My exploration of black and white


One thing I've noticed that happens when you approach photography from an engineering background is that you tend to loathe black and white photography. I know that, starting out, I did. I was talking to another photographer and she said that one of her friends was an engineer like me and he also had a similar problem with black and white photography, always preferring color. It's throwing information out and we just don't like that.

However, I was going to a photography meet and my wife had already called dibs on the digital, so I was left with my main film camera and her old camera, the Olympus Stylus Zoom. I didn't feel like lugging a full camera bag around, so it was the Stylus or I would be the only photographer in a room full of photographers with no camera, which is clearly not going to work.

I already had read the manual for the Stylus and realized that the lens was, at best f/4.5. Clearly my usual preference for 100 ASA film wouldn't work when combined with my general purpose dislike of the flash.

My usual preference is for completely grainless images. I'm a bit of a quality junkie, wanting the highest possible resolution image, but I also figured that I really needed to broaden my photographic horizons and try something new. I always liked heavy, artistic grain, so I decided to try out one of the highest speed films you can get... Kodak's T-Max P3200.

It was an interesting and quite productive experiment, on the same level of exploration as when I decided to play with crossprocessing. The Stylus really comes into its own when you shoot ultra-high-speed film on it. Suddenly, almost any scene is such that the onboard flash becomes a fill flash, which is what it works best for anyway. The dim f/4.5-9.7 lens suddenly isn't that bad.

Ever since then, I've been shooting rolls of black and white film. The Stylus has been living in my laptop bag so I can keep it with me always, loaded with T-Max P3200.

I do notice that I tend to take different pictures with black and white. Color pictures tend to diminish the value of subtle values and tones of a scene, whereas black and white, by removing any hint of color, requires you to concentrate on the tones of an image.

I have noticed one interesting complication, however. I can't shoot black and white on the digital camera. I can't emotionally bring myself to take an image that's already in color and make it a black and white image. The delay between when I take the picture and when I look at it is sufficient to allow me to forget the colors. Even if it's the 2 minutes that it takes for a Polaroid to develop. I tried doing black and white conversions from digital images and I simply didn't like it.


My favorite films are still mostly the grainy black and white films. In a pinch, Kodak's BW400 is nice because you can run it through a C-41 developing machine, but it's not grainy so it doesn't always work for me. On the other hand, it is a nice 400 speed film with a huge dynamic range. Otherwise, Tri-X and T-Max P3200 are my favorites.

One nice thing about black and white films is that you can feel free to push or pull them to dramatically change the speed. Tri-X, for example, can be shot anywhere between 100 and 1600 ASA. So, last time I found myself with very little light and no high speed film, I pulled out a roll of 400 ASA Tri-X, pulled out a marker and wrote "E.I. 800" on the canister, loaded it, and suddenly had a roll of high speed film.

More recently, I continued my exploration by developing it myself.

My B&W stuff

I've added tags to the site. Simply check out the Black and white tag to see some of it.

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