My Love/Hate Relationship With Black And White Photography
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My Love/Hate Relationship With Black And White Photography

Are the classics better?

My Love/Hate Relationship With Black And White Photography
Sam Chase

Over the course of this semester, I've been taking a black and white photography course. I'll have to admit, I didn't like it so much at first, but as time went on, I started to love the feeling of physically controlling the picture. It is now what I do when I need time to relax. But of course, there are problems with B&W photography, too. Everything depends on chemicals, there is too much room for error, and everything has to be treated with caution or else you can ruin the prints altogether. I love B&W photography, but I also absolutely hate it. Let me give you some examples of my love/hate relationship with old school photography:

1. You spend hundreds of dollars on paper, film, and chemicals.

I have spent close to $250 just on paper and film for my course. Everything is covered with crystal particles that are light sensitive so of course, it'll cost more than you expect. In the long run, digital is a better investment because you simply pay for the camera and SD card. However, when you buy a film camera, you have to invest in all the paper and film, not to mention the different developers, stop bath, fixer, and fix remover. On top of the chemicals, paper, and film, you also need to buy the reels, enlarger, dust covers, filters, timer, and many more items that add to the total film developing process. Lucky for me, I have a classroom supplied with most of the things I need.

2. Developing film isn't very fun, but it's worth it.

This is probably the least exciting, but most crucial part of B&W photography. You have to go into a pitch black room and feed your film into a reel because any and all light will destroy it. The only hard part (for me at least) is getting the film in the reel. It always bends and gets caught and I've once had to spend an hour trying to put one roll in the reel. I usually destroy a few of the pictures by bending the middle on accident or making unflattering scratches across the picture. Every step is extremely important because if you mess it up, you'll get pictures that turn your prints into this:

3. Getting that picture JUST right.

You never want an overexposed print unless it is intentional, and almost no underexposed prints look good. It is tricky to get those whites and blacks in your photos, but when you finally get that balance of black and white, you feel like a master (or lucky as hell). I usually have to do three prints before I get it right, but I feel great when I manage to finally make a decent print. Here's an example of what you don't want:

4. Going out to photograph.

One of my horror stories is going out into D.C. with my film camera and pulling it out of my bag only to find the latch broke on the inside of the camera, leaving the back wide open and letting all the sun expose my film. There is a lot of liability with film cameras, and shutter speed and aperture matter the most when working with film over digital. There is so much room for error, but it is so rewarding seeing those developed film slips and making it perfect. All of my friends love being photographed on film and many of them have set their pictures as their Facebook profile. It feels rewarding getting your prints praised by friends:

5. Those f**king chemicals.

If you don't put your prints in the stop bath, your prints will turn black when exposed to light. When you don't put it in the fixer long enough, it'll turn grey and slowly into black. If you don't change the developer every day, the prints will come out muddy and sometimes brown. I have so little patience for actually making my prints, but have the ability to work in the lab for five hours or more. Here is an example of what happens when the chemicals aren't right:

6. Getting exactly what you wanted.

We have critiques in my class which are my favorite days because I finally feel my work is being appreciated and viewed closely. All those hours in the lab finally paid off, and you are left feeling satisfied with your work being done.

So, do I love B&W photography? I guess it depends on how well the end result comes out. If you manage to get at last one great picture from a roll of mostly crap pictures, it's definitely worth it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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