black and white or color?

a number of people have complimented the black and white images within my portfolio, so i would like to share with you a few blog posts on the whys and hows of my black and white image creation process. you can of course, choose to incorporate some of these thoughts and concepts into your workflow or not - this is what makes art so wonderful, we incorporate our style into our work.

first of all, i shoot almost solely digital, and color at that. i do have two film cameras that i enjoy and occasionally shoot, and almost always with black and white film, but for the most part i shoot digital and in color. there are some shots that as i take them, i know this is going to be a great black and white image, and shoot it as such. sometimes, with other images, it’s during post processing that i decide that i want the image to be black and white.

so what is it in the scene that makes me think this is going to be a black and white image? contrast in the light is the biggest factor for me. high contrast lighting scenarios are often scenarios i feel look much better in black and white. another scenario i really like black and white is when shapes or form are the prevalent subject of the photo, which ties into why nearly all of the abstracts i take are black and white - my abstracts are almost always about shape or form.

there are a couple scenarios in post processing where i make the decision to proceed with the image in black and white rather than color. the first is this: if the color is a distraction from the subject of the image, then i either need to de-saturate the color items a bit or perhaps go fully black and white. i once read of a photographer who stated, “show me a portrait in color and i’ll tell you what color sweater the subject is wearing. show me a portrait in black and white and i’ll tell you what emotions the subject is feeling.” and so it is, as well, with landscape photography. color can be a distraction from the main subject, and each and every landscape image is an image of the landscape showing us something. oftentimes, i would rather that you, the viewer, notice what the landscape is showing us, rather than notice the color of the landscape. sometimes, i’ve decided while post processing an image that the image would be more dramatic in black and white, and i want to bring out that drama. that’s not to say a color image can’t or won’t be dramatic - in fact, some color images are more dramatic. but oftentimes, i’ll prefer the drama of a black and white version over the drama i feel of a color image.

what about the tweeners though - the images that i believe will look great in both color and black and white? this is a scenario i run into frequently, and oftentimes i’ll process them similarly from a color standpoint before conversion, (more on the processing workflow itself in a later blog post) then compare the converted and non-converted version, sometimes for weeks at a time. i’ve concluded black and white is better, only to go back and look in color and prefer the color after a few months. but the best advice usually comes from asking other people. if i’m struggling that much to make the choice, it’s likely i’m too emotionally involved and could use an outsider’s perspective.