Nice Top 5 Whys of Black and White Photography
Just because you can take a color image and make it black and white doesn’t mean you should. Or does it?
Do you have a digital camera? Of course you do, maybe several. Chances are your camera has a black and white setting somewhere deep down in its menu. But just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it. Like most photographers (not all, but most) I prefer to shoot my images in color and convert to black and white later so that I have more control over the final image. But before I go out and shoot something with the intention of it being a black and white photograph, or before I make something that was intended to be color black and white, I like to have a reason.
There can be many reasons to present your photograph in its black and white form, here are my top five.
- Mood – Nothing puts a smile on a sad photograph like a splash of color. If you are hoping to convey mystery, drama, depth of thought, wet (yes – wet), ect., your image may benefit from a lack of color. A close up color portrait of a grinning clown might make you think, “Birthday Party.” The exact same image in black and white: “Serial Killer.” Which way do you want the image to be perceived?
- The Color Distracts – Which is more distracting: a nun dressed in a black and white habit or a double D sorority girl in a see-through nightie who just wants to blow off a little steam before finals? Oh, and the nightie is pink or something. You see my point? If I’m going to photograph a model in Time Square and I want you to focus on her expression, there’s a good chance the image will do what I want better in black and white.
- Time Period – The future may be in color, but the past is black and white. It’s a fact. Like it or not. Nothing was in color in the olden days. Oh, how sad the flappers must have been in the roaring twenties unable to see the orange glow of sunset as they drove past colorless trees in their Model T’s. The poor pharos of Egypt buried themselves in off white pyramids amongst heaping mounds of grey treasures. Even the dinosaurs died rather than live a life underneath a sky filled with 10 zone rainbows. Now you can transport your audience back to those bygone days with the help of desaturation.
- Intimacy – Leaving something up to your viewer’s imagination can help draw them closer both physically and emotionally. This can help create intimacy. It’s not like they’ll stand there looking at the image wondering what color that dog was, or if the man had blue eyes. More likely, with the right image, the lack of color leaves room for the viewer to step in and let their subconscious fill in the scene.
- Reality – As ironic as that sounds, what with reality usually being in color, sometimes an image can make the viewer feel more like they are really there if it is in black and white. Blame it on the heightened mood, the otherwise distracting color, the perceived time period, or increase in intimacy, but some black and white images just feel more real than their colored twin.
Experiment. Think. Some photographs need to be in color, some need to be black and white. Usually there’s a reason. If you can figure out the reason, or better yet start with the reason before you even take the image, you can focus your idea and pull out its maximum potential.