Doug Stockdale's Singular Images

September 24, 2007

Why Convert Color to B&W?

Filed under: Art, Photography — Doug Stockdale @ 5:26 pm

West Clear Creek

It seems that I have been chosen to provide examples of what is bad about trying to converting a (digital) color image to black & white by Tim Atherton over on the Large Format Photography Forum. I find this midly amusing, as I was not aware that many could figure out from where source I made the intial image.  and that it mattered.

As to why I convert color to black and white I will get to in a moment.  But at least let me say that when I look at my black and white prints and show them to others, few can distinguish between those I made with my Mamayia 6×7 on Tri-X (developed with HC-110, dilution B, usually N or N+1 development), or my Hasselbald with color film, both films scanned on my Nikon film scanner and subsequently into Photoshop, or those I created with digital capture.  hmmmm, much better eyes than me, I suppose.  Now I can tell the difference with 35mm Tri-X with HC-110 (B) when I make a 11×14 or larger print.

My goal is usually a black and white print.  I like them, they are abstract and yet are easily interputed as reality.  I have a greater latitude to work with the tonal ranges to create seperation and the meaning that I want to convey. With color, you don’t usually have a lot of latitude to change the tonal relationships.  In the past, to change tonal (color) relationships, you had to use filters over the lens and you were locked into the results.  But why be so limited in your creative endenvours with the options that we have today?  I am continually amazed at the fine tuning for my black and white images that I can accomplish with the software tool options.

If how you capture an image can impact the final results, how do you think that I made the image with this post; B&W film, Color Film, Color digital capture?  No fair looking at my earlier post in which I provide the answer;- )

and again, does it really matter??

Best regards, Doug

P.S. yes, I continue with my connectivity problems, but now WordPress has added to my issues by having me get a new password every couple of days.

Note: I hope the issue with Tim is not that I have recently chosen to move to a warmer print tone. When I was printing the Seagull Oriental papers and subsequently selenium toned the prints, I had chosen a selenium dilution and toning duration to pick up a slight warm tone to anotherwise cool toned paper.  I have found that I like an ever warmer tone print and I achieve an image with a lot more life than my old semi-gloss F finish prints.  And I still recommend that you read Tim’s blog, as he provides some nice insights, even if he does want to pick on my process;- )


  1. I like to covert from color to B&W. I have a great affection for B&W, truthfully. I think that by taking away the color, the image becomes ‘classic’ and seems to take on more meaning. That is not to say that the mere act of removing the color will make a bad image into a good, or classic one. I just feel that with B&W more emphasis is placed upon the subject, rather than the ‘wow’ of the color.

    Some pictures are more suitable in color, I think, but for the most part, I enjoy the B&W, regardless of the toning. I also like amount of latitude that I have with B&W without worrying about the color becoming washed out. I can shoot nearly all day with a mind to convert into B&W and I like that.

    And no, it doesn’t matter! Whatever works!

    Comment by paul — September 24, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

  2. okay I shouldn’t have used the term “heinous”… (by the time I’d had second thoughts about it, it was too late to correct, but I did make an additional post) :-)

    and if the picture here was at the top of the scroll, I probably wouldn’t have picked it as an example…

    on a slightly more serious note, I think I picked this work as an example because a. I had been following the blog and b. it is good work, but most of the recent stuff seemed a “good” – but not obviously blatant/badly done – example of what I was thinking about.

    And yes, I know the web is a bad place to compare, but I’m thinking I’m still correct that most of the current blog scroll is colour converted to B&W (and no, it isn’t the tone)?

    Comment by Tim Atherton — September 24, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  3. I do find myself trying to understand the look and apperance of a digital color to toned black and white image vs a film to digital conversion. The image above was with the Hasselblad and color film, scanned into photoshop and then ditigal on from there. Reading more about Tim’s thoughts on his blog, perphaps its the creamy smooth appearance of the digital vs the the noisyness of an image that increased through the scanning process? But that digital creamy smooth appearance would seem to be independent of whether the digital image is in color or black and white, its still creamy smooth (applesauce comes to mind in the Fall, smooth vs chunky). Why is it an issue or concern when only in “black and white”??

    Comment by Doug Stockdale — September 24, 2007 @ 10:20 pm

  4. Nice picture of cottonwool and rocks. You’d have done better to make multiple exposures to “get” the water spray sharp.

    Color is color and b&w is b&w. Why turn color images into b&w. Make your b&w images in camera and stick with them. That would imply taking a camera loaded with b&w film out and making exposures with b&w the only option. That should clarify things quite nicely, thank you.

    Comment by Mike O'Donoghue — September 25, 2007 @ 5:23 am

  5. I just love the classics!

    Comment by retro — November 1, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

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