow grids. At the start of my career, art directors said it was what I do with color they liked. So I do not know what to make of this.

Colour is everything, black and white is, simply, more!

There's another kind of grid illusion that can pop up naturally in certain circumstances--when you have a black grid against a light background, light colored dots can scintillate in and out of existence at the intersections of the lines. It's really neat, but also incredibly alarming when your discover it for yourself while editing a photo and start googling for neurological symptoms...

I have a couple examples in my portfolio, but these two are my favorites (best full screen, so no embedded preview, sorry):



And now I have to print these guys and see how the illusion works with reflective images.

FWIW I am definitely colourblind but I see the photo in colours but with red or green or yellow or blue grids over the coloured clothing and skin. The only parts with no grids are the white T-shirt and sleeve and some shoes.

I've had a brangle or two with the people who say that you can't do black and white photography properly, with sufficient dedication, etc., unless you shoot a monochrome sensor. Or should I say a Monochrom sensor...

I think that's nonsense -- or more charitably, I think that's a strong personal preference mixed with a large dose of confirmation bias.

As John Merlin Williams correctly points out, people who shot black and white film back in the day were looking at colour scenes (unless they simply couldn't function without one of those monochrome viewers).

What I saw on my ground glass was a colour scene. To this day I'm still not very adept at knowing exactly how a colour will appear as a gray tone. The fact that it can be nearly any tone I want thanks to RAW data and Lightroom hasn't given me an incentive to get better. What's more important to me is that when I shoot for black and white, it's not the "colour > tone" relationship that is driving me; it's shape, line, luminosity, pattern, texture I'm watching out for. Of course "colour > tone" matters; but I mostly find it in the necessary corner, rather than the sufficient corner.

What I am extremely good at now is knowing when it's not worth pressing the shutter because what I'm seeing is actually a colour picture. It's not complicated, and you actually outlined the rule above: "actively use color as a primary creative element in their photographs". If the picture I'm seeing only works because of colour, then it's not a black and white photo.

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