Go Back   Rangefinderforum.com > Cameras / Gear / Photography > Coffee With Mentors > Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes

B&W or Color?
Old 01-13-2015   #1
Bill Pierce
Registered User
Bill Pierce's Avatar
Bill Pierce is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,172
B&W or Color?

In the pre digital days of the wet darkroom a lot of folks shot black-and-white film simply because the darkroom requirements were much simpler than those for color processing. Now we don’t have to decide between black-and-white and color. A digital file can give us either. If anything, color is probably simpler than black-and-white, and that’s why my family snapshots of dogs and grandchildren usually get emailed as color.

When it comes to prints, that’s something else. Even when the newsmagazine started printing in color, as much for the ads as the news pictures, I would often convert my color work to black-and-white when I printed it for portfolios. Nothing against color. It’s just that you can’t control it when you’re shooting news. You take the color that you are handed by the scene. Sometime it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The same when you are shooting on the street. You’re not in control of much of anything, much less the color. So, much of my street work is printed in black-and-white. An added side benefit, folks seem to take the pictures much more seriously when they are in black-and-white; who knows why...

Now that a digital camera can produce any picture in either black-and-white or color, which do you choose? Why?
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-13-2015   #2
Registered User
airfrogusmc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 5,627
I prefer B&W and shoot all of my personal work in B&W. It's the way I see.

Should have added I have a M Monochrom and I use it to shoot all of my personal work.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-13-2015   #3
Michael Da Re
Registered User
Michael Da Re is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 240
I love the fact that with digital I have the option of either. I usually prefer B/W however I find that I can sometimes enhance the mood of a photo with color. I can't say that either is the way I see so to speak. I process all my photos both ways then keep the one I prefer......sometimes that's both...
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-13-2015   #4
segedi's Avatar
segedi is offline
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Calgary
Posts: 1,233
Yes. That is all.



  Reply With Quote

Old 01-13-2015   #5
Registered User
Pfreddee is offline
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: In the suburbs of Dillwyn, Virginia
Age: 78
Posts: 455
To be honest, while I can shoot both color and B&W with my digital camera, I feel that shooting in B&W somehow isn't *real* photography. Maybe because I like the look of the B&W files I get with my camera set to Monochrome, I don't bother converting color files to B&W, which seems to be the recommended method. So. the result isn't real, for some silly reason. Makes no sense to me, BTW.

I still have a love affair with film, too. I use both color and B&W film; I have a very good pro shop where I have my film processed. I like the prints I get from film, although I can get prints made in digital, too. I got some 10X13 inch prints that looked like medium format...

I have fun with both mediums, which is the reason I got into photography in the first place, and sometimes I get something beautiful.

With best regards,

  Reply With Quote

Old 01-13-2015   #6
Bruno Gracia
Registered User
Bruno Gracia's Avatar
Bruno Gracia is offline
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: Ronda (Spain)
Age: 35
Posts: 730
Black and White with film and color with digital.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #7
negative guy
haempe is offline
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 926
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
... If anything, color is probably simpler than black-and-white ...
For me, personally, it is harder to produce a really good color-photography.
I guess I'm not practiced to deal with color composition after years of b/w only.
Or, maybe, I'm simply not talented for that...

  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #8
Richard G
Registered User
Richard G's Avatar
Richard G is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: 37,47 S
Posts: 5,143
Originally Posted by haempe View Post
For me, personally, it is harder to produce a really good color-photography.
I guess I'm not practiced to deal with color composition after years of b/w only.
Or, maybe, I'm simply not talented for that...
Agree. Colour photography, as opposed to pictures of things in colour (e.g. for the family), is more difficult than black and white, and very different photography too. With the M9 I like the option of both, but I often take a shot specifically intending that it will be black and white. With the Monochrom it's like Tri-X: the colour version doesn't enter your calculations at all. Unfortunately I never see a potential colour photograph so well as when I have the Monochrom or another camera with black and white film loaded.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #9
Registered User
ssmc is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 596
Definitely digital for color, film for B&W (of course there are always exceptions, this is just my preference)

IMO it's virtually impossible to get monochrome digital files to look quite like B&W film, particularly when it comes to grain. The way I see it, when you add "grain" to a digital file, you're destroying information; with film, the image emerges from the grain as you move away (i.e. reduce magnification). It's like magic!

My 0.02
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #10
Registered User
struene is offline
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 73
Same for me,

i see the things in BW, trying to see the light only. Even when i shoot digital on a x100 i switch the picture-view and also the rarely used EVF to BW.

Of course a picture with good light works in colour too, but then often not because of the colours. In contrary they can be distracting.

I find it very dificult to take pictures with the colour already in mind... i have the impression when i shoot colour with too much concentration on the colourcomposition in my mind from the beginning, i forget about another important aspect of the Picture...

one never stops learning...

schöne Grüße,

28 35 50
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #11
Registered User
NeeZee is offline
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Karlsruhe, Germany
Age: 40
Posts: 553
As others have said I don't think color photography is "simpler" than BW at all. It adds another compositional aspect which is hard to get right. That's why you see many beginners converting their digital pictures to B&W in order to save a poor color composition. In most cases it doesn't work of course.

Not saying B&W photography is easy - it's just different and as difficult to get good results of course.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #12
Press the Shutter
kshapero's Avatar
kshapero is offline
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: South Florida, USA
Age: 69
Posts: 9,811
B/W for me unless I shoot with the iPhone. So 90% B/W.
Akiva S.


Cameras, Lenses and Photos
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #13
Registered User
ABrosig's Avatar
ABrosig is offline
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: Torrington WY USA
Posts: 304
I have a definite preference for b&w, possibly because that's where I started more years ago than I care to remember. As I developed as a photographer, no pun intended, I did start shooting in color, mostly Kodachrome and later Fujichrome, but I always gravitated back to black and white. For me, black and white is just a purer medium. I think, sometimes, a less-than-ideal image can be saved by flashy colors. But, with black and white, all you have is the elements of form, shape, light and shadow. I'm not saying one is better than the other or one is easier or more difficult. Both have their own particular demands, challenges and rewards.
You can teach just the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic in schools, but without art, there is nothing to read and write about.


In hoc loco sum
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #14
Kostya Fedot
Ko.Fe.'s Avatar
Ko.Fe. is offline
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: MiltON.ONtario
Posts: 7,295
It is nice to have both. Macro in b/w it is like street in color
But I admire Frank Herzog street work in color. It is historical treasure.
I also read A.Adams in color book. To me it was interesting. Pictures and his thoughts about color.
I like b/w on film mostly.
But it is not a problem to process c-41 at home and scan for print. I like color film for autumn colors.
I use digital color for family photography and for local events photography if pictures going to be in use for public.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #15
Registered User
soultheworld is offline
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Frankfurt
Posts: 85
about 95% of my digital work is color.while i appreciate others work in B&w ...for my own work i prefer color, i see color and i love processing color. when i shoot film i use kodak tmax but i rarely shoot film these day.
my Blog

  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #16
Registered User
lynnb's Avatar
lynnb is offline
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Sydney
Posts: 8,460
I tend to only shoot colour when I can see a good colour picture in front of me, or when I can control it, such as portraits. I don't mind digital or C41 for colour, they are just different.

Mostly I see in bw, and shoot bw. I have gone back to shooting most of my bw on film, 35mm and MF. The Merrills do interest me for digital bw.
happiest when shooting 35mm and 120 film
RFF Gallery
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-14-2015   #17
jsrockit's Avatar
jsrockit is offline
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Santiago, Chile
Age: 46
Posts: 19,880
I choose what works better for the photo. Mostly color... first in the color darkroom, now in digital. However, there are times when an image just needs to be B&W.
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-15-2015   #18
Bill Pierce
Registered User
Bill Pierce's Avatar
Bill Pierce is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,172
Here are number of useful thoughts on digial b&w...

  Reply With Quote

Old 01-15-2015   #19
Registered User
MIkhail's Avatar
MIkhail is offline
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Posts: 930
I beleive it is a lot more difficult to shoot color (not colorful) picture where color actually makes a statement.
I try though.
In bright sunlight film does better job to smooth colors out for me, at low light digital is better, in my opinion.
Black and white - God gave us TriX-400 for that :-)
  Reply With Quote

Old 01-15-2015   #20
somewhat colored
Godfrey's Avatar
Godfrey is offline
Join Date: Dec 2011
Posts: 9,070
I choose what works better for the photo.
What works better for the photo, for me, is really "what matches my intent for the photo best."

I like B&W, I like color, I like whatever works to express the mood, produce the emotion, give the look I have in mind when I'm taking and then rendering the photos.

Doing color process in the wet lab without costly and labor intensive machinery to regulate it properly for consistent results was no fun, so I didn't. I did my color work in film with the help of a photo lab, and did B&W in my darkroom.

Producing color work and monochrome work using digital image processing and inkjet printing is equally difficult, and far less annoying than working in a darkroom, so I'm happy now that I can do both by myself with the need to work with a lab. And I can do whatever rendering, from monochrome to saturated color, I feel is appropriate to my intent and the photo.

Which do I prefer? Well, overall, I tend to use B&W and limited palette color for a lot of my photos, but I make some photos with deep, rich, saturated color.

  Reply With Quote

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 11:40.

vBulletin skin developed by: eXtremepixels
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

All content on this site is Copyright Protected and owned by its respective owner. You may link to content on this site but you may not reproduce any of it in whole or part without written consent from its owner.