Color Negative vs. Monochrome:

Why Should You Take Pictures in Black & White?

170: Comet

Monochrome Film

You’re probably wondering why I decided to post a bunch of pictures taken in the 50’s in my gallery: you’ve been bamboozled. These pictures are brand new, and they look pretty incredible.

For my fifth roll on my quest with film photography, I used black and white film. It was a 35mm canister of 400 ISO, Ilford HP5+, and I wanted to center all 36 exposures around a central theme (but that didn’t really go as planned.)

My personal experience with this type of film gave me a bit of insight into the differences between black & white film vs. color film and the overall contrast between analog and digital photography. So what exactly is the difference between color negative film and monochrome (B&W) film?

145) Denver Airport
147) Rabbit
165) Headless Statue

Let me ask you a question, how would you feel if your phone camera could only take monochromatic pictures? Imagine a world where whenever you needed to take a color photo on your cell phone, you needed to utilize a special SIM card that could only take thirty-ish pictures.

Sounds kind of stupid, right? Well, this is the reality of analog photography. The film itself is a factor in the type and quality of the end product.

Thankfully, there exists color-negative film, and you could definitely just put a B&W filter in post-processing, and voila– you’ve got a monochromatic photo.

146) Denver Plane

Let’s be honest, though, if I’m shooting on color-negative film, I’m imagining the end product in color and thus affecting the approach. What if this was not the case?

What if I had to accept that the exposures taken on a roll of film will inevitably not have any color? Well, from my minimal experience, I’m happy to report that it’s alleviating.

The colorful aspects in the frame become less important; I didn’t have to worry if the sky would turn out white and overexposed because it was gonna be grey anyway.

163) Bird on Statue
150) Cool Mom

When the color is stripped away, all that matters are the subjects in the frame. After everything is processed and scanned, it is up to whoever views the photo to imagine what the colors would’ve looked like on the scene.

Before exposing my film and opening my shutter to a scene, I’d ask myself, is color important for this frame? This is the reason why this small collection lacks any flora or graffiti. If the subject in front of the lens isn’t colorful, there is no reason for color-negative film. 

167) Dead Lion

Let’s take a look at these two similar photos. One was taken using color negative film, and the other was taken using B&W film. The subject in both pictures is a monument known as “The Confederate Lion.”

It is a monument dedicated to the demolished confederacy, and it is currently defaced and scheduled to be removed from Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. Both pictures are taken at a similar angle, but the lighting is different–I think it was high noon when I took the black & white photo.

Just from this example, you can see the tonal differences between the two images. Whether or not one is better than the other is entirely subjective.

130) Confederate Lion

The lion is covered in red paint in the color-negative exposure, and it looks like blood; this is a detail that you cannot express on a B&W exposure. However, the B&W image is just–to put it lightly– so punk. In my eyes, the lion in the B&W photo is dead and forgotten.

The sky in the color-negative exposure is grey and cloudy, which is not an aesthetic that I enjoy personally. You can see that this factor is a non-issue with the monochromatic image.

The film used in both photos augmented the subject. With film, It’s almost like you–nay, I– have a superpower to change and edit the context of an image before it’s even processed (Mwahaha).

Why does any of this matter? Well, if I were to start from scratch and begin this personal project with no experience (or should I say, just “less experienced” than my currently limited expertise), I would start with daytime photography using monochromatic film. 

There’s less room to mess up, and over/underexposing a photo won’t ruin your final product (It might just augment your image). Unless you want to take pictures that require color, then don’t bother using color-negative film. 

I understand that being interested in film photography innately implies pretentiousness, but I’m going to leave you with a famous quote (I know, I know, I’m sorry.) Orson Welles once said that “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” 

168) Oakland Statues 1

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