B&W or into the Abyss?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by 35mmdelux, Feb 23, 2007.

  1. I like black & white photography alot. My shelves replete w/ monographs of zen-
    masters of all formats and many forays to galleries.

    My film background is in colour. Kodachromes or film, whatever I could get my
    hands on over the last 35 years.

    I don't shoot much in B&W. Although ocassionally I get lucky and get a B&W
    keeper - the contrast is there, the composition is there, the light is there.
    On other occasions I've been able to salvage something by working it out in the

    But more often than not, my B&W is boring. I'm close to the point of saying I'm
    done w/ B&W, I'm a colour shooter.

    Before I let go, I'd like to take a last stab at it, if you will.

    Thus, here is my question: Based on your experience, are your B&W keepers a
    result of additional work after shooting or are you able to just shoot, take to
    the lab and be done with it?

    (I realize A. Adams did alot of post work)

    Thanks - Paul
  2. I've never used a lab that produced good results with black and white film. There are speciality labs out there that do amazing work on black and white papers, but we are talking custom $$$$. With the price of darkroom equipment right now, its so easy to setup a capable darkroom and produce outstanding prints that will blow away anything a commercial lab can even come close to. I hope later on in my photographic career I can pay people to produce fine prints at better quality than I can, but for now I'm printing myself and am impressed by how much I've progressed past the ho-hum fuji frontier print.
  3. B+W or Color, i can't imagine just taking something to the lab and not having any further

    For every i take, that i think i might want to look at again, or print, or show someone, i
    expect to do some sort of 'post-capture' work. At minimum, it gets scanned and levels/
    tones are adjusted.

    Letting a lab worker make aesthetic decisions for you doesn't make any sense, unless
    you're working with a real craftsman, who knows what you're trying to accomplish.

    Looking back, when i was more naive, i used to make gear-related assessments based on
    the results from lab-printed photos. Now that i've re-scanned some of those negatives, i
    realize i've made some significant errors in those evaluations....

    Whatever. I'm coming to a point, with 'non-critical' pictures, that i may just start shooting
    Portra, and using various Photoshop tools to convert to B+W. It's like shooting digital RAW.
    Do whatever you want with it later. Make your decisions later. But, make them YOUR
  4. The only way I could answer this, is to say, the amount of work needed on the print is often related to how well exposed the negative is. Anyways, I'm fairly slow in the darkroom and if I can get 2 prints in 3-4 hours that I considered keepers, I would be ecstatic. Normally takes me 2-4 hours per print. That doesn't include washing the fiber print either. There are rare times when I've gotten a keeper on the 1st or second one.
  5. For me the whole point of B&W photography is the freedom the darkroom allows to play with the pictures after you've shot them. With colour, There isn't as much room for interpretation as we have such strong preconceptions of how the world should look in colour.

    In B&W photography, I think the darkroom is more important than shooting - in so far as the finished image is concerned. The negative is just the beginning of the process, where I'll take that neg in the darkroom is where the real work begins. It's not "additional work", it's essential work in my mind.

    Maybe I'm wrong about colour (Joel Meyerowitz and Ernst Haas, I'm sure, didn't just take their films to the lab - or did they?), but B&W is all about the darkroom.
  6. I do only black and white. But to take my film and give it to some one else to process is unthinkable to me. Photography is a hobby to me. Most of my fun time is in the dark room. A lot of aggravating time is spent there also. To snap the pic is great. But to get into the darkroom and yourself make that pic the way you want it is very rewarding. I tried color for awhile and went back to black and white and will stay there. If I had to give up my dark room, then I would give up the hobby of photography. Gus.
  7. To David D. Your right on the money. I wish I would have said it that way. Gus.
  8. I was going to add much of the sort of thing David D. right on remark. Often the photo is "found" in the darkroom. I know pros that shoot black and white and have a "favorite" printer they work with. They will get work printsthen mark-up the prints with instructions re contrast, dodging/burning etc. Darkroom is truly a big part of b/w photography. However, working in the digital medium is really no different, only different tools.
  9. agree with david. i process my own, but other than filter choice for contrast and cropping, the pic is done when the shutter closes. good production makes a good photo better, but you have to start with a good photo.
  10. Paul, I shoot a lot of B/W. But I gave up the darkroom a long time ago. CS2 IS my darkroom. I have a professional lab develop my film. They give me my negs and a contact sheet. I scan my negs and the decent ones go into a folder to be "tweaked" in PS. Occasionaly I get shots which require almost no work, but everything still has to be imported into PS to be printed. Good luck to you and whatever method you choose.
  11. As you know shooting Leica means shooting B&W for many. It is Leica's domain. Thus I'm trying to figure out where I'm going wrong or are my expectations out of sync?

    When I shoot kodachromes my job is pretty done as far as I'm concerned. B&W seems to be another story, where the neg is the first step for many.

    Thanks very much for your perspective. Paul
  12. I like color photography a lot..., etc. But, I don't shoot much color. In fact, the last time I shot any color was in 2003 and the rolls of Velvia and Sensia are still in the freezer, unprocessed. Color is boring to me. It's too easy to make a picture in color that impresses people who are easily impressed and it's damn near impossible for me to make a picture in color that impresses me.

    In one of my books on Elliott Erwitt, he was quoted as saying something to the effect that he didn't respect any photographer who wouldn't develop his own film. That might be a little on the harsh side, but it does point out that the process of photographing includes several steps that are intimately related to and dependent on each other. If you can't or won't involve yourself in each of those steps, you're unlikely to understand and appreciate the whole process. Photography then equates to the rich guy who buys a Rolls Royce and hires someone to drive him around in it. He likes the idea of owning a Rolls but he doesn't derive any pleasure or contentment to driving one.

    If you want to shoot black and white film, you should learn to process the film. It's easily done--just like following a recipe. Then you should have access to a chemical darkroom and you should learn to print your negatives adequately. If you aren't willing to take each of the steps, don't start the process. Just shoot color and let the lab drive the Rolls.
  13. If you shoot Leica there is really only one way to (at least for me) and that's b&w. I do like colour but I still believe a good b&w print is so much more impressive. I just have to open Sebastiao Salgado's books, Robert Doisneau, HCB.... . These people have worked exclusively in b&w and have produced images that just wouldn't have been the same had they been shot in colour. Apart from that, it's the darkroom part that gives tremendous satisfaction. "Creating" a beautifully crafted print is such a rewarding thing. How many times have we burned jpegs onto cd's? They become anonomous and you forget about them after a while. A hand crafted b&w print stays with you.
  14. In the 1990s, for three years, I was a member of a camera club that had monthly slide and print competitions. Everything submitted was in color, and I got weary of looking at so many color slides and prints. Thus, when I left the club forever, I switched to b&w film and I am still having a blast with it! I cherish making prints in the 8 x 6 feet darkroom in my garage. The only problem I encounter is living in Los Angeles, wherein I am often frustrated about finding any good subject material/interesting circumstances to capture on film.
  15. I forgot to add the fact that I shoot Delta 100 and Acros 100 as well as Tri-X when needed, and I process all in Microdol-X to get wonderful negs. I love pulling the fixed negs out of the stainless steel canister to view what I got from my Leica lenses and the above films for the first time, and I experience the same joy I had when I was 13 and processed my first roll. The more b&w I shoot, my compositions get better and my prints get more gorgeous.
  16. I am devoted to B&W film photography. Fotunately, I am old enough so that I probably
    won't be around when B&W film disappears.

    On the one hand, I have not been in "the darkroom" in 25 years. On the other hand, I have
    always developed my own B&W film because the best possible negative is the key to the
    best possible print under any circumstances. So, I have chosen a "hybrid" scheme; I
    develope my own B&W film but I also use a dedicated digital film scanner and lots of
    sophisticated software. Some image files are printed using my "printer;" other image files
    are printed by a professional lab using an expensive and sophisticated "printer." The
    principal difference has been, and will continue to be, the size of the print that I want to

    Am I happy with my B&W prints from my printer? Yes. Am I happy with the professional
    lab output? Yes. In both situations, it's the content of the image file that has determined
    whether I, or anyone else, likes it. So.

    My answer to your question is: No. And yes. It's the rare negative of mine, in B&W or
    color, that can't be improved by cropping but that was also the way it was in the
    darkroom. The digital darkroom is a powerful tool for correcting and modifying exposure.
    contrast, brightness, etc. It does seem to me that the weakest link is the "print," but I have
    received substantial praise for simple B&Ws generated by my home printer.

    There is no doubt in my mind that at this point in time, most digital prints are easily
    distinguishable from silver prints. Is one better? Hmmm. A better question, I think, is
    whether one tool is better than the other for a particular situation.
  17. Hi Lee: Actually I do have a darkroom w/ an Omega D5 triple lens turret and I used to develop and print my work. My question doesn't concern the dp process.

    I asked simply in your experince to you do lot of post work or not!

    I also didn't say B&W was boring. I said MY (as in Me)B&W was boring.

    If you believe that HCB and Ralph Gibson are the end all, thats fine. Art has many interpretations. I happen to like William Eggleston's and William Christianberry's work, in addition to HCB and Gibson.

    Thanks for your interpretation - Paul
  18. jtk


    If you don't master your own printing but still want worthwhile prints you'll have to deal directly with a printer who will then be responsible for at least half of the aesthetic value of what was once your image. You'll be his helper in the field, the lackey who wanders around in the daylight with the Leica, finding hints of images that he can turn into art.

    Scanning and inkjet printing offers more control and subtlety, not to mention sharpness, than did wet darkroom work. Common film scanners deliver higher detail resolution than did any enlarger.

    The main drawbacks to digital processing are that one sits on one's tail and peers into a monitor, and it's not as easy to do that with wine as it is when darkrooming.
  19. Hi John Kelly: Does that apply to HCB since he printed nothing?
  20. i process all my b&w film at home. i also print,mount and frame the good ones ( in 2006
    there was only one good one).
    i don't think the work is done after the exposure, since you still have to choose which
    developer you will use, at what dilution and for how long, and then which paper, at what
    contrast and at what size will you print. then the colour of the mat and the type of frame. as
    you can see, there's a lot of work involved. i enjoy it from the moment i release the shutter. i
    think you should stick to b&w and aim for that elusive print we all crave for.
  21. My B & W is developed to my specs and printed out on 4 X 6 prints with a rudimentary exposure adjustment done by machine. From this I can select any that I want to either scan to disk and / or have the lab print. If I have the lab print, I reference the 4 X 6 print with clear instruction on how I want to adjust from there. A good lab will work with you on it and do it over several times to get it right, providing you give them very full directions. So yes, there is a post capture production but not more than the typical darkroom.

    I use Isgo in Burbank, which is owned by A & I. They do good work.
  22. First, definitely get out there and shoot. You obviously love photography, and you should at the very least, take a last stab at it (I suggest a dozen or so:))

    To your question (and this will be heresy) I run my Tri-x at a regular old photo lab, scan it at home and them make prints at a mediocre lab near my house (with a good printer). I always have to spend a hell of a lot of time working on the pics with photoshop, but generally, I'm happy with them in the end.
  23. "Paul A. - Los Angeles, CA. , feb 23, 2007; 05:41 p.m.
    Hi John Kelly: Does that apply to HCB since he printed nothing?"

    HCB devloped and printed his own film for the first 15 years of his photographic career. I presume he let labs handle it after that becuase he was too busy shooting. Personally, I'd rather pay a master printer to make my prints because I'll never be that good of a printmaker due to my impatience. Wether I can afford to or not is another question
  24. I was about to disagree with earlier responses when my server connection
    crashed. Thanks to those who subsequently considered darkroom and
    lightroom work as creative (David and others). This is why anyone should be
    involved in B&W photography. Most successful images are from good
    negatives, but they are also the results of creative darkroom modifications.
    Realism is often secondary. The f64 group, Ansel and the pictorialists have
    been left behind. What is most important is that B&W is not realistic; by its very
    non-chromogenic appearance it is a first step toward the abstract. By
    eliminating the confusion of competing colour values (yes, there is also
    harmony in that) we are forced to concentrate on the essentials of line, point,
    form, texture and light. B&W is an elegant medium for that. The variations in a
    darkroom print are endless. The creative possibilities also. The untried
    possibilities will outlive us all.
  25. I've been enjoying reading this thread.

    Paul, just because shooting a Leica may be synonymous with shooting B&W for many people doesn't mean it has to be that way for you. I had a quick look at your bio-page here. Your stated purpose in photography is to use the camera to record your life - as it happens, so what better camera than a Leica for that? I'd say keep doing what you're doing for that aspect of your photography.

    B&W is a whole other world, and since you want to take another stab at it, and you're fortunate enough to own an Omega D series enlarger, why not choose an entirely new and different type of camera and film format for B&W alone?

    Using a tripod mounted camera and focusing an upside down image on ground glass will certainly change your approach to your subject. Graflex's are not too expensive (In case the experiment doesn't work out), reasonably light, and even hand-holdable. 4X5 negs certainly make printing a rewarding experience. There are other possibility's too.

    I do believe that b&w photography requires an entirely different way of looking at the world, and if what you want to do is learn to see differently (which is what I think you are saying), then a slower camera than a Leica may help with that.
  26. I did a large work after shooting. I needed a full weekend to print something acceptable, I`m refering only to the technical work (contrast and exposure balance, developing and archival finishing, mounting). Usually no more than five prints of the same negative. That prints were made for exhibition purposes or obligations. I never find acceptable the work of a commercial lab. Printers & scanning and all that digital procedures doesn`t work to me in b&w. The print as a mere object is very important to me, aside other considerations. I`m setting up a new darkroom, it will be finished in a few months. I`m shooting now only 35mm film for this reason.
    Lately, when I see the scans of my last developed film, my first thought is: "-crap, as usual-". Most of my art work is absolutely boring to my eyes. This shots are usually made in a foolish way, simply go out and shot.
    What would I like to see on my prints? What would I like to say on my prints? Do I want to transmit something? Do I achieve it? When I think over it, I find some of the reasons of my boring work.
    Anyway, (excuse me) I hate photojournalism. I usually find documentary work just usefull, original, beautiful but generally empty and boring, (specially mine...).
  27. In the early 90s, after no photographing for at least a decade, I discovered that my prints lacked interest. Puzzled about what the basis of that was, I joined the aforementioned camera club because I'd heard that the slide competitions in them could be very informative and instructive. That turned out to be true: After one visit, the elaborations of the judge of the competition were, indeed informative and instructive and zeroed in on what I ultimately knew was the basis for my lousy prints: a lack of good composition! I also learned what Herbert Keppler says in his article in the March 2007 issue of Popular Photography: Get in tight, work the viewfinder. (Get as close as possible to subjects but don't leave anything essential out and examine every edge of the viewfinder and make it work for you.)Thus, I've changed from a naive b&w shooter to a skilled one, and 99% of my negs are easy to print in my darkroom.
  28. I am now reminded of what Fred Picker said about Paul Strand, I believe it was, and how
    he, Strand, took great care with the corners of his ground glass. Picker asserted that if one
    took care about the corners, the composition often resolves itself in a satisfactory way.

    One can shoot a Leica with that guidance in mind, I try to do so; likewise, with my Canon
    DSLR, Rollei T or Rollei 6008AF.

    Also remember Adams rate of keepers; a half dozen in a year, wasn't it?

    Cheers, Jim
  29. James, Adams's self-admitted rate of keepers each year was probably due to his large-format shooting (8x10 inch cameras). I was with Kim Weston and two other people in Carmel last June, at the Point Lobos seashore areak, all of us capturing images with 8x10 inch Arca-Swiss cameras. In four hours, we got only three shots, one of which was a keeper. Why? Because handling an 8x10 inch camera involves lugging it on a tripod all over the place looking for a shootable composition, locking in the composition in the viewfinder, adjusting tilt, focusing, performing a focus calculation and adjusting the camera on the rail to reflect the range of focus one desires, inserting the film sheet, firing the shutter, and removing the film sheet. It is a time-consuming, dedicated, laborious procedure. I had my R8 and M6 with me and, of course, I was able to make many more photos with both cameras while we were there than I ever could have with the Arca-Swiss 8x10. So, again, perhaps Adams's statement referred to his large-format shooting efforts.
  30. You're right I'm not giving up on B&W anytime soon. I'm going to take ownership beyond just the click. I'm going to start developing and printing my own images.

    Jeffery: HCB primary interest was in the shoot, not in the darkroom. To this end, he used the same printer (famous name but not remembered by me at this moment) for many years. HCB gave instructions on the final print and no doubt the printer knew what HCB expected.

    David D: Thanks for your suggestions. Funny thing is that I loaded my Mamiya 330F with Ilford 125 over the weekend. We'll see how that goes.

    Thanks ALL - Paul

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