Color vs. Black & White | Photography Unfolded

Color vs. Black & White

 In Tips + Tricks

How do you decide if an image should be in color or black & white? Sometimes it’s straightforward and other times not-so-much, which is okay too.

Oftentimes, the decision to keep an image in color or realizing it’s stronger in color is simply because the color is so striking that it’s a no brainer. It’s what the image should be about, it’s the story of the subject. Any of Calder’s sculptures in his signature red immediately come to mind. Below we have the Flamingo in Chicago. It’s that vibrant red against the cooler tones of the blue sky reflecting in the black Mies van der Rohe building that makes this image compelling. The Flamingo gets lost in the black & white version.

Another Calder example that’s a bit less clear, the L’Araignée Rouge in Paris’ La Defense.

While I think it works in both iterations, mainly because the clouds add some drama and a nice soft, wispy contrast from the rigid buildings. This contrast is more strongly noticed in the black & white version. However, the red, blue and black still tell a bit more of a striking story.

Then there are those moments when black & white is the obvious choice. Flat, gray skies come to mind when thinking an image will be stronger this way. Your eye will focus more on the building’s lines, patterns, curves, etc. For example, this image of the Chrysler Building in NYC is just kind of dull in color. But converted to black & white the details in the brickwork become more noticeable.

In terms of a cityscape, again, gray skies make black & white a good choice. In the color version, it’s just kind-of drab. Going high-key black & white makes a dull shot more interesting.

Then, there’s the more usual situation where both color and black & white work. They just convey different moods and feelings. One example is 11 Quai d’Austerlitz in Paris’ 13th arrondissement. The building has this yellow tone to it, so in the color version, it’s very much about that pop of color. In the black & white version, it becomes more about the geometry and patterns within the frame.

At LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, the color version feels light and breezy while the black & white version comes across a bit more dramatic and moody. Both work, it’s just a matter of your mood and what you want to convey to the viewer.


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the shed, diller scofidio + renfroThe Vessel, Hudson Yards, New York City, Thomas Heatherwick