black & white Vs. Colour photography

Photography Tips

A reader recently asked why black & white photography is often chosen in preference to colour?

I like photography that is a true representation of what the photographer
saw; therefore I don't like black and white. Usually I look at a B&W photo
and think to myself "I bet the colour shot is more interesting". You
wouldn't watch TV in B&W for fun.

So, why do people like B&W?

It often depends on the style of image but to me a lot of photography just looks far better in monochrome (not necessarily B&W) than colour.

Removing colour can remove distractions such as dominant primary hues especially red that are not part of the subject or the primary subject of the image.

In the original image as taken in camera the colour in the objects laying around and on the walls distract from the pathway leading through the pictures and the roof tile in the for forground leading into the image.

In the original image as taken in camera the colour in the objects laying around and on the walls distract from the pathway leading through the pictures and the roof tile in the for foreground leading into the image.

With the colour removed and the increased contrast the stairs create a pathway winding though the image and are clearly the subject of the image.  Notice how the each step is a line and collectively give rhythm to the image.

With the colour removed and the increased contrast the stairs create a pathway winding though the image and are clearly the subject of the image. Notice how the each step is a line and collectively give rhythm to the image.

A good example could be a portrait of a Groom with a bright red tie or lapel flower that would contend for attention against the Groom’s face, which is the real subject.

Red is the most dominant hue (colour) and a red object can easily be the main subject of a picture even when it is very small relative to the rest of the image, for example a red car in a vast landscape could easily be the subject.

In the original image her red blouse is drawing attention away from her face.  Her red lip stick is also very dominating but would work fine creating a point of a triangle with her eyes.

In the original image her red blouse is drawing attention away from her face. Her red lip stick is also very dominating but would work fine creating a point of a triangle with her eyes.

With the colour removed we are able to focus on her eyes and lips as well as the form of her face created through the ration of light and shadow.

With the colour removed we are able to focus on her eyes and lips as well as the form of her face created through the ration of light and shadow.

Removing colour simplifies images and allows the viewer to see the shapes, lines and form within an image that may not be obvious in a colour image. This can lead to new levels of abstraction that would not be possible in colour.

Black & White (monochrome) images can be extremely powerful in conveying their message whilst the same image in colour may scarcely get a second look.

I personally think that street photography or wedding candid shots usually look much better in B&W 95%. Fine art nudes rarely look nice in anything other than B&W whilst fashion usually looks better in colour – perhaps because it is selling a product and we want to know what it looks like in reality.

Converting to B&W can solve colour temperature problems that might not otherwise be easily solved. Sometimes the colour cast on a colour image can actually distract from the image’s message especially green people under fluorescent lighting πŸ˜‰

Don’t get me wrong, colour can also be very important especially when a true representation is required. In these cases the colour temperature being correctly balanced becomes important.Β  However sometimes colour images can look better when the colour balance is deliberately miss-matched to add to the story of the image, such as the warm glow of people sitting under a tungsten light.

Black & White also has a timeless quality that colour does not seem to process. You can usually date a colour picture such as 70’s, 80’s etc. and sometimes even more accurately than that. This may change as almost everything goes digital.

And just to prove I do enjoy colour, here are two examples of Trash The Dress where the colour brings out the subjects from the background.

Here the red in the dress draws your attention to Linsey in this dramatic demonstation of Latin-American dancing.

Here the red in the dress draws your attention to Linsey in this dramatic demonstation of Latin-American dancing.

Here is another example that clearly works in colour.  This time I have used a limited colour palette with highly saturated hues.  Not quite such elegant dancers but a dramatic image not the less.

Here is another example that clearly works in colour. This time I have used a limited colour palette with highly saturated hues. Not quite such elegant dancers but a dramatic image not the less.


About the author: Director, Photographer & Artist of PatB Photography. Award winning photographer and member of SWPP & SIFGP. Featured in cosmopolitan.co.uk, Photo Pro, Alt Fashion. Clients include; BT, Samurai Sports, ItalClean, KeyAgent & AutoTrader.

5 comments… add one
  • Abbey

    This is great! I’m doing a similar thing for my photography class at college, I’m writing my own essay about the same thing. While researching I found this page, I love it πŸ™‚

  • Thank you Abbey, I’m pleased you found this article useful πŸ™‚

  • lauren hogg

    Are there any photographer that combined both black and white with colour?
    i am doing a project for college and black and white vs colour is the question

  • Pat Bloomfield LSWPP

    I guess this could have been done in the darkroom, combining two negatives on the paper. Now of course, it will all be shot in colour digitally and simply desaturate areas converted to B&W. And there are many ways of doing this; some very basic and others more sophisticated.

  • Bella Photo Solutions and Print

    I use the B&W photos to show passion and emotion in my Photography. I also use a color wash that brings back 1 or 2 colors fir a dramatic image with a B&W background. With the digital age of photography , a Photographer really needs to know both Photography & the image editing software . Both go hand in hand . The photo is my idea and I cannot trust someone else to envision my idea .

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