Thinking black and white?

Last night was very interesting at the photography club. We were introduced with “problematic” photographs or series from some of the members who had been dealing with it for some time and needed or wanted help. Our group also got the question from a new member. He is a longtime photographer, used mostly B&W film in the past, but went digital in recent years and started to get doubts about staying at B&W or giving color a chance. Since he had been shooting B&W for so long and he likely trained his eye to see visually strong impact forms, structures, textures, and contrast that work so well for B&W, we thought he sought confirmation to keep on doing B&W. Of course it is best to do what you want, but we were generally convinced that he wanted to remain a true B&W photographer.

And just that had me thinking last night after the club meeting. If you’re not shooting B&W film anymore, go for digital and get color photographs which you intend to convert to B&W in post processing, how much do you remain a B&W photographer? With film you had B&W film and there was never any color introduced in the process of developing and printing the film. Of course your eye is trained and you feel how your composition will look like in B&W, but with digital, somewhere in the stage of ingesting the photographs, selecting, and processing color is (likely) introduced. I try to ignore it, import the photographs with a B&W preset into Lightroom, but I still know that I have the RAW photograph besides the B&W jpeg.

Now I am for most of the times really pleased with my B&W jpegs, but do know that the RAW photographs could help in more difficult and challenging situations. But I personally don’t like it that the RAW doesn’t have a monochrome white balance by default. That is also why I don’t understand Sigma. The Sigma RAW software has a monochrome white balance setting that gives really good B&W photographs, but there is no chance to apply that white balance in-camera. If camera manufacturers are not willing to invest in a true B&W sensor than this could be the best other option for me.

I just like it that a decision is permanent. Using a B&W film meant you couldn’t get color (or you had to use a second camera with color film or slide). Nowadays we all seem so convinced that B&W conversion is best in post-processing and there are so many techniques for Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Nik Silver Efex, or whatever. In the last few months (in particular since I got the Ricoh GR Digital I at the end of last year) I have gone for a total B&W workflow from in-camera B&W jpegs to my final processing for overall and local contrast enhancements (including the photographs in this post). But what about you? Keeping it true B&W, color to B&W conversion, or did you depart from B&W when you went digital? I really like to know.

And speaking of digital. One of my regular readers has a mint Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens for sale which he bought on 28 November last year. And the warranty covers until the end of November 2011. He thinks of selling it for 600€ and will pay for the shipping from Spain. In case you’re interested, you can contact him here and request more information.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma