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When Colour Won't Work

Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 4:38 AM

Sometimes colour completely kills a picture, distracting from all the important elements. In the last couple of days I've done monochrome conversions on a couple of colour pictures where my original conceptions simply didn't come through the distracting colours.

I liked this tree so much that even though I only had a telephoto lens and couldn't get far enough away from it to get the whole thing in a photo, I shot a mosaic of bits of it to stitch together later in photoshop but when I saw the colour image I was really disappointed, so it languished with a few other similars for years, until this week I went back to it and gave it the monochrome treatment:

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What pictures do you have which fail the colour test but perform well in black and white?


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Posted by: Tony Reddington on 02/01/2013 - 5:14 AM

I still shoot b +w film (not as much as i would like lately) so I tend to see the image in tones rather than color, . this one was on a dreary day and it was almost colorless anyhow

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same with this one the waves were 6 - 8 m high so i was running down the shore with a tripod when the wave retreated to grab a shot before the next one. the waves were at about 20s intervals so it was run try and compose and retreat. I 'saw' it in monochrome

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Posted by: Vivian ANDERSON on 02/01/2013 - 5:18 AM

Paul,your b/w olive tree is stunning....the grayscale really compliments this dried,old beauty.


Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 5:29 AM

Great storm, Tony, a real lowering sky!

Thanks Vivian. It took some tweaking to get there.


Posted by: Vivian ANDERSON on 02/01/2013 - 5:57 AM

Paul...big secret....this was /is a pretty colourful painting, but, I tweaked madly and figure it's much more dramatic now.....don't tell,ok!

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Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 7:30 AM

Nice one, Vivian


Posted by: Serg Ostromuhov on 02/01/2013 - 8:30 AM


Posted by: JC Findley on 02/01/2013 - 8:49 AM

I used to shoot a lot of BW film "back in the day" so have always loved the feel f a good BW.

Sometimes it works in both color and BW, and I will put both up if that is the case but there are other times when I shot specifically with black and white in mind. Strong texture comes to mind as does a scene with dull lifeless color to begin with. The shots below are on overcast and foggy winter's dasy so the color was dull and even the water was blah, but in BW, they seem to work for me.

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This one is so-so in color but the color distracts from the subject, which is a "natural" sepia to begin with so why have the distractions around it...

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Then there are images which I wasn't thinking BW at all but just don't work in color but DO in BW.

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Posted by: Claude Oesterreicher on 02/01/2013 - 8:58 AM

All my CSI photography in "the old days" HAD to be B& I'm still a fan. But how about B&W with JUST a hint of color? :))

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Posted by: Lara Ellis on 02/01/2013 - 9:00 AM

The sky was kind of a boring blue with no clouds so I thought black and white gave this one a more dramatic look:

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Posted by: Janine Riley on 02/01/2013 - 9:03 AM

great texture in those trees Paul - I want to wander around in them.
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This worked ok in color - but B & W brought the Romance out.


Posted by: Janice Drew on 02/01/2013 - 9:09 AM


Posted by: Michael And Heather Allen on 02/01/2013 - 10:16 AM


We have a number of them. I don't always double check images with b&w, but some seem to have the right mood or subject matter and I'll try. I have a few I'm working on now actually, that I can't decide between so I'll use both.

This one isn't bad in color, but it pops a bit more in b&w

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This one is way better in b&w

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This is another that looks good in color because of all the different colors, but I think I like in b&w better-the background blends better

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and lastly...this one sucks in color. I have been back and forth on TTV in general, but decided I would try some and just take the excuse to get a few TLRs. Both the Anscoflex (mine) and Argoflex (his) we have are all stuck and jambed up so they wouldn't work well for film use (not that we have the space for a darkroom to develop it anyway) so it gave them a new use. This was one of few times I used his TLR, the Argoflex. The viewfinder is so dark it makes me wonder how people ever used them to being with! I picked up a Skyflex that has the same dark viewfinder and stuck shutter and film advance issues, but I just had to because there's a stciker from Allen's Camera Shop inside of it, lol.

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Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 10:30 AM

Great photos, people, keep them coming.
Heather, I'm surprised your TLRs have dim finders. My Mamiyas are just fine, Is there some dirt or haze in the viewing lens?


Posted by: Michael And Heather Allen on 02/01/2013 - 11:03 AM

No, it's just the glass they used (there is some dirt which I left because it's part of the "TTV look", although it's mostly on the mirror rather than the viewfinder). The Anscoflex (although technically not a true TLR) is nice and bright. The Argoflex and Skyflex are both challenging for TTV. I have a little Clix O Flex I've used once or twice and that has a dark viewfinder also. I think that's why originally everyone was going for the Duaflexes-cheap, plentiful and bright viewfinders-I just liked the look of the Anscoflex WAY better. That photo is actually my Anscoflex. I love the integrated lens/viewfinder cover, makes me think of the cars of the same era for some reason (even though the Argoflex was the one that was designed in part by Harley Earl!).


Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 11:16 AM

Ah, OK. just looked them up. I wasn't familiar with those. The Mamiya is a Cadillac by comparison. Well, maybe it's the Cadillac among all TLR's.


Posted by: Rich Franco on 02/01/2013 - 1:50 PM

Here's one I like better as a B&W

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Added a filter from "Filter Forge", one of a series of 3 images,



Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 1:57 PM

Rich, that's nice, I find it very reminiscent of Blossfeldts studies of plants.


Posted by: H Drew on 02/01/2013 - 2:00 PM

I would not say that the below B&W pencil is better than the Color oil painting. it just is closer to my intent:

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Posted by: David Bowman on 02/01/2013 - 2:27 PM

Most of my recent work has been in b&w, and I think it's set to stay that way except in those cases where colour really brings something to the image:

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Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 2:28 PM

Yes, I think black and white photography is probably far closer to pencil drawing or pen and ink than colour photographer is to full colour paintings.


Posted by: Loree Johnson on 02/01/2013 - 2:32 PM

I set these two images aside because I didn't like the way they looked. The color of sagebrush is just unappealing to me. I had forgotten all about them until a couple months ago when someone else started a thread about B&W. That thread reminded me the reason I set them aside was that I wanted to try them in B&W.

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Posted by: Shawn Dall on 02/01/2013 - 2:34 PM

sometimes a little sepia can add some much added warmth to a picture too :)


Posted by: Debra Forand on 02/01/2013 - 2:37 PM

I have to agree with you there Paul! That is why these are in BW.

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Posted by: H Drew on 02/01/2013 - 2:37 PM

I'm no photographer but I believe the b&w silver-chromium prints have a characteristic that adds extra value to the investor. is it the skill in processing, or is my perception incorrect?


Posted by: Paul Cowan on 02/01/2013 - 3:10 PM

I think what you get here is high-end ink-jet printing. Wouldn't silver prints have to come out of a darkroom and be done the old fashioned way?

One interesting option for some of these would be to convert them into negatives, print that in a large size on a transparent film and then use that to create a salt print or albumen print, the way they did in the 19th century. If you did that you would be taking a digital image and creating something hand-crafted from it.

Here's the other one that I finally processed this week. A tree, again, but on a different continent and with the interest being in the sweep of the curves more than in a rough, knarled trunk.

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Posted by: Arlene Carmel on 02/09/2013 - 3:39 PM

Brian, you have some extraordinary images. I felt this image needed that old B&W look.

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Posted by: Shawn Dall on 02/09/2013 - 5:09 PM

I find architectural focuses sometimes kill it if they are in colour - this is one such example.. I added a tiny bit of colour back but it is mostly sepia. I also did one full sepia.

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Posted by: Bold Coast Photography on 02/09/2013 - 5:56 PM


Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/09/2013 - 8:08 PM

Thanks for the nice comment Arlene!

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Posted by: HW Kateley on 02/09/2013 - 8:29 PM

Here's a picture that's almost black & white when it's in color. However, to me the color is better for this one. I agree with the above post that sometimes a picture will work well in both. I do find it fascinating however, that even when they work in both, the 2 versions almost always have a different feel, and sometimes what you take from it becomes different.

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Posted by: Victoria Lakes on 02/10/2013 - 1:12 AM

I agree... I like this image better in B&W, just my personal preference. Nice images everyone!

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Posted by: Victoria Lakes on 02/10/2013 - 1:17 AM

This one too
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Posted by: Greg Jackson on 02/10/2013 - 8:41 AM


Posted by: Phyllis Denton on 02/10/2013 - 10:21 AM


Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/10/2013 - 12:51 PM


Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/11/2013 - 2:27 AM


Posted by: Danuta Bennett on 02/11/2013 - 6:55 AM


Posted by: Sandra Bronstein on 02/11/2013 - 7:00 AM


Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/12/2013 - 1:24 AM


Posted by: Wendy J St Christopher on 02/12/2013 - 9:34 AM

This architectural image was eye-catching in red, yellow, blue, and orange, but black and white allowed me to focus on its impressive bones --

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Posted by: Greg Jackson on 02/12/2013 - 10:22 AM

There wasn't too much color to start with in this image, and the post-processing seemed to fit the bill much better:

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Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/13/2013 - 1:38 AM


Posted by: Semmick Photo on 02/13/2013 - 2:19 AM

I love the creme tone here

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Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/16/2013 - 12:44 PM


Posted by: Andrew Pacheco on 02/16/2013 - 1:46 PM

After a recent snowstorm, I headed out in my snow shoes and shot a lot of pictures around a local brook. I felt this one looked so much better as a black and white.

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Posted by: Cricket Hackmann on 02/16/2013 - 3:08 PM

My "A Show of Hands" series works better in black and white than it does in color. I found that keeping the tonalities the same, and removing the "color distraction" it really helped ties the photographs together.

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Posted by: Theresa Tahara on 02/16/2013 - 8:55 PM


Posted by: Phyllis Denton on 02/16/2013 - 9:07 PM

I felt this photo possesses a strength and power that wasn't there in the color version.
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Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/17/2013 - 5:00 PM


Posted by: Kerri Ligatich on 02/17/2013 - 7:24 PM


Posted by: William Norton on 02/17/2013 - 7:30 PM


Posted by: Brian Wallace on 02/20/2013 - 12:39 PM


This discussion is closed.