Color or Black and White?


I’ve spent some time wondering about this. When I was in college the photography majors seemed to lean very heavily against color photos. The implication was (or so I perceived) that you couldn’t do fine art photography in color. And photos employing “artificial” light were especially eggregious.  I theorized that this philosophy was born from two origins– 1) in the late 70’s the bulk of fine art photography to date had been done in B&W (and they were apparently not teaching William Eggleston at the time), and 2) it’s a lot easier to teach college sophomores how to process B&W film than color.

In the past you didn’t have a choice. But now we do. I can shoot color digital photos all day and decide in post-process whether an image is better rendered in black and white or color. Then how do you decide? As much as I have read about people having instantaneous flashes of enlightenment, I’ve found them chronically absent in my life. Sadly, discovering when to convert to black and white is one of the few epiphanies I have experienced. I don’t remember what photo it was, but there was an element I really liked but the colors in the photo were clashing with each other. I converted it to B&W and suddenly all of the chromatic dissonance in the photo was gone. I was hooked!

Here’s an example.  Which version below do you think better portrays the specific subject (hint: the subject here is the guy)? Yes, I know, most people’s first reaction is “color is better”, but look again. Which version better eliminates the visual elements that distract from the primary subject?













So, stage 1 is discovering that you use B&W when it doesn’t look right in color. I’m there, I’ve got that part. Now I’m hearing that the next step is learning to think in B&W intentionally. I understand that taking the color out of the photographs gives them an unrealistic view and allows us to perceive  them with a less reality based bias. I’d like to explore that further in the near future. So stay tuned.

(And, no, I am not ignoring the holidays, I promise).





This entry was posted in Photography, Tips.

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