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B&W Easier to Shoot Than Color?


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Poll: B&W is Easier to Shoot Than Color (14 member(s) have cast votes)

Do You Believe Black and White is Easier to Shoot than Color?

  1. No! That's stupid to even suggest (9 votes [64.29%])

    Percentage of vote: 64.29%

  2. Yes! B&W has one less thing to worry about, i.e. color (5 votes [35.71%])

    Percentage of vote: 35.71%

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#1 Peter Moretti

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 05:50 AM

Okay, here's a somewhat divisive ?. Do think that black and white is less challenging to shoot than color?

I realize there are no absolutes in the world, so of course it depends. A beautiful sunset is probably very agreeable to being shot in color. But in general, do you find B&W easier?

I have to say that I think it IS easier, b/c it removes one very important but hard to get right component, namely color. It's hard to create a good color palette. This is why I believe a fair amount of new shooters' material is shot in color but converted to B&W. Simply to emphasize the composition, which probably worked nicely, but also remove the color palette, which is difficult to get w/o significant production design, planning and probably $.

Anyway, enough of me. I want to hear YOUR thoughts on this! :D
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 08:04 AM

I don't know about easier, but certainly different. From recent experience in recent drawing classes, I know people have problems thinking in tone rather than in colour. Working in tone also means you have to rethink your lighting, so that there is separation. Separation isn't an issue in colour, because that does it for you.

One saving with B & W is that you don't need to worry about colour temperature, so you can use tungsten lights instead of HMIs. Although, on one commercial I shot, which was planned to be in B&W, the agency liked the off colour temperature effect so much that the director had to fight to keep the orginal B & W concept in place.

The down side to B & W is that it's hard to sell a B & W film.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 08:31 AM

I find color easier to light for as Brian mentions as it ha built in separation for me; at least in cine film.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 11:50 AM

I think it's only technically easier in that you don't have to think so much about color temp issues, and, as you say, color design issues. But otherwise, it's harder to make it look GOOD as opposed to average, because GOOD b&w requires that you think a lot harder about contrast, separation, and how to direct the eye in the frame.

On the other hand, it is sort of instant stylization of reality.

Nestor Almendros said in his book that it's impossible to be tasteless in b&w, it's like a woman slipping on a black evening dress.

Of course, today you also have the technical challenge of dealing with lower ASA levels with b&w stocks.
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 01:25 PM

Granted color temperature issues can be challenging, but just last night, I saw a piece of a 1-star movie from the mid-'90s that quickly threw every "sunset" shot in the book at you in its opening ten minutes.

They filmed it in Las Vegas, so the movie was packed with bright, changing colors. I can't really think of the B&W equivalent, although extreme contrast in B&W could be used for a gimmick of sorts. I feel the bright fluorescent greens and oranges are unmatched when shooting B&W. You can get away with very boring compositions in color if the frame is packed with an "'80s" color pallette.
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#6 John Sprung

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 01:45 PM

I think Brian nailed it: It's more different than easier or harder. It's both.

While you don't have to think about subtle color differences, like color temperature, you do get the option of using extreme color filters to produce substantially different results. For instance, get some extreme red, green, and blue filters, and shoot stills of the same scene with them. Red makes the sky dark, blue makes it light, and so forth. This gives you a huge new tool to work with, and to learn.

The other thing you have to learn by testing is what things of different colors will come out the same gray. Then you have to come up with ways of distinguishing them from each other. So, you use a lot of rim light. Bottom line, it's a big learning curve.





-- J.S.
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#7 Peter Moretti

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Posted 20 January 2011 - 02:55 PM

Part of the impetus for starting this (somewhat frivolous) poll is this very short short:



It was originally shot in color on a Canon HV-20 w/ a 35mm adapter. The filmmaker said that he did not intend to finish it in black and white, but the colors of the chosen locations just made no coherent sense. So he converted to B&W and felt it worked much better. This seems to make sense; I'd also like to add that I found the lead actor, Yoyao Hsueh, very effective.

BTW, I saw in a documentary on Haskell Wexler that he's color blind. Don't know if that adds to or detracts from one position or the other, LOL!

And of course it does make sense that each format has it's own strengths and challenges.
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#8 Peter Moretti

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 05:52 AM

I just finished watching "Tetro," which really illuminates (pun intended ;)) this discussion for me (b/c it's B&W but with color flashbacks). There are some B&W shots that look absolutely gorgeous when filming a static frame, but when the actors' move it somehow break up the frame into something less, while other B&W shots do look beautiful the whole way. I can't say why this seems to happen more w/ B&W than color, but that's what it looks like to me.

Next observation, there are just some things that are very hard to convey in B&W, e.g. a happy sunny day, esp. if much of the film is dark/moody. It's just very difficult to catch that change to this is now a bright, gleaming, frivolous, sunny day.

On the other hand, the color shots all worked very well. They had a yellow-orange tint to them, which restricted their pallet and allowed for a few selected colors to really pop, which helped with the imagery.

So of course the answer to this poll is "It depends."
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#9 Chris Burke

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 06:58 AM

On one hand, I always thought that shooting black and white is easier because it was more sensitive to light. Am I correct? Is black and white film more sensitive, for example; a 250ASA like 5222 is as sensitive as say a 400ASA color neg, or there abouts. To my untrained eye, I always thought that because of the lack of color, it was easier to light.
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#10 Simon Wyss

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 07:12 AM

Black and white is easier, of course.

It’s only complicated if you want to imitate nature and colours.
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#11 K Borowski

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 02:24 PM

Chris: I don't think B&W is as sensitive as color, but that is Kodak's fault (and others) not the nature of B&W itself.


They could stock films up to 1,000 speed (TMax P3200's real sensititivity) but don't due to lack of demand. There are probably still five or six different manufacturers of B&W film out there that could be used in a movie camera compared to all of two in color. Hypothetically you could also get Agfa-Gaveart or Ferrania, Lucky, or DNP in Japan to make color films that could be used in movie cameras, but you'd probably have to throw more than $200,000 at them.


I think the total lack of variety in B&W stocks, at least in the United States, is what is killing it. That they're far grainier for a given speed than color products, and now are incompatible with digital ice all aren't working in B&W's favor, as well.

Edited by K Borowski, 30 January 2011 - 02:25 PM.

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#12 Matt Pacini

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 03:10 PM

I think it's easier, in that what tends to be BAD in color photography, tends to be considered acceptable, or even desirable in B&W photography, by the average person/audience/consumer, that is:
Super contrasty, grainy, wild variations in exposure... these are considered mistakes in color photography, but 'artsy' in B&W photography.
It's almost as if the only unforgivable mistake you can make in B&W, is being out of focus. And even that isn't always the case!
(I'm not ignoring the fact that you need to be precise & knowledgable to get what YOU are looking for in an image, but that actual mistakes can still produce B&W photos that the general population will still like).

Matt Pacini
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#13 Otis Grapsas

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 03:44 PM

One advantage of BW is that it covers some problems of bad digital designs to a degree, false color near overexposure, heavy chroma compression, low shadow saturation, bad skin tones and overall color response.

http://img217.images.../3097/bw1gr.jpg
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#14 Jason Hinkle (RIP)

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Posted 01 February 2011 - 05:01 PM

B&W does have some advantages - you can use that crazy purple jacket for $1 at the flea market and it looks like a classy, dark suit!

I have seen people change to B&W in post in order to hide poor color or exposure, or to just give it a stronger look. In some cases I thought it worked, and others it still just looks like poorly shot footage!
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#15 Deniz Coker

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 02:30 PM

I agree that it brings it's own set of rules and challenges. I like to use a B&W reference monitor while lighting sometimes. I like to strip an image to light and dark values as I find that helps me with certain scenes.
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