POST 008




September 28 2021

Hopefully you have seen my Instagram by now, if not I will shamelessly plug it and put a link here (go to my Instagram). If you scroll through it you will see a lot of color and every now and then some black and white. Black and white doesn’t get a ton of representation on my feed mainly because I try to keep my gallery color coordinated but also because I don’t shoot it as much as I should.

Nikon FG with Nikkor 50mm f2 on Kodak T-Max 100

A little while ago I wrote a post about using black and white film in Escalante. I normally wouldn’t think to take a monochrome emulsion to such a colorful landscape, but I had an expired roll of T-Max that I got when I purchased my used FM2 so I figured I might as well bring it along. I loaded the roll in Devil’s Garden and was absolutely blown a way by the beautiful tones, sharpness and .. silkiness.. of the images.

Nikon FG with Nikkor 50mm f2 on Kodak T-Max 100

Another thing that surprised me was how much fun it was to see black and white scans. I’m so used to seeing the world in color and, from photography, capturing the world in color that I was shocked to review a rendition of the world that wasn’t in the same colorful palate that I have spent 24 years growing accustomed to. I’ve converted color to black and white before on digital files in lightroom and even with some of my film photographs, but there is something notably different in a photograph that exists only in black and white. A black and white photo is only two colors, shapes, contrast and composition, there are many other technical things, but it boils down to the interplay of two tones, and it was amazing to review my first roll and to see that those two colors could create complex and beautiful images. It was a change in perspective to learn that the world isn’t just how I see it and that other ways of viewing and capturing the world can be equally if not more beautiful.

Nikon FG with Nikkor 50mm f2 on Kodak T-Max 100

Now why don’t I shoot more black and white. I’ll start by saying I like black and white and should shoot it more, but there are two things at play that prevent me from reaching for black and white when I need a new roll. 1) I use color more, most of my work is for Instagram or my website/blog and I prefer to share color work, 2) I can convert color to black and white if needed but I can’t go the other way around.

I try to sprinkle black and white photos on my Instagram feed but I want to keep my feed color coordinated where the colors from past posts bleed into the most recent ones, like a big gradient. Black and white makes that difficult… another thing that is a bit vain but true and should be acknowledged is that my black and white shots don’t perform as well as color. I prefer to share color photographs on Instagram so the poor performance of black and white photos doesn’t massively influence my decision to share them infrequently, but it is something I keep in mind when going out to shoot… color will have more applications for me and my work.

Nikon L35AF on Kodak T-Max 100

As well as being more applicable I can also convert color film to black and white if I really want to. Black and white film is black and white from the beginning. Earlier I inferred that this monochrome permanence adds to the black and white experience, and it does, but from a usability perspective it limits your options. Because of this, it makes the most sense for me to shoot in color.

HOWEVER, converting a color image to black and white is nothing like creating a photograph that is only depicted in black and white. When a picture is only black and white it has significance because the image is complete in the single color, but when a color image is converted the color is subtracted from the image and the photo loses part of itself to become a black and white likeness.

Pentax PC35AF on Studio 35 200

I also rarely think to check how a photo looks in monochrome when I am editing. For me the image usually stays color unless the colors or grain are unbearable, and I need to hide the mistakes in black and white. BUT that is such a bad mentality. I should not think of black and white as a last resort, I need to appreciate black and white, but it’s difficult for me to do when there is a color alternative. And the only way to get this is by shooting a dedicated roll of black and white film (surprise, surprise)

Nikon L35AF on Kodak T-Max 100

So how will I start shooting more black and white? A few days ago I got the Cinestill Monobath for Black and White and I’m hoping that having a cheap and fast way to develop at home will encourage me to use black and white over color. I’ve only developed a few rolls so far but it’s incredibly fast and it’s incredible not to have to wait for a lab. I haven’t done this yet, but theoretically I could wake up, load a roll of hp5, shoot for the whole day, develop it when I get home, scan it and then have the same pictures in less than 24 hours! If you’re a digital photographer just act surprised and go along please. I’ll continue to share updates on developing black and white as I start shooting more black and white.. but recently I’ve been only shooting color since the fall has been so amazing.. so this whole monobath plan hasn’t been working out quite as expected.

I think during the winter I will start using black and white more and one day I will do a full 36 frames in a day and share my favorites with you!

Minolta X-700 with 50mm on Arista EDU 400

Until then thanks for reading! And go shoot some black and white! : )