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Black and White or Color?

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

You'll have as many opinions as there are people when it comes to the choice between B/W or color for a photograph.

Some of us love it, others don't. For most of us, it depends on the image.

Digital imaging has made it easy to go back and forth during the decision process.

Or has it?

I sometimes find it difficult to decide. For some images, it's obvious, B/W is the way to go. Other images simply look bland in B/W and really need the color.

And sometimes, both work 🤷🏻‍♀️.

So, what does this depend on?

First of all

You need to determine whether the color has an impact on the image. Sounds easy, but it isn't always.

You can do this by asking yourself whether the color is an integral part of the image. Chances are, if the colors really pop, the image won't be as interesting in B/W.

Take the one below for instance. Not nearly as interesting in B/W, right?!

That also means that, generally, images with bland colors, will look nice(r) in black and white.

still life photography blood orange in snow
still life photography - blood orange in snow BW

Which bring us to the second point.

When you take the color out of the image, you are left with different gray tones. When you can envision that, you will be able to see up front whether an image will look good in black and white or not.

An image with interesting lighting and contrast, will most likely look great in black and white. Because that is of course what makes black and white images work: interesting lights and darks.

This image is really bland in color. But make it black and white and suddenly is much more interesting.

portrait photography teenage boredom

portrait photography teenage boredom black and white photography

The third point to consider when choosing between B/W and color, is texture

For this, you'll have to step away from the idea of tactile tangible texture because, obviously, you can't literally feel the texture in a photography. But there is something like visually tangible: your eyes will tell you whether the image is smooth or rough or somewhere in between.

And sometimes B/W will enhance the visually tangible texture. This works well with wood, metals, stone, plants and skin! To even enhance this more, use directional light: one light source coming from the side.

Take the first image below. The center is sharp with lots of texture, the sides fall off somewhat, because of the shallow depth of field and the soft light.

Now look at in BW, suddenly the entire image is full of texture. The sides are still blurred but the texture is much more visually tangible than in the color version.

abstract photography metal surface
abstract photography metal surface black and white photography

And the fourth point: what mood do you want to create?

Some photos immediately create a certain mood. You get sucked in, they make you happy, sad, or angry, ... .

Black and white is an excellent way of communicating a mood. Yes, it is mostly associated with darkness, somberness, ... . But that doesn't always have to be the case. Just feel the tranquility of this image.

equine photography grazing horse

Word of caution: don't confuse monochrome with black and white. You can have a monochrome image, consisting of all reds:

abstract photography monochrome image of hand


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