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Shooting Black and White


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#1 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 05:18 PM

Hi All,

I have a shoot coming up shortly in which we'll be attempting to attain a glowy, silvery, spooky looking black and white image. I'd like this topic to focus on black and white and the differences between shooting color and then converting in the DI (ala Michael Haneke's White Ribbon), as opposed to shooting black and white from the start. I'm wondering if there may be any benefit to shooting true black and white as opposed to doing the color conversion.


Furthermore, having never shot black and white before, I have a couple questions which may seem uninformed, I apologize. First thing that comes to mind is, (besides lighting for separation, etc.) should I be treating the black and white neg any differently than I would color neg? Eg. I typically over-expose my color negative by 2/3rds of a stop, would I get the same effect if doing this with black and white?

Thanks again as always, I hope this topic can become a helpful forum for discussion about the pros and cons of todays black and white negative shooting and processing practices.

Evan Prosofsky
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#2 John Young

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 06:09 PM

Ansel Adams stated "Expose for the Shadows". See: http://photo.net/dig...om-forum/00SQxk if you want to read about the difference between this age old "Black and White adage" and Digital sensors. It's quite interesting!

Now, the question is, are you shooting reversal or negative? You have only a few choices either way. 5222 Double-X from Kodak is their negative film. 5222 being true black and white requires development in.. R-96 I believe? You may want to check around and see which labs can do 16/35mm black and white negative.

Reversal is different, and something I have no experience with, but I have seen some amazing results.

Now, from my personal experience, shooting color and converting it leaves the contrast lacking. Basically you are fully de-saturating the image, leave nothing but grey scale. You then have to go in and add contrast (when shooting color negative) or at least I did. The good thing about shooting color neg and doing a B&W post conversion is that, in the event you WANT to, you will have the color negative available, should you need color footage later.

If you use true black and white negative, you won't have that color information ever. That might be something you want to think about.

One last thing to think about is stock cost, if that is an issue. 5222 (35mm) x 1000' is about $350. 7222 (16mm) x 400' is $78.
Reversal is marginally more expensive but only comes in 16mm (or Super8).

Sorry, I tend to ramble.
Hope that helps!
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#3 John Sprung

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 08:14 PM

... attempting to attain a glowy, silvery, spooky looking black and white image. ...


Get a bunch of strong colored filters, and shoot stills as tests. Red will make your actors look ghostly pale. Blue will make them dark, but it turns the irises of blue eyes into black dots on a white eyeball. Filters in general lighten their own color, and darken their complimentary color. This is a control you only have on the shoot, once it's on film, the relative brightnesses are carved in stone.





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#4 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 12:41 AM

Ansel Adams stated "Expose for the Shadows". See: http://photo.net/dig...om-forum/00SQxk if you want to read about the difference between this age old "Black and White adage" and Digital sensors. It's quite interesting!

Now, the question is, are you shooting reversal or negative? You have only a few choices either way. 5222 Double-X from Kodak is their negative film. 5222 being true black and white requires development in.. R-96 I believe? You may want to check around and see which labs can do 16/35mm black and white negative.

Reversal is different, and something I have no experience with, but I have seen some amazing results.

Now, from my personal experience, shooting color and converting it leaves the contrast lacking. Basically you are fully de-saturating the image, leave nothing but grey scale. You then have to go in and add contrast (when shooting color negative) or at least I did. The good thing about shooting color neg and doing a B&W post conversion is that, in the event you WANT to, you will have the color negative available, should you need color footage later.

If you use true black and white negative, you won't have that color information ever. That might be something you want to think about.

One last thing to think about is stock cost, if that is an issue. 5222 (35mm) x 1000' is about $350. 7222 (16mm) x 400' is $78.
Reversal is marginally more expensive but only comes in 16mm (or Super8).

Sorry, I tend to ramble.
Hope that helps!


Hi John,

Thanks for the reply.

Converting to black and white and adding contrast in post does not sound like a major issue at all to me. What does worry me though, is what (if any) the differences would be between shooting real black and white VS doing the color conversion. Am i going to be able to attain a more silvery, glowy image through true black and white? Would shooting reversal over negative alter these results? These are things I'm unsure of, and, unfortunately, don't have the money to test myself.

Anybody like to chime in? Thanks!
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 07:28 AM

I can only talk about doing it on video, in which case you are by default shooting colour then desaturating it later. This is actually quite nice, because it means you can choose a colour channel in post and have in effect variable colour filtration, and a variable degree of colour filtration.

When I did it, we were producing the filmed inserts for a stage production of Singing in the Rain, so it was all very much hyper-reality and probably much more use of weave and flicker than would really have been evident in first-run theatrical exhibition circa 1930.

You can see a few seconds of it at the head of my post reel.



As far as I can recall all we did was crush the blacks out a bit and add some highlight glow. It was shot with lots of hard light, partly as a nod to historical realism and partly to get separation you might otherwise try to do with colour. It also very much protects highlights, in full knowledge of the intended postproduction route, but then it was video, and you won't have that problem so much on film.

P
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#6 Simon Wyss

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 12:49 PM

Evan, give us some more information if you please: film gauge, intended length of production, lab contact. Not to have any money for at least a hundred foot of film appears really meagre to me.

Silvery, glowy? Do you mean high-key lighting? Do you mean brutes and spotlight projectors? Do you have black-and-white cinema in mind that doesn’t exist any more? A dozen workers for lighting alone!

This is nothing to be conjured up digitally. You will have to establish it back yourself, your own silver movie, with heavy cables, dirty arc lamps, reflectors, and sweat.

I am so sorry to disturb your innocent dreams. But if you do it I’ll gladly help you as well as I can.
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#7 John Young

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 01:32 PM

I VOTE FOR ARC LAMPS! I LOVE ARC LAMPS!
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#8 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 03:38 PM

Because the awesome and beloved Plus-X is no longer available I would suggest either Tri-X reversal for 16mm or 5222 for 35mm maybe pulled a stop. There is nothing like actual B&W film and I have shot Plus-X reversal and processed it as negative and then cut it into a 16mm neg cut with Plus-X negative (7231) for a print finish and it cut well.

-Rob-

RIP Plus-X we shall miss thee...


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#9 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 11:24 PM

I can only talk about doing it on video, in which case you are by default shooting colour then desaturating it later. This is actually quite nice, because it means you can choose a colour channel in post and have in effect variable colour filtration, and a variable degree of colour filtration.

When I did it, we were producing the filmed inserts for a stage production of Singing in the Rain, so it was all very much hyper-reality and probably much more use of weave and flicker than would really have been evident in first-run theatrical exhibition circa 1930.

You can see a few seconds of it at the head of my post reel.



As far as I can recall all we did was crush the blacks out a bit and add some highlight glow. It was shot with lots of hard light, partly as a nod to historical realism and partly to get separation you might otherwise try to do with colour. It also very much protects highlights, in full knowledge of the intended postproduction route, but then it was video, and you won't have that problem so much on film.

P



Hey Phil,

The black and white shot you did which you reference looks really great. Very similar look wise to what I'm trying to attain. Interesting to know it was shot originally as color, I wouldn't ever have guessed. Thanks for the input.
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#10 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 11:30 PM

Evan, give us some more information if you please: film gauge, intended length of production, lab contact. Not to have any money for at least a hundred foot of film appears really meagre to me.

Silvery, glowy? Do you mean high-key lighting? Do you mean brutes and spotlight projectors? Do you have black-and-white cinema in mind that doesn’t exist any more? A dozen workers for lighting alone!

This is nothing to be conjured up digitally. You will have to establish it back yourself, your own silver movie, with heavy cables, dirty arc lamps, reflectors, and sweat.

I am so sorry to disturb your innocent dreams. But if you do it I’ll gladly help you as well as I can.


I'm trying to talk about something that may or may not exist inherently within black and white film stock as opposed to color stock converted to black and white digitally. This isn't something I see the lighting, film stock, or film gauge affecting. I agree with you about creating the look in camera and not via digital effects!
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#11 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 11:40 PM

Because the awesome and beloved Plus-X is no longer available I would suggest either Tri-X reversal for 16mm or 5222 for 35mm maybe pulled a stop. There is nothing like actual B&W film and I have shot Plus-X reversal and processed it as negative and then cut it into a 16mm neg cut with Plus-X negative (7231) for a print finish and it cut well.

-Rob-

RIP Plus-X we shall miss thee...


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Hi there,

Could you please elaborate why you recommend the reversal for 16mm as opposed to negative?

Why do you mention cross processing?

Why do you feel pulling a stop on the 5222 would be better than processing normally?

Thanks very much, interested to hear your response

Evan
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#12 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:37 AM

Could you please elaborate why you recommend the reversal for 16mm as opposed to negative?

I like XX Negative but it does tend to be a bit grainier and I feel that Tri-X reversal is a bit less grainy and smoother more like Plus-X negative. The disadvantage is that there is less latitude.

Why do you mention cross processing?

Because that is what I did on the short I made. I had a 380fps shot I used Tri-X reversal for and inter cut it into a scene which was mostly Plus-X negative. This was for a answer printed film. I cross processed the Tri-X reversal to negative so I could cut it in.

Why do you feel pulling a stop on the 5222 would be better than processing normally?

I don't think it is better or worse but if you are going for a very smooth B&W look with deep blacks pulling XX negative will help to tighten up the grain a bit.

Thanks very much, interested to hear your response

Sure... In the past I would have just said shoot Plus-X negative the above "solutions" are just a couple of possible ways to bend the currently available film stocks more to that look.

-Rob-
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#13 Antti Näyhä

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 03:00 AM

I just saw this Estonian film shot in 2009 on ORWO 35mm black & white neg. Watched at a festival between modern-looking films, the look was just fascinatingly old-school. Just like watching an archival print of a classic film, except without the scratches and dirt! I don't know if they did a DI or not, but if they did, they kept it extremely subtle.

Compared to the color-to-b&w route, you get more grain (the beautiful real silver stuff!) and harder contrast, which in turn makes the picture look sharper. Obviously, you get less latitude and much less options for adjusting the look in post. Definitely a look worth going for, if you feel it suits your material.
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#14 Adam Hunt

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 01:35 PM

In my experience, when doing an HD transfer or a 2k DI true back and white stock looks very different from colour negative converted to black and white. One very noticeable thing is the grain. On a recent project that mixed colour 35mm and 16mm B&W reversal, the B&W looked virtually grainless in HD while the 35mm was actually noticeably more grainy. The 35mm colour was 500asa stock, which was part of the issue, but I find that in general B&W stock is very noticeably sharper and has less noticeable grain.

As far as the 'silvery' look you want I would go with true B&W reversal. This is because black and white stock is not perfectly monochrome from a digital perspective. Meaning it is not always identical values of R, G, and B in each pixel. True black and white stock has a silvery colour to it that has a small amount of hue to it when scanned digitally. That hue can also change from the shadows to the highlights. So just simply averaging the RGB values or channel-mixing or doing anything else that yields pixels with equal RGB values will not look the same as a transfer of true black and white stock. There are ways to make it look more like the hues of B&W stock with look-up tables and stuff but generally it just doesn't look the same as true B&W.

If you want that silvery look then definitely shoot true black and white stock, and preferably reversal which will have an even more silvery look to it than black and white negative. You will also have the added benefit of tighter grain and a noticeable increase in sharpness.

Others have stated that shooting colour and converting to B&W has conveniences and can be easier since there is more you can do in post as opposed to having to really know what you want ahead of time when shooting true B&W, but like everything there is a trade-off in image quality for those conveniences, so you have to decide which method is more practical and/or desirable to you.
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#15 John Sprung

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 03:46 PM

There are ways to make it look more like the hues of B&W stock with look-up tables and stuff but generally it just doesn't look the same as true B&W.


It should be possible to test, measure, and match. But then again, that would be a starting point from which to tweak it to your taste.




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#16 Adam Hunt

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 03:56 PM

It should be possible to test, measure, and match. But then again, that would be a starting point from which to tweak it to your taste.


Yes, and the result would be a look up table that you can reuse. If who ever was doing the transfer already has a look up table for this purpose it might be an option, but to shoot all the tests and create a look up table just for this project will add a whole bunch of extra cost and time.

That being said I have seen this done. It looks much better than a colour to b&w conversion done without it, and it's really your only option for good looking b&w when shooting digitally, but it still doesn't look as good as true b&w stock. It's probably due to a random element in the colour of the silver grains or something that can't be quite mimicked with a lookup table. But it's definitely not the same. Not to mention a lookup table is only going to bring the colour close. It won't get you the sharpness or tight grain of true b&w stock.
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#17 Evan Andrew John Prosofsky

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 05:17 PM

In my experience, when doing an HD transfer or a 2k DI true back and white stock looks very different from colour negative converted to black and white. One very noticeable thing is the grain. On a recent project that mixed colour 35mm and 16mm B&W reversal, the B&W looked virtually grainless in HD while the 35mm was actually noticeably more grainy. The 35mm colour was 500asa stock, which was part of the issue, but I find that in general B&W stock is very noticeably sharper and has less noticeable grain.

As far as the 'silvery' look you want I would go with true B&W reversal. This is because black and white stock is not perfectly monochrome from a digital perspective. Meaning it is not always identical values of R, G, and B in each pixel. True black and white stock has a silvery colour to it that has a small amount of hue to it when scanned digitally. That hue can also change from the shadows to the highlights. So just simply averaging the RGB values or channel-mixing or doing anything else that yields pixels with equal RGB values will not look the same as a transfer of true black and white stock. There are ways to make it look more like the hues of B&W stock with look-up tables and stuff but generally it just doesn't look the same as true B&W.

If you want that silvery look then definitely shoot true black and white stock, and preferably reversal which will have an even more silvery look to it than black and white negative. You will also have the added benefit of tighter grain and a noticeable increase in sharpness.

Others have stated that shooting colour and converting to B&W has conveniences and can be easier since there is more you can do in post as opposed to having to really know what you want ahead of time when shooting true B&W, but like everything there is a trade-off in image quality for those conveniences, so you have to decide which method is more practical and/or desirable to you.


Very interesting. Exactly what I wanted to hear! Thanks very much,

Evan
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#18 K Borowski

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:59 PM

I want to chime in here about some of the disadvantages of B&W film over color for a B&W end product: B&W film and digital ice do not get along. The IR dust, scratch scan sees silver grains as dust, basically and the software tries to remove them.

Therefore, you have to manually paint out any severe dust or scratching (and it does happen).


Also, while Adam points out that B&W film doesn't have three channels to scan, it has sensitizing dyes added that makes the silver halide crystals sensitive to red and green. Halides are natively sensitive to blue and ultraviolet light.

Looking at the spectral sensitivity of B&W film, it is sensitive roughly equally to red, green, blue (and UV) parts of the spectrum relatively evenly. There's a roughly equal amount of red- green- and blue sensitive halides in B&W film.


What does this mean/why should you care? Well, in tungsten lighting red is disproportionately greater than blue or green wavelengths of light. Not only does this lose you about a third of a stop of light film sensitivity, but it also means it will affect the "grey balance" of colors.

Getting to my point: With B&W you STILL HAVE three color channels. Visualize them as red- green- and blue sensitive silver grains evenly scattered throughout the emulsion. Problem is you have to EXPOSE them in a way that it will render a pleasing color balance. You have to know, on set, what shade of grey a particular color will render, and then place color filters on the lens to alter grey rendition to bring out certain colors that might render darker in tungsten, lighter in daylight.


So, you are locked in, on set to the relative level of exposure each of the three primary colors receives in relation to one another. Whereas, with color film, you can alter color balance and THEN desaturate after the fact. It's still better to lock in with filtration while shooting, but you can correct colors that don't render in a pleasing way to make them lighter or darker. Not so with B&W.

I forget now, it's been so long since I shot B&W and color filters, but I want to say either a red or yellow filter is often used for the "flaws" of B&W that show up when you don't have even amounts of primaries.



On set, practically, unless you're very experienced with B&W already, it really pays to have a Fujiroid instant camera with B&W instant film or a B&W video/digital viewer to observe and evaluate these effects. All of this has to be done on set with B&W film, unless you want to pain-stakingly go in after the fact and lighten/darken individual parts of the frame digitally.


Final disadvantage, B&W films are, from Kodak at least, 50 years behind the times. They didn't see fit to upgrade them. They're grainier than a comparable color film. Because of the single emulsion layer (still a mix of fast and slow grains with high-speed films like double-X though) B&W film appears sharper and can resolve a higher resolution, theoretically than a comparable color emulsion which has three times as many layers.

However in the digital realm, scanners and grain do not get along well. Especially with something like a 2K scan, or HD finish, you'll get not only grain but grain aliasing/noise that can look more muddy/fuzzy than just grainy. Some of the nice aesthetic of film grain is lost transferred to the digital realm.



That all being said, I like the look of B&W much better, but you have to know how to use it and be smart and on-the-ball while shooting. The flexibility that Ansel Adams had at his disposal you don't. You can't dodge and burn, or adjust contrast (except digitally = lots of money) so you have to be far more on the ball with your lighting and filtration, much more so than with color, and you have to be far more on the ball with exposure because contrast is a far more important part of the equation with B&W as there is just contrast, focus, and shades of grey for the viewer to see.

I don't like the way desaturated color looks. If I were shooting in B&W, I'd only use color if I were forced to do so. It's arguably less work, but there's something, I think it's a higher contrast, in part. But it isn't an emulsion that always renders all three colors equally. Maybe it's the flaws in color rendition, crossover in the shades of grey with a pure desaturation as opposed to the way the dyes are sensitized. And the grain is sharper. With color film, you're dealing with dye clouds that are filling in gaps left by a bleached-out silver grain. That results in a crispness to the grain (if it isn't lost in scanning, at least) that you cannot get with color.


I wish I could describe the difference more clearly. I really ought to shoot a comparison side-by-side and just show you. . . I'll shoot a couple 'roids (unfortunately the B&W is 3000 and the Color is 100) this weekend, scan them and desaturate the color and hopefully you'll be able to see something objectively different there.
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#19 Simon Wyss

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 05:33 AM

Friends, I seem to stumble over a simple fact here which is that too many things happen behind camera instead of in front. I mean, the time of black-and-white cinema was the time of human, personal intimacy, of the sense of community. That’s gone.

So in a way we’re ridiculous guys. Already the question for colour or black-and-white film turns me sour because it comes a bit like is it better to have music in minor or major? It does not go. Also, video or film is as foolish as electric bulb or candle.

To me cinema is a phenomenon that links an older era with the actual one. I think nobody will deny that we live very differently from our grandparents. One of the criteria for discerning is electricity. So many things were done by hand in 1930 still that are occupied by a conglomerate of thirds now. There is always someone between me and the thing I do where there wasn’t any third party before. There are industries behind a video camera which produce cell phones, solar panels, calculators, and microwave ovens. For a movie film camera it takes a mechanical workshop. Compared to a television set or computer monitor a Mitchell camera is something from the ancient world. The technical drawings given I can produce such an apparatus in a single room. Mill, lathe, drill, grinding device, measuring instruments.

Circumstances are even simpler for the processing of photochemical film. Spiral reel, tub, drying drum is all I need. Not so with the electronic moving picture: You take part in the global numeric control industry. You deal with IBM, GE, Matsushita, Siemens, Sony, ABB, and those behind these again. So the decision is rather do I want to learn about the past or do I co-operate (way of writing 90 years ago) with today’s big players? Do I care at all?
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#20 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 06:24 AM

Yes, and of course you can manufacture film stock in your shed as well.

The complexity has to get in somewhere. The only reason film cameras seem so simple is that the technology - and your being beholden to corporations and their engineers - is all in the stock and usually the telecine as well.

P
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