Kodak Retina Automatic III
Kodak Gold 200

When you shoot black and white, do you look for different things from when you shoot color? I do. I tend to look for shadows and contrast when I shoot black and white.

When I came upon this scene, it said “black and white” to me. But I was shooting color film. So when it came back from the processor I used Photoshop’s black-and-white tool on it. I added a virtual blue filter to bring out the grain in the bench’s wooden slats.

Except for a little mottling on the wall under and behind the bench, the conversion turned out all right. That mottling isn’t present on the original color shot, which is here. More from this camera in a full review tomorrow!


10 responses to “single frame: Bench”

  1. Rhianne (@forthedistractd) Avatar

    Ohh yes its a lovely shot, the contrasts are so stark and the lines moving through the perspective are enhanced wonderfully in black and white! I definitely look for different things when shooting b&w versus colour, its like another language you have to learn in order to communicate the way you want, you have to think differently. I do like the tones in the colour image too though.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s a great way to put it — b/w is like another language you learn to communicate.

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    That is definitely a shot that works well in b/w.

    It is also interesting to see a scene that is sepia toned in real life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! It was real-life sepia!

  3. dan james Avatar

    Yes, I definitely have a different approach if I’m shooting b/w (or shooting colour with the intention to convert to b/w afterwards).

    It kind of simplifies the approach, and I look for shapes, geometry, light, shadows, contrast, textures. Compared with shooting in colour, I probably think about depth of field and bokeh less, and of course colours.

    I read an article a couple of years back (not sure where now!) but it talked about putting your b/w eyes in, or your b/w head on when shooting b/w, and having that different intention from the outset, as opposed to shooting in colour and then converting shots randomly to see if they might be good in b/w. The article suggested the latter happens often because the shot doesn’t work anyway (basic content, composition, lighting etc) so we try to “salvage” a photo with a b/w conversion that we maybe should just delete anyway.

    This approach has definitely worked for me.

    I think what helped a great deal was when I was shooting exclusively with a Nikon Coolpix in 2011/12 (before I discovered film and way before I used a digital mirrorless or DSLR) is it had a great custom mode called “high contrast monochrome”.

    Being a compact digital, it has a screen only, no viewfinder, but the advantage was as you change custom modes, the screen changes too, so you can preview exactly how the shot will look before you take it. I used this mode probably more than shooting straightforward colour, and was shooting about 1000 shots a month for seven or eight months. This allowed me to see the world in b/w and learn better what works and what doesn’t.

    I’d recommend to anyone fairly new to b/w (shooting film or digital) to just play around with a digital camera (or camera phone) on a b/w setting just to get used to seeing your typical surroundings in b/w. In time you just start to remember and can visualise it better, even when going back to an optical viewfinder.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There is a lot of wisdom in using a digital camera for practice. The costs are so low, once you’ve bought the gear. Someday I ought to write a post about this. My digital Canon S95 has made me a much better photographer because I can take 40 shots of a thing, from all angles and at various settings, just to see what happens.

  4. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    I like it … what a strange world this is … I posted a similar pic yesterday on flickr …

    … also a bench and … also b/w ;)

    Pic shot with my iphone (pun intended) as I had no other cam at hands and cam set to b/w.
    The sky was overcast unfortunately, so no light and shadow scenery ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Benches are great subjects because they don’t complain and they don’t move!

  5. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    Jim- Being older, I have b&w as the default setting in my head. Almost all my early camera work was with Plus-X, plus a little Tri-X. Only rarely could I afford a roll of Ektachrome or Kodacolor. They were both 32 ASA in those days, so limiting in that regard too. I really do not like color photos except in those instances where color is a necessary part of the “story”. I find color is often a distraction from the image I see in my head. The color images I like best are those of very simple composition with large blocks of the same color; A field of wheat with sky above, the side of a barn with grass, etc.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fast-enough color film has been a reality my whole photographic life, since my first roll of film shot in the summer of 1976.

      But I have to admit, I have a clearer idea of what makes a good b/w photo than I do what makes a good color photo. The color photos I like best (that others take) tend to be those, as you describe, with simple composition and large blocks of color.

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