are blown highlights more acceptable in b&w?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Norman 202, Sep 18, 2017.

  1. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    even to a philistine like me it seems that this is true. any thoughts?
  2. For me, it depends more on the particular photo (the subject matter and style being key), where in the shot the highlights are blown, and especially whether it feels expressive (whether by choice or accident) or like a mistake. That's how I'd see it in both black and white and color.
  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Fred, fair points but what about (whataboutery, sorry) how our brains process extremes. aren't b&w photos more of an abstraction than colour and therefore more acceptable because they are less real?
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2017
  4. Acceptable? Only if there is some sort of special effect you are creating. Overexposed B&W of faces, for example, produces ugly, grainy tones instead of smooth gradients. It's really hard to overexpose to a point nothing can be recovered, but the slope the density curve is very low outside the "normal" range. It's okay to blow specular highlights from the sun and bright lights. You can capture a tonal range approaching 14 stops on film, where it is compressed to about 8 stops in terms of density in the normal range of use. Print media can display only about 6 stops of that, but employed the same sort of S-curve compression. Ultimately, B&W can approach a density of nearly 18 stops above the substrate.
  5. Norman, a reasonable point, though I honestly don't think of black and white photos as less real than color photos. Maybe because I grew up with black and white photos, black and white just seems perfectly natural for the medium to me. And I'm generally clear on the different realities that the world occupies and that photos occupy! I see most photos as unreal (which is why I like them so much, especially because reality was the raw material). Though a lot of people do, I don't tend to see black and white photos more abstractly than color photos.

    I do think there are some stylistic choices that can harmonize better with blown highlights, in both black and white and color. A grainy, rough-hewn black and white look often seems to help blown highlights feel organic to the material in black and white. In color, a more saturated palette will often help blown highlights along.

    One wouldn't easily get away with blown highlights in a refined atmosphere, either content-wise or style-wise. Ansel mostly avoided them!

    I think highlights are blown way too often in way too many circumstances and they often don't work as well as a lot of people suppose. Even in those rough-hewn situations, blown highlights will often feel more like carelessness than expressiveness to me. I don't mind going up to the edge, but I choose my spots carefully where I allow myself to go over the edge.

    They tend to look much worse in print than on a monitor, IMO.
    William Kahn likes this.
  6. SCL


    Blown highlights, whether in B&W or color, digital or film, often tell me that the photographer has a lot to learn about proper exposure for his/her medium. Yes, occasionally I have blown ones too, but I try to learn from my mistakes so as to not repeat them.
  7. +1

    I'm not a fan of blown highlights. I'll let shadows go solidly black before I let most highlights go to paper white. If I've blown the highlights in a waterfall or something, I'll just go back and reshoot in better light before I keep trying to pull detail in.

    And +1 to SCL, too. (those overly light backgrounds that are popular in outdoor portraits these days annoy me)
  8. No. Exposure is more flexible with b&w, but blown highlights are as much a bummer in b&w as they are in colour.
  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    what if blown highlights (BHs) were the intention? i agree that BHs might not be everyone's cup of tea (or milk, hahahahaha) but to me they are just another element of the photo with a great deal of leeway for symbolic interpretations.
  10. Intentions only get us so far. If a photographer intentionally blows highlights, we then know it's not an accident but that doesn't mean it works. "I intended to do it" doesn't put to rest artistic or expressive questioning. It's more difficult and often more challenging to get a high contrast look and have punchy and effective highlights without blowing them, so a lot of people just don't bother. People play their guitars out of tune also. I am generally inspired by the balancing act between refinement and expression. The more they intertwine, for me, the deeper and more rich and satisfying the photos become. To me, overindulgence in blown highlights is kind of like a teenager jerking off before he learns how to please and be in tune with his mate.
  11. Any visual effect is fair game if it does what you want. That said, I'm pretty conservative and keep my highlights under control. One thing I avoid is a white area at the edge of a print that allows the eye to "fall out" of the frame. I want to see some density, even if slight, all around the perimeter. Full paper white is reserved for specular highlights.
  12. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Surely if the intentions are realized and it works for the photographer which, for me, is paramount then everything is fine. Anything else is extra.

    That is a red rag to the bull inside me but I see your point. However, sometimes the most accomplished photographers will blow highlights (intentionally or otherwise) in order to create an effect. Look at Gordon's post in the most recent landscape* thread. To me that screams this world (his walk to work) and the next (the ethereal nature of all that white space). Gordon's good enough to know about correct exposure but he chose not to worry about it (he could have ignored the scene after all).

    * Wednesday Landscapes, 13 September 2017

    A subject close to my heart but I'm not suggesting one overindulges in BHs. Like everything else moderation is the key.
  13. More acceptable? What does that assume about photographs?

    I will "accept" anything that works anywhere it works.
    Uhooru and tholte like this.
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    not sure it says anything about photographs but could provide some insight into how photographers react to photographs, non?
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2017
  15. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    splendid. my own pov
    Uhooru likes this.
  16. All photographers can learn and evolve well beyond the intentions they realize this moment. Things working out for the moment isn't the be all and end all. It's often just the beginning.
    Gordon't photo is a great example. Beautiful photo. It is so beautiful precisely because Gordon is good enough NOT TO HAVE BLOWN any highlights. It went just up to that edge. All that white mist is NOT paper. It's got texture and depth. Compare Gordon's photo to photos that have high contrast skies, where clouds or sky itself are a graphic white blotch, with no detail at all. Those are the kinds of things I was referring to.
  17. Yes, we're agreed it depends on the photo and circumstances. To get into those circumstances a bit, IMO, the reason the graphic whites in the high contrast sky photoss I'm thinking of don't work is that they often tend to have a very refined feel and the blown highlights, to me, stand out as mistakes, not in keeping with the tune of the rest of the photo. Compare those situations, where I think blown clouds and sky mostly come off as just unsightly to santharam's post in the recent Windshield thread, where the blasts of light on the sides of the tunnel are blown but work well, IMO, in the context of the rest of the shot, because of how the overall photo feels and works.
  18. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    On my iphone, which is how I choose to view things*, the water is white in places. Maybe not on a 40 inch monitor but it still works for me

    * if i zoom in I can see some detail but i don't want to have to that. i am happy with the BHs
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Of all the scenarios, I think blown highlights in clouds and sky are the least offensive. To me white flashes in the sky are Portals to somewhere else.
  20. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Blown highlights can very effectively convey certain moods/places/etc just as much as total darkness. There can be a stairway to heaven effect, or a feeling of escape, or blinding spirituality. For me, works in color and black and white.



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