Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by anamedina, Oct 29, 2020.

  1. Hello. I am a new photographer currently in a college photography course, which consists of black and white photography. I was curious on whether photographer's preferred to have their pictures in black and white or in color, and the pros and cons of both. What situations would you choose black and white over color and vise versa? Any response would be greatly appreciated!
  2. I like to shoot both BW and color. You can check out your own feelings about them by looking at both types one at a time on some web sites. Then write down what you admire in each. It's a good way to understand your own likes and feeling first. It also will give you an idea when you want to shoot one or the other. You're going to get a lot of opinions here. But yours are the ones that count.

    Good luck in school.
    cameragary likes this.
  3. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Welcome to the Forum, and good luck with the course.

    For myself, there is no hard-and-fast rule - some subjects look good in colour, some in monochrome, and some in both. When I use 35mm, I invariably shoot monochrome (Tri-X), since I can process it at home, then scan in the negs, but for digital, I shoot RAW, so images are always colour (OK, this is a simplification - RAW is not an image until it has been converted). Then, when performing PP, I decide for each image (of the few I decide to process fully) whether colour or monochrome suits the subject, or whether the image has merit in both. This approach saves me having to make up my mind on the spot, and I can assess them at my leisure.

    Also, following @AlanKlein's advice, look at as much published material as you can, see if you feel the photographer was wise to present the images in the way she or he did, and whether you would have taken a different approach, and if so, why ?

  4. I certainly have two clearly different approaches.

    I shoot B&W for two reasons:
    First, monochromatic images make me see not realistically, they use to open my imagination. They are incomplete, unreal, timeless... so I like to wonder about the images I'm looking at.
    The images I take in B&W use to be for a long term viewing, to produce the very same feeling that a vintage photograph makes on me right now. Also for more neat images, what people use to call "fine art", mostly for decoration.
    Second, I exclusively shoot b&w on film to be fully processed at home. I do it the way I like, which is far easier (also faster and cheaper) than ordering them at a commercial lab.

    I shoot color for the opposite, always digital, for profesional documentation, events or just for speed and mostly for convenience. Also familiar images, since they tend to like more than black and white. The imagination part is not that strong, For whatever the reason I cannot feel the charm of B&W traditional photography while shooting color or digital. I order a very small percentage of this images, almost all are seen at screens, or given in digital storage devices.
    Although digital archives seem to be better for almost everything, I find them somewhat overwhelming because the backups, the storage, printers, and specially, the huge amount of images we can have...

    Enjoy your course! :D
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2020
    Tony Parsons likes this.
  5. It really depends on the subject... and the mood you're trying to convey.

    I wouldn't, for example, try to convey the vibrance and exuberance of a Carribbean or venetian carnival in black and white.
    (Maybe a crop of just the guy on the right would work better, but things move fast in a carnival, and even zooming takes enough time that you lose a good expression.)

    At a steadier pace; this more downbeat play of light and shade in a graveyard just cried out for a monochrome treatment.

    I think shape, lighting and mood are the 3 key considerations.

    Where subject shapes are strong and with equally strong lighting, I think B&W can be very potent. By 'strong' lighting I don't necessarily mean contrasty. More like moody.

    OTOH, where the light is flat and colour is the main 'outliner' of the subject, colour is perhaps your only option.

    Then of course there's the middle way, where you can reduce the saturation to give a very subtle effect.

    Thankfully, with a digital camera you don't have to make that choice when you load the camera. Or at any other time. Just shoot in colour RAW and you can convert to monochrome later, while adding whatever filter effect works to best advantage.
  6. That crop of just the guy on the right would work well in B&W for the same reason it could be good idea in colour. Posture and facial expression convey exuberance more than bright colours.
  7. SCL


    I'm a pragmatist. I shoot color when shooting digital, as I can easily convert to B&W later if desired. I shoot B&W with film, because I have lots of rolls left over from my film camera days, and I preferred Kodachrome for color, which is no longer processed. As far as subject matter is concerned, IMHO, camera choices mentioned previously aside, I'd typically chose color over B&W solely because of the versatility offered. Digital makes experimentation inexpensive and very flexible. B&W, OTOH, as I've always developed and often printed my own, requires a more intellectual approach with a different visualization of the final product.
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  8. When color detracts from the composition, I will explore B&W. For instance:


    OTOH, there are times where color is essential in conveying the very reason for a photo:

  9. I shoot exclusively digital and though I sometimes have "B/W" in mind when shooting, I have both color and B/W versions of some photo's.

    For a digital photographer like me, creating a B/W version means deliberately removing the color information in order to just show the tonal information. Perhaps to emphasize 'structure', textures and tonal contrasts in the photo. It sometimes happens that a photo is 'strong' in structures/textures but 'weak' in color. For example, a beach scene of a grey overcast day. What color there is, may not add much to the structure of crashing waves, rolling dunes, etc. So that might be a case for creating a B/W version.
  10. One more comment ...

    One element of what makes a photo interesting is "contrasts". These can be both subtle low contrasts or vivid high contrasts. Contrasts can be both in tone (luminosity) and in color. I'm 'reflecting on the spot' here but I think this plays a role in my color vs B/W decisions. I ask myself: where are the contrasts that add interest to this photo? Are they tonal? Color? Both?

    I should add that some photos that (as in B/W) emphasize structure/textures are not in fact purely B/W but have a homogenous color range. For example, a pier silhouetted against a golden sunset. Other post-processing approaches are to add color to B/W photos in shadows, mid-tones and highlights or just give the B/W photo a 'çolor wash'. So there are no hard and fast rules. B/W photos with both subtle and stark tonal contrasts really do have a beauty all of their own. On the other hand, 'color' is IMHO a stronger influencer of 'mood'.
  11. Simply removing the color information is a very long way from goof B&W conversion. Once you've had a play with Niks Silver FX you soon learn how much more can be done. Virtual filters can be used to alter the relative darkness of regions based on their color.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  12. Yes, I fully agree. And I use both Nik Silver FX Pro and manual adjustments for B./W conversions. I should have said "converting" instead of "removing". Thanks for [pinting this out.

  13. With digital I shoot color raw and decide later which images to convert to B&W. When shooting film (rarely) I'll chose B&W for architecture, street doc, occupational portraits and landscape.

    Basically, you use B&W when color does not add anything, or actually detracts from the images impact. In other words, when color is a distraction. That means when the composition's shapes or emotions are the most critical to telling your image's story, you choose B&W.

    Here's an example of an event photo, where the image in color was just boring. But looking at it in B&W allows us to focus on the composition and emotion. Note how the rule of thirds leads the eye to the interesting areas. The fist thing to catch my eye at the event was the girl grooming her dates hair. But looking at the photo I first see the interesting lines of his hands on her knees, then my eye moves to her hands messing with his hair. After that the women behind them (one seems to be looking on them adoringly and the other looking at the event). Lastly your eyes may glide over to the young boy who looks totally bored as he fumbles the fedora hat in his hands. You miss all this if this photo was left in color. IMG_2640b.jpg IMG_2640c.jpg
  14. I think the bored child is the best picture in there. The expression, lighting, the pose and line of their body - perfect!

    I'm not sure colour would have distracted from that little cameo.

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