To Black & White or not to

The discussion is going on Digital Photography School regarding the black and white photography in the modern times. It evolved around the movie by Callum Preston, “Why mono?”, featuring photographers Nicole Reed and Steve Gouley, among few others.

The opinions, as usual on polarizing subjects, are divided. Some say in today’s day and age, with digital photography, they shoot only color- because they can, the world is in color, why not show it the way it really is. On the other hand, there are people who prefer only black and white, as more natural, or “classic” since photography was born black and white, and it offers a different view on world, typically full of color, and simpler post-processing.

I added my voice to the third group, saying that both color and black and white images have its place. It all depends on the image, not my views. I believe both types of image treatment help me to show the story in the image, and how I see the world. I agree, the world is full of color. But sometimes, I do not want to tell the story of color. Sometimes my story is about the play of light and shadow, or I want the viewer to look at texture or shape, rather then focusing on their bright color. Especially if my subject is not in a contrasty color to the background, it might get lost. In those situation, I usually go black and white.

I think black and white treatment is perfect for street photography. Very often, bright clothing or cars or window displays draw too much attention, detracting from the main subject. Very few street scenes render well in color.

Take a look at this image by Sabrina Henry, taken at the night market in Richmond, BC. A lot photographers do that on their blogs- showing both black & white, and color image, to make us, viewers make a decision. You can see that black and white image (or duotone, whichever you prefer) are about something different then color image. Without color and night lights mood, the image becomes about the expressions on human faces when they wait for their morsel.

At the same time, if I see beautiful color of landscape or flower, or color contrast, I want to show it in my color image.

I also tend to have phases, when I would be creating only in black and white, or only in color. Both approaches changes how I look at the world and which subjects I pick to photograph, or which images I choose for processing.

Look at the two images in this blog post (click on them to see a larger version). Let me note on the side, that probably even those who claim they shoot primarily black and white, if shoot RAW, have still color image available. with digital, its a post-processing which makes image black and white. Interestingly, I never realized that before, I was using different tools when working on those images. The color image has a number of graduated filters and just a touch of local adjustment brush. The black and white, although global adjustments were done with curves and individual colors, required a lot of brush work to achieve the final effect.

Do you see how color makes the difference in the way you perceive those images?

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