The Beauty of Black and White

Historical Posting – Originally published in our In Focus Newsletter in 1998 – Since this is an archived story – products mentioned may not be available or even made any more – Let us know if you have any questions.

Cameras aren’t the only area of the photographic world that is experiencing a return to the classics of the past. Over the past several years, black and white photography has seen an increase in popularity as more photographers discover the unique challenges and rewards of capturing the world in shades of gray. Black and white photos provoke an entirely different set of emotional responses in a viewer than color does. Color photos can often seem tied to a particular era while black and white images evoke feelings of timelessness. A growing number of our customers are exploring the wide range of black and white films available so let’s look at some of the choices and a few tips for using them.

  • Fine art black and white films: Kodak Techpan, Ilford Pan F, Kodak T-Max 100. These fine-grained films are perfect choices for making big enlargements of your favorite shots. When processed by a quality lab, prints from these films will also show a beautiful tonal range from crisp blacks to pure whites. Since all of these films have slow ASA speeds it’s a good idea to use a tripod for best image sharpness.
  • All-around winners: Kodak T-Max 400, Ilford HP5. Great choices for weddings, portraits, candid street shooting and general use.  These 400 speed films are great to carry when you’re not quite sure how much light will be available, and their grain is still fine enough to make quality 8×10” or 11×14” enlargements.
  • Speed demons: Fuji Neopan 1600, Kodak T-Max 3200, Ilford Delta 3200. If you want to experiment with film grain in your photos these films are for you. Their high speeds make them great choices for indoor sports, concerts and other low-light usage.  When pushed to 6400 or 12,500 these films can be used for incredibly atmospheric available light shots.  You really owe it to yourself to try these remarkable films at least once.
  • B& W in a hurry: Ilford XP2 Plus, Kodak T-Max 400 CN. If you need to have your black and white prints ASAP then these are the 2 films for you. Both can be processed in regular C-41 color chemistry so that you can get your film back just as fast as if it were a color roll.
  • One-of-a-kind: Agfa Scala. This is a truly wonderful 200 speed B&W slide film with beautiful tonality. It’s also tremendously versatile since it can be pushed to 400, 800 or 1600. Only 3 labs in the US can process this film but the slides look so nice that you don’t mind waiting for them to come back.

Black and white tips:

  • Since you don’t have the element of color to use in your B&W shots, focus on other elements such as texture, line or lighting.
  • Different colors often blend together into very similar shades of gray. Colored filters such as red, yellow or green can provide some separation between various shades.
  • B&W film can work with any subject. It can even provide a unique look at such colorful areas as fashion or nature photography.
  • For exciting new possibilities in black and white shots, try hand coloring the image with colored pencils or oils. BCC stocks the top quality Marshall line of hand coloring supplies. This coloring can also be done electronically using Photoshop.

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