The Great Debate, Color vs. Black & White | Photography Unfolded

The Great Debate, Color vs. Black & White

 In Tips + Tricks

When you’re out in the field making photographs or on the computer post-processing, one of the decisions you need to make is whether the image is best in color or black & white. To start with, we always shoot in color. Even if you know you’re going to render the image in black & white for final production, it’s best to have both options. You just never know.

When color is the easy choice

Starting in the field. Sometimes a location just screams color and it is what makes the shot. It’s at the core of the story and it’s an easy choice. Let’s take this very colorful building in Miami as an example. In the color shot, you see the distinction between the foreground reflections, the middle ground of the pink undersides of the balconies and the very colorful background building. They all play well off of each other. In the black & white version, the distinction is lost and all the lines get muddled together, resulting in disorganized chaos. While the color version is still chaotic, it feels more organized and easier to understand.

 

When black & white is the easy choice

Then you have those locations or conditions which make it pretty clear your shots will work best in monochrome. Dull, gray, whiteout skies, for example. Or buildings with little or uninteresting color. Or when the location or composition makes it clear it’s more important to make the image about the shapes, lines and/or texture. With this building in New Orleans, pretty much everything I mentioned checks the box, indicating it’s much more suited to black & white processing.

 

When it’s not so clear

Often, however, it isn’t so obvious which direction is best to go in terms of final production, because the image may very well work in both color and black & white. It doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. The mood of the image is what tends to vary when choosing color or black & white, and it comes down to what you want to say with the image. If you’re like me, you’ll likely want to say both things, which is okay too.

In this example of the AIDS Memorial in NYC, the color version feels bright and airy, more or less cheerful, and it’s about the way the blue and white play well against each other. The black & white version becomes about the lines, patterns, and gradients, and feels a bit more dramatic. Both work equally as well, they just convey very different feelings.

 

The bottom line is, know why you decide to process one way over another. And know that if you want to go with various versions, you’re allowed to. Our moods change too, it’s not always stagnant and it’s okay to reflect that with your post-processing technique and style.

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