Black and White Adds Fiction to Photographs.

I've tried for years to figure out why I prefer to look at black and white photographs of many subjects. It finally dawned on me after watching the movie, "La Dolce Vita" for the millionth time.
Removing color removes a layer of implied reality from the art. When that layer is removed we get to look at the image or movie as more of a fiction or story and less as a documentation of reality.

The lack of color, and the beguiling interplay of tones, allows us to put aside our presumption of objectivity and dive into whatever visual narrative the artist wanted to present.

And if you are just buying photographic art as an investment you can buy black and white prints without the worry that some of the colors in a color print might clash with your couch or your decorator's choice of wall paint.....

Having realized all of this I now want all camera makers to concentrate on giving us better and more customizable black and white modes. Regardless of sensor size or quantity of megapixels.

Why would they not want to give us the opportunity to make better black and white photos?
I wouldn't cost much to add better profiles to most cameras on the market.


Craig said...

Yes; a color image (at least if the colors are naturalistic) is like a window to a particular moment in a particular place. You see through it and there it is, just as it was. A black and white image is an artistic creation; it's not as "real", because reality is not in black and white (unless you're a dog, I suppose). Of course, a color photograph is an artistic creation too, but less obviously so unless there is something obviously unrealistic about it (exaggerated or false colors, extreme perspective, fisheye, etc.)

Personally, though, I'm not much interested in cameras that are fundamentally designed for color but have options for generating black and white in-camera. I'd rather shoot raw and then make the black and white I want in Lightroom. In some ways that's even better than a true black and white camera like the Leica Monochrom; while such a camera can increase resolution by not using a Bayer filter and not needing to demosaic the image, it gives you a very inflexible black and white image, much like shooting with B&W film (which for many people will be a plus). Shooting with digital in color and then converting to monochrome gives you the freedom to adjust the color channels at leisure to get the best black and white image possible.

Kristian Wannebo said...

yes, I think you nailed it.

I've also had some difficulty coming to that conclusion. Perhaps because I grew up with only b/w (film) and, naturally, accepted b/w as representing reality.

So a question comes up.
We grew up with (also) b/w film.
But how do the next generations, who learned colour photography first, regard that difference?
Maybe somewhat differently?
Or do they just find it obvious?
- - -

I'd certainly like a dedicated button to quickly switch the EVF between colour and b/w.
( And whether that changed JPG mode as well should be selectable.
I'd like to record.RAW + JPG + JPG-b/w!)
The colour and b/w JPG modes should, of course, have separate parameters.

PacNW said...

I also like to depart from "this is what you would have seen had you been there" photos often and B&W is my main way of doing so because I love the look.

"I now want all camera makers to concentrate on giving us better ... black and white modes."

Fujifilm Acros film simulation is wonderful. It is very different from standard monochrome modes in several ways, including more grain in the shadows than in the highlights. See here, for example:


Many photographers have given it high praise. Plus, X-Trans sensors sacrifice some chrominance resolution for some luminance resolution, so they have an advantage when used for B&W. I went with Fujifilm due to my preference for B&W and I'm very happy with it.

Thanks for another great post.

David said...

Sounds like after your recent G9 purchase, you maybe after a Fuji XT3. That camera has been just given high marks for video and its one of the best for black and white. Maybe worth a second trip to your favorite store to borrow one for the day.

Michael Matthews said...

Very astute, those first two paragraphs. I think they sum up the fascination with black and white best represented in recent years by LensWork Magazine in print. Art in hand, a fresh supply every other month.

For those of us who grew up in earlier times, though, raised on a diet of black ink on newsprint and Life Magazine, black and white was perceived as a distillation of reality. The essence of a moment or event captured.

Ironically, newspaper editors referred to photos as “the art.” “Where’s the art?” “What do we have for art?”

Unknown said...

Good morning from the UK.

I have only just started reading your blog and find it funny, sad, informative and delightful (that last one is for Studio Dog: beautiful, soulful eyes!).

Anyway, the reason for this comment is that I agree with you about in camera B&W: we should be able to have a set of B&W scene functions rather than those which come with a camera - I am never going to use the 'Toy' effect (I use Panasonic G1, G3 and now a GH3), but I would like a good set of monochrome options to play with.

Keep up the good work, it makes me want to be a better photographer.

Best regards.


Ron White said...

Fuji has a good menu of in-camera B&W options. They have Monochrome w/filters and ACROS w/filters. ACROS is their black & white Neon ACROS film. I'm pleased with the images I get.

Daniel Walker said...

How do you process your B&H shots from start to finish.