Clear as black and white – Part I

Blogger note: Here is 2-part step-back to my photo lessons & discussion, which never really ends in discussion. It’s more like I give my opinion, I get a few hundred hits and 3 comments about pretty pictures. I have talked about this to several people lately and know this is interesting to more than just me, so please give feedback (even if you don’t shoot pictures).

Black and white is no longer mandatory.

We’re not shooting film on Nikon Fs (not that I have ever used anything before a 20D). All in one photo you have the options of color or black and white or really, any color scheme you can pull together in Photoshop. I don’t think it’s a decision to be made very carelessly. Both color and black and white have much to offer.


This is one of my favorite photos I have taken over the break, and it is definitely IN for color. The multiple layers and colors work really well together, although after some criticism I do believe it should be cropped a bit from the left. But for now, we’re only looking at color. My eye flows well through the photo above. Recently, one of our peer photographers said, “I think that’s what makes a good photograph, is when it just stops you and gets you to look at it.”


I agree with what my peer was saying, but there are boundaries within what he is saying. The black and white version of this picture grabs you, but it’s only because you’re confused. If confusion is what is capturing your viewer and you aren’t relaying a message, emotion or piece to a story, then what is your picture doing? This photo in black and white is definitely OUT and just simply does not work.


This photo comes from Britney McIntosh’s blog. She had a few nice frames from a nursing home, which I found it to be interesting that she had them toned in black and white AND color. I can see her reasoning for this frame being color. It has a nice tree and fun color throughout the frame. The lady in the frame has colorful shorts on. It’s not a great frame, but in my opinion – speaking strictly to color, it’s better in color than black and white. So her choice on color for this frame is IN.


This frame – OUT. If I just try to look at the subject my eyes are burning trying to look at that ugly EXIT sign and the giant red and yellow blocks in the background. This frame is in no way about the EXIT (unless Britney is sending us subliminal messages) or the huge legos at the end of the hallway. They aren’t adding to the picture. Let’s try it out in black and white.


Much better. This photo is IN. The sign and legos aren’t distracting me at all anymore. I can focus on the subject and work my way through the photo on my own terms, without feeling compelled to relate the EXIT and this lady.


Elliott Hess loaded up this photo along with others. I have mixed feelings about this picture. I haven’t seen it in color, so all I have is all you see, but I think it would have worked in color pretty well. In this case, I don’t think the red flag would have been distracting, but helped to give life to this picture (which is of a dude scraping a raccoon’s skin off it’s body). Still the same, this photo is IN. I think his decision to make this picture black and white fell more to do with the fact that his others about this subject were black and white. You can’t bounce back and forth at your own free will. Pick your formula and don’t deviate. More on this in part II.

Now, the original thought, or question. Of what guidelines should we go by when deciding if our photos should be in black and white? I wonder if we (WE:me, you, the next guy) are attempting to give weight to our pictures that is lacked in content by toning our pictures in black and white. Are we falling back to a repressed idea that by giving our photos an old fashioned, hard hitting, documentary appeal they will affect people the same way? Yeah, I think so.

Mull that about for a day or so. We’ll see what comes of this tomorrow.


2 Responses to “Clear as black and white – Part I”

  1. When one of Buck’s parents passed away last year, Dave subbed for our class and showed his work to the group of aspiring journalists. One of the students raised his hand and asked, “How do you decide if you’re going to shoot in color or black and white?”

    Dave simply responded,”I’ve come to learn that unless color is adding to the picture, black and white is the way to go.” I’ve followed that basic rule of thumb when toning my images.

    I think a lot of people have started toning in black in white either because they feel the color takes away from the photo or they’ve let go of the basic rules of photography, made a mistake and decided they can fix it by toning in black in white. I’ll be honest in saying I’ve been guilty of the latter.

    Black and White and Color both have their advantages, and you’ve pointed out quite well how they affect a picture. After working on that massive project and deciding in the beginning for it to be in black and white, I’ve discovered that yes, once you decide to start with black and white, you finish with it, and you have to keep that in mind when you’re shooting. Shooting with the mindset of black and white is a very important element to keep in mind when you’re working on a project of that sort.

    Anyways, sorry for the long comment. I’m glad you’re posting about this: it’s been a pretty popular topic for quite some time now.

  2. […] in white not only to spark discussion on which is better, but also to build off of Brad’s latest post. I definitely suggest heading over there…he’s making some good points on the recent […]

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