What color is your black and white? Why?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Mar 26, 2017.

  1. Even a "black and white" picture has a color. In the olden days, you'd choose warm or cool in your printing paper and maybe apply a toning bath at the end. Nowadays, it's done in post. Even if you don't "do" anything, your picture has a tone (no tone is a tone ... ). Why do you choose what you choose?

    For example, what's the difference between this:


    ... and this:


    Why would (do!) you choose one tone or color over another?
  2. ... and what's the difference between this:


    ... and this:


    [I know these are crummy pictures: they're used for tone/color comparison only.]
    Uhooru likes this.
  3. If you have Photoshop, the above are Duotone or Tritone conversions [Image > Mode Grayscale: then Image > Mode > Duotone] top to bottom cool gr 7 bl 4, and warm gray 11 bl 1 for the grass and Bl 430 492 557 and brown 464 bl 1 for the bird's tail.
  4. I try to keep my photo true to B/W. I recently bought a Canon IP8720 and it has a grey cartridge which seems to help. Also it has enough adjustment to it that I feel I am able to print out what I see on the monitor. I shoot B/W film, usually HP5 that I purchase in bulk.

    After scanning I adjust Black/White/Shadows and Highlights in the LR5 basic panel. It's a simple process.
  5. Each instance would have a different answer. There is no abstract, universal, rule-oriented answer for me that applies to all my photos.

    Some considerations I use in determining tone:
    • content
    • the feel that the individual greyscale seems to want in combination with content
    • lighting of the presentation space
    • if part of a series, I may tone all individuals similarly for coherence based on how most have the best feel
    • like Ross, some photos seem to warrant as neutral and non-toned a b/w as possible (non-toned is not a tone)
    • very significant is knowing that my screen images will be subject to monitor differences in terms of their own warmth and tone, which is a good reminder that I can't control everything in terms of what others may see
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2017
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  6. Just in a very general sense, I've noticed that people (viewers) respond positively to a slightly warmer tint rather than neutral. I guess I favor that as well as long as its subtle. Ansel Adams in his book The Print pointed out that dilute selenium toning which prolonged the life of a silver halide print, also imparted a slight purple-ish tone which added perceived depth to the image. I used to do that and it seemed to be true. Sepia has also been a popular form of warm toning, which I have never been drawn to myself. Overall, I tend to use a subtle warmish or selenium like tone to my black and white images. Like Fred mentions, I could see someone doing a series of images with a particular tone for the whole series.
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  7. Fred has an eloquent way of stating his points and I wish I was more like that. But "I yam what I yam" as Popeye would say.

    For myself I try not to observe on-line photos very much and prefer to view a print. These days it is 99.9% my own prints as I do not know anyone that prints photos any longer. Of course facebook pictures are on-line but I have no critical eye towards that. It's just cell snaps to illustrate a topic of some sort.

    Photos all belong to the creator. Some like it hot and some like it cold. It's all good!
  8. Ross, I didn't print a whole lot up until about 4 years ago when I had my first gallery show, at which time I started to realize what different animals prints and screen images are. Now, I try to tailor everything toward the print and I think it's improved my photography. One thing I learned was how so much of my black and white toning didn't translate from screen image to the lighting I was using in the gallery, a combination of natural light and artificial spots. I wound up re-toning everything for the prints. Not to mention so many other things (aside from toning) that worked differently in print than on screen. I wound up with new files for everything I was printing, sometimes changing the whole approach to a photo because the print and the screen just seemed to want very different approaches to certain photos.

    I know what you mean about photos belonging to the creator though, maybe especially because I make a lot of portraits, I feel the photos belong as much to the subject of the portrait as to me. My documentary work feels like it belongs as much to the group I'm documenting as to me. I'm not terribly possessive about my photos. When posting photos online or having a show, the sharing aspect is very important to me. So I do consider what others are seeing. I think that's important when it comes to subtleties, for example. I know what every subtle choice I make is. But it's sometimes helpful to keep in mind that viewers aren't as intimate with the details of each photo and if I want a subtlety to work and be seen, sometimes I have to exaggerate it just a bit. It's kind of like a stage whisper. If you truly whisper, the people in the balcony won't hear it, and stage whispers often advance the plot in important ways, so you want to mimic a whisper without really whispering.

    Steve, you make a good point. I was counseled early on that even a very slight toning can give a photo depth, and I often find that to be true as well, even though I still decide sometimes not to tone my black and whites.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  9. I think, for a monochrome image to remain in the realm of black and white, the coloring has to be subtle, so that not the color but the effect is discernible at first look. In my opinion, great toning is subtle, like homeopathic medicine (not glorifying pseudoscience, only the concept), where the hue is reduced to essence, removing the body of color. It's not easy to achieve in digital, with limited sets of bits to define shades and then combining ink dots to reproduce on paper. In my mind, what toning achieves is a tuning of the monochrome dimensions themselves, such as depth, form and texture, instead of adding an extra dimension that is color. What that does to the viewer is prepare a baseline mood, over which the rest of the image is projected. It is understood that we associate color with our other senses, and vice versa. For example, cool toning can point to cool touch, or warm toning can remind of warm summer, or warm looking foods, like cakes or coffee.

    I generally use neutral tones in my black and white work. Among hundreds of images, I hardly have photos with colored tones. However, I have seen images where color toning seemed to have worked well. In architecture images, specially with many metal parts, cool selenium toning can create a specific mood that blends well with the image. In urban photos, I have seen cool toning to be effectively used with sunrise or sunset photos. It probably creates a contradiction in the viewer due to the warm sunlight being portrayed as bluish. That works well, if the photographer wanted to highlight the artificiality of the urban environment and create stress and tension in the viewer.

    I think warm toning is sometimes used to create a closeness or rapport with the subject. I remember a few months back in the digital forum, someone posted the image of a street musician and asked us to post-process it according to our taste. I opted for a warm sepia-ish toning because it seemed natural to do so.

    I will say one more thing before finishing. Does it make sense if I say, that depending on the content, some black and white images can give the perception of toning where it does not exist. I have seen some landscape images that feel cool, although no such toning was applied. It is probably just an effect of forms and textures. Such images could actually seem neutral when a small reverse toning is applied.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  10. Julie I like that first photo.

    I was cycling today up in the mountains and I saw the biggest boar I have ever seen in the ditch at the side of the road.. I wondered if I would take it's picture if I was not on my bicycle and then decided that I was afraid of the beast and would not. . Luckily when the animal saw me he decided to retreat which was a popular decision all around. . He was nearly black but had some light grey highlights in his fur and would have looked great in print for the photographer that could get the shot. I see wild pigs a few times a year but usually not within smiling distance. We also have some tartantula's out on the road every October. They are quite a site and they are not harmful. I enjoy seeing them. They also have great tones for a pretty nice picture. I never carry a camera on my bike rides so I cannot stop to shoot anyway.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2017
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  11. It's a personal choice, driven by the character of image.

    Last edited: Mar 26, 2017
  12. exit.......jpg I have no particular interest in landscapes really but I was at Yosemite last week and took a few snapshots. I believe this one is pretty much just black and white. With family shots I do not usually use a contrast filter but with scenic snaps I tend to go red or orange quite often. However it's all black, grey and white.
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  13. One more just for fun.

    swinging bridge.....jpg
  14. In the "olden days" (like 15 years ago...) toning a photograph also had to do with protecting the silver in the image from airborne pollutants. The byproduct of the toning process was a change in the color of the black-and-white image. So, you have to recognize that not all toning was done for purely aesthetics.

    Selenium toning was used as part of "archival processing" and also increased the contrast of the image (added density to the blacks). When selenium toning was used with a slight bleach to clear the whites, you could increase the image tonal range by one step on a grey scale - and this could be measured and verified with a densitometer.

    However, more to your point, some photographers chose specific papers because the emulsions had a tone that they felt gave their images an aesthetic look that better conveyed their vision of the final print. Today, black and white images printed on an inkjet are "toned" for one reason - to give an aesthetic effect as opposed to increasing contrast or protecting the image.

    It's really up to the photographer to choose the effect they want. I find the problem with some inkjet printers is the inks do not give a neutral rendition of the print, and I personally find black-and-white prints with a slight greenish bias to be unflattering to most images. Other than that - don't really care - just make interesting photographs.
  15. In addition to, or in some ways, the opposite of tone as response to either content or viewing context, there are two things that come to my mind: timbre and the photograph as an authority.

    Timbre: sometimes one likes to hear or touch or know a material for its own sake. Because the stone or metal or clay or the violin or piano just feels or sounds ... lovely we listen for their voice above and beyond what they are being used to convey. Certain black and white tones seem to me to accentuate photograph-ness without any particular regard to content. And photograph-ness is a lovely thing ( though silver gelatin is different from digital, but I won't go there ... ).

    Photograph as authority (not servant): that's a cumbersome way of saying what happens if you take Winogrand's quote (that I am heartily sick of): "I photograph to find out what things look like photographed," and turn it on its head. Instead of thinking of it as an interest in the content, think of it as an interest in the photograph as the thing. Black and white, unbending, untoned, asserts itself over the content, and that black-and-white thing is considered. The process owns the content, not the other way around. The content bends to the black and white; the black and white does not bend to the content.
  16. Back to the whole theory of representation thing: Julie's last asks a very good question. Is the photo about the subject, or is it about the photograph itself (as in paper, pigments, pixels, processing, screen resolution, etc...)? Most photographs (including the vast majority of snapshots, family pix, and so forth) are simply pictures of some thing or some one. Others are explicitly documentary in nature, or artistic renditions of an engaging scene, and so forth. Some very finite fraction are executed such that the material components of the photograph ARE the art, particularly in non-representational, abstract compositions. We might see this as similar to how a painter manipulates the paints and canvas of a similarly themed painting, or how a sculptor works the clay. The art is in the material expression, rather than in the thing being represented. The melding of these differing criteria can make a fascinating study. I am reminded of how the painter will use the pallet knife to not only mix and spread colors, but to add texture that enhances the experience of the art. Ansel Adams' was successful in part because he effectively combined very engaging images with highly developed manipulations of his media on which those images were expressed. I wonder, sometimes, if being shackled to a digital format, in which those who view my images do so on video screens whose calibration varies and is not under my control, distracts from my ability to fully communicate my art. I'm not even sure what the digital/video analog would be to the tinting of a printed image or its treatment for various technical purposes.
  17. Some interesting musings, David. A few thoughts:

    I like the distinctions you go on to make. And for me as it seems for you, family snapshots don't elicit much in the way of thinking about the more photographic and materialistic aspects of an image. But, I don't think in most cases it's an either/or proposition in terms of my own work. There's always a photographic/materialistic aspect to all my photos that serves as kind of a substrate to the subject matter. So, even the most content-oriented photo has elements of abstraction (shape, form, texture, color, tone . . .). And I sort of weave together whatever the subject/s of my photos may be with the fact that it's a photo. I don't really see those things as separable, even though it's helpful sometimes to distinguish what's what. To pick up on what you say a few sentences later, the material expression is at play even in the most representational photo. Adams is a great example of someone who was a masterful technician and understood how important the material aspects were and there's an art to his prints that's there along with his subject matter, sometimes actually even more powerful than his subject matter.
    This is a valid concern which I share. My solace (perhaps rationalization) is this: A photographer and any other artist probably can't ever fully communicate his art. There will always be variables in terms of what a viewer brings to the table. Even photographers who made their own prints in the days of yore were subject to the decisions of curators and lighting designers, except in the rare case of those who controlled every aspect of presentation. Art, like everything else in life, is not perfect. There are variables and no (or few) certainties. Mostly, you do the best you can and, when you do, I'll bet your communication will be pretty darn good. At the same time, when you share your photos, to at least some extent, they take on a life of their own, for a variety of reasons.
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  18. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    My choice is dictated purely by subject matter and the impression I want to convey. I suppose my basic 'cut-off' point is that the type of images I would have seen in black and white while I was 'growing up' (as much as I have done) during the fifties and sixties still seem to me to work well in the same tones. When I decide to retain an image in colour, I often choose strong vibrant colours in PP, to enhance the effect, but for an image of muted, limited colour range, then i will do what I can to enhance that in my view. If people like my approach, then that is fine.
  19. For you to think about: the work of Yamamoto Masao.

    He plays all up and down the tonal scale, mixing it up in the same book (I'm looking at Tori, in this instance). In addition, in his book he occasionally 'tips in' a print as if it were 'real' (it's actually the same printing as the book's pages). See below:

    Yamamoto_tippedIn01.jpg .............. Yamamoto_tippedIn02.jpg

    He usually does the same tone for several pages, yellow, gold, bluish, even greenish, before switching to another tone. Only in one instance does he have two different tones on the same page. I've scanned that whole page for you to see here. Note that the faint off-color behind the prints is from the picture on the preceding page. I wonder if he took that into consideration or simply couldn't avoid it.

    From his web site, here are some examples of his tone choices. Most of these are not in the book I'm looking at. I couldn't find those online. I think the extreme simplicity of the content of his picture is what allows or lends itself to this kind of tone play. I think tonal play with more assertive content would probably have been messy and intrusive.

    There are tonal age indicators:

    Note that if you're thinking Yamamoto Masao is into digital flim-flammery, at the bottom of his pages there is this: "*All the prints shown on this website are gelatin silver prints."
  20. I agree with the previous observation.
    Not just the tone, I think the texture in Yamamoto's prints plays a vital role too. It is like looking through a curtained window. Instead of forming a base over which the content is constructed, the tone and texture are at the same level of significance as the content itself. I think the experience would be complete if the actual print could be touched and the developing chemicals smelled while viewing the prints.

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