Whether to go Colors and B&W had been an ongoing interesting debate. No one can answer which is better. There’s so much variables when it comes to colors, so much depth with b&w. The type of film and way you process your photos can easily affect on the outcome of your presentation. That’s why there’s not a definite answer, only a preference of a photographer.
While it’s true that b&w can easily turn photos into a timeless, classy piece, you can see many masters out there prefer b&w. It’s simple and expressive, less distraction from anything other than your subject(s). There’re still exceptions, such as Alex Webb. I think b&w is also a trend, a style, an expression. It’s like jeans, won’t go out of fashion.
Here’s my little routine on how I go about doing b&w.
Good Digital Noise
Nobody really likes noise in color images. In the b&w arena, it’s the opposite. I found my Ricoh GRD particularly great in setting up the mood of my photos. I don’t need to add noise grain to my photos, as they’re already there. They’re good grains. ISO 2500 is the acceptable limit, ISO3200 would really waste the shots. I try my best to keep my ISO below 2000. In some occasion, I’d pop the flash. I encouraged myself to use more flash recently.
Light – ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed
It’s difficult to get all the lights you want when on the street. Especially you’re mobile, your subject often times just won’t stand on the light source for you. The ISO control is our best friends. Only a few flicks on my GRD’s adj. lever, I’m good to go (i really wish the X100’s adj. lever has the same functionality).
When it’s bright daylight, adjust the aperture to the lowest value and appropriate ISO value, do the best to avoid overexposed and blown out highlights. Although I’m always on the Aperture-Priority mode, I still constantly check on my ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I always make sure I get the right shutter speed to avoid motion blur.
**Flash is a way to cheat when the environment is way to dim. You can usually adjust minimally and get the constant results you want (perhaps I’m wrong). The Exposure value and ISO affects on the isolation of the background and how far the flash goes. I won’t pose as an expert again, these are just my own experience. I encourage anyone to test it out themselves before flashing on people’s face. The conventional TTL/built-in flash does a pretty good job if you don’t want to go manual.
Processing & Review
I won’t touch on the tonalities, as there’s so much about it and I’m not going to pretend as an expert. I’ll just say the more good b&w photos you have come across, the more likely you can process your own b&w nicely.
My processing involves:
- Strengthen the subject,
- Isolate the background (if necessary),
- Drop the blowout highlight,
- Reveal the darkened shadows, and
- Adjust the overall tonalities (curves + selecting the right preset).
Alright, in the processing stage you take control of basically everything. It’s crucial to review the batch of photos you wish to present as a series. Makes sure they all look somewhat similar (in the processing manner, such as vignetting, brightness,…)
This series is my June collection of Hong Kong with different characters, include tourists, minorities, lower class, middle class, old, young. With my new approach to not releasing my photos weekly, I could really gather up some better quality ones. I shot this series with a three week timeframe. I captured them all with my GRD.
I hope I can still keep my spirit up and continue to do my street photography of Hong Kong. It’s been difficult to stay focused and experiment with different style.