The first color photographs were made in the 1840s. However, color didn’t become the dominate choice in photography until the 1970s. It took a hundred and thirty years for the technology and popularity of color imaging to overtake black and white. Even so, monochrome photos continue to be popular and, in some cases, may actually be the better choice for telling a visual story. Lets look at a few considerations on when to choose one over the other.
Black and White Inspirations
Before digging in deeper, I thought I might share a couple of photographers who specialize in black and white that I find inspiring. Obviously, Ansel Adams is going to appear in nearly every landscape photographers lists of inspirational artists. Without question his work acted as a creative catalyst for many aspiring photographers. You can view his work here: https://www.anseladams.com/.
Another black & white photographer that I am in awe of is Clyde Butcher. He is sometimes referred to as “the Ansel Adams of the Everglades.” While much of his fine art photography is made in the swamps and wetlands of Florida and the Everglades, his body of work involves other natural areas around North American as well. Check him out at https://clydebutcher.com/.
Inspiring Color Photographers
Just as there are those that specialize in monochrome that help get my creative juices flowing, there are others who make spectacular color imagery. For many, when one thinks of color landscape photography Peter Lik is going to come to mind. He is certainly the master of saturated, vibrant color photography. You can view his work at https://lik.com/.
The next two are fellow North Carolinians. The first, Jared Lloyd, is a gentleman I’ve had the pleasure of shooting beside on a few occasions. His specialty is wildlife and he is extremely adept at capturing captivating images of animals in their natural environments. View his work at https://jaredlloydphoto.com/. Jared also presents some lovely black & white work.
Dave Allen is a landscape photographer located in the Asheville, NC area. His specialty is fine art landscape photography. Much of his work takes place here in North Carolina, including the mountains and the Outer Banks. You can find his work at https://daveallenphotography.com/.
When to Choose Black & White
Colorful, vibrant photos can be quite striking. As such, you may be asking yourself “why would I choose monochrome?” The simplest answer is that in some images the color can actually be a distraction! Our visual perception can be overwhelmed. Details can be lost to the viewer. I’ll share a couple of my similar photos below. One in color. The other in black & white. Decide for yourself if one places better emphasis on the finer details of the scene.
Subject matter can be another factor in the selection of black and white over color. For example, I find grayscale presentations to be a better choice for photos of abandoned buildings. It simply seems to fit the subject matter better, at least in my mind. Below are examples of a color and black & white presentation of the same building.
Color Can be the Best Choice
Unquestionably color can be the superior choice in many cases. While I have seen some striking monochromatic images of flowers, sunsets and other colorful subjects, in most cases color will be the more stunning choice. The following two images are of the same subject, an interesting shaped dead tree, along the Blue Ridge Parkway during peak fall color. Which do you prefer?
When Possible Create With a Finished Image in Mind
In many cases I know if a scene is going to be presented in color or black & white before I ever trip the shutter. Visualizing the finished image helps in making decisions concerning exposure and composition. For black and white you need to keep the tone variations in mind. Monochrome fine art is all about contrast. The direction and strength of light plays a major role. Learn to view and scene and imagine what it’s going to look like converted to black and white.
Similarly, if I know an image is going to be completed in color, I can make better choices while setting up the shot. Where are the hot colors, the lush colors? How do they play into the composition choice. While it’s probably a bit easier for most to visualize in color, it is still worth giving some thought before capture.
The Choice is Yours
In the end the final decision is yours, the photographer. You could base your choice on some of the concepts I’ve outlined above, or it might be a simple matter of personal taste. In the end there is no right or wrong choice. Select whatever you, the artist, feels will best tell the story. Similarly, if you’re an art collector, choose what appeals to you. For many subjects I try to present both a color and a black and white treatment. I understand that beauty is in the eye of the viewer.
I hope this article provided some insight into the thinking process that goes into creating a fine art photograph both before capture and during post-processing. I’d love to hear your thinking on the topic in the comments below.
Wall art, home decor and more with my imagery can be found at http://bob-decker.pixels.comBlack & White Vs. Color – Making Choices in Photography Click To Tweet