8/52 ~ Color. Composition. Contrast.

by Heidi Egerman February. 23, 2019 405 views

"Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." ~ Eliott Erwitt

Welcome to week 8.

Like many photographers, I love color images. Some of my best work is in color. I have found that deciding when to remove color from an image can be challenging. Often I have to convert the image to monochrome to tell whether it will work well as a black and white image. In the past few weeks, I have been reviewing images from my archives for black and white conversion. In today's post, I want to cover three basic elements that I call the three C's – Color, Composition, and Contrast.

These elements should help you identify images that may work well in black and white. They are also relevant if you are shooting for black and white. Although there are many elements to consider these three tips should help you get started.

Color - How important is color to the image?

There are many dramatic colorful images that should remain in color. Especially if the color has a big impact on the image. If color is a distraction to the core story of the image by removing it you can bring out qualities like shadow, light, texture, and patterns. If you love the image in color, it is likely you will not like the monochrome version. If not, are there pattern and textures that you see that might look great if you removed the color? Would the absence of color convey a different mood that works best?

I love this image of the pumpkins in color. The monochrome image above looks flat and dull in comparison to the color version. The dramatic orange color and the lighting have a big impact on this image. I didn't have to think twice about keeping this image in color.

Because the image of this old chain had a lot of contrast and texture it works as well or better as a monochrome image. This image is more dramatic in black and white and the shadows and texture are more prominent. Sometimes you have to make a quick conversion to see the difference.

Composition

With black and white, you are not able to use color to lead the eye into or around the shot. This means you need to train your eye to look at shapes, tones, and textures as points of interest. Before you consider anything else, look at the composition. You cannot fix poor composition with a monochrome conversion. I've tried. Harold Davis, photographer and author, believes the "most important elements of formal composition to black and white photos include: framing, patterns and symmetry and use of lines and shapes".

Simplicity often helps improve composition by eliminating distractions. Try converting the image to monochrome if it includes well-defined shapes and textures. The lack of color allows the brain to focus on the shapes and textures making them stand out. Consider the same elements of design you use for color photographs.

For additional composition tips see: 20 photography composition tips that will get you beautiful photos

This image uses strong contrast along with leading lines to draw you into the image. Color is not necessary.

This image uses strong contrast along with leading lines to draw you into the image. Color is not necessary.

Contrast

High contrast tends to work best in B&W imagery. Think bold colors, bright highlights, and dark shadows. Too much contrast in a color photo often results in harsh and confusing images. But, remove the color and harsh contrast becomes a great way to attract attention to your subject. The difference between the lightest white and the darkest black is a vital component of good B&W photography.

I love this image of ornamental kale in color. Because I could see strong contrast I decided to convert it to black and white. I decided that I like the image even better as a monochrome image. In my opinion, it is more dramatic and has a different feel. Plus, as you know by now, I'm fascinated with black and white photography.

Color versus Black and White

I realize that the preference for black and white vs. color debate is a personal one. Photography as a whole is subjective. One's perception of a picture varies because no two individuals look at a thing the same way. My preference and passion for black and white photography grow stronger every day. You may like the color images in this post better than the monochrome images. You are not wrong, it is your preference. We all have them.

Even so, I hope you have enjoyed this week's post.

What I'm reading this week:

Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland
Better Black and White, Kent DuFault (ebook)

Join the conversation
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There are 8 comments , add yours!
Heike 6 months, 3 weeks ago

#1-#3 I would make the same choice as you.  #4 my personal choice is the color photo. This color is fascinating me and I think this one single photo would highlight a pure white wall perfectly. The b&w version is also great, but I think, it wouldn't work as a single on a wall. But with 2 others in b&w in this style, I can imagine they also would work on a white wall.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue 6 months, 3 weeks ago

#1 - I think the color is necessary to make it more vivid!
#3 - monochrome, because there will be no distraction.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Russell Smith 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I am loving this series of posts that you are doing. I would agree that photography is very much subjective but that is what makes it a great artistic medium .

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Another awesome post. I have no doubt that by now you know I am your biggest fan. Where I stand as to the above photographs; definitely color for the pumpkins and definitely monochrome for the bridge, but the other two each have their own unique "presentation" (for a lack of better word) in both color and monochrome. As you said it is definitely a very subjective form of art.
Finished reading  "Show Your Work" and so many areas hit home. Thanks for the recommendation. Keep up the wonderful work you are doing!😊

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Camellia 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Camellia,
Thank you. This means a lot to me. 
I know monochrome is not your preference so I love that you are following my posts nonetheless. I realize that even color images are subjective. I find that I like many of the color images as well as the monochrome images after I do the conversion. Even though they are different, they have their own unique feel. I feel like I have so far to go in order to feel skilled at this stuff. I just want to get there, but am enjoying this journey at the same time. 
Have a great week and thanks for the support and kind words.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Laurie Madsen 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Heidi-
Love your writing style and the images illustrating concept! EXCELLENT JOB!
Although your contrast statement/illustration is true, especially if your goal is to reveal details in images,
I have an interesting perspective to consider for contrast "theory". Lovely low contrast images can be made (nearly white on white, and nearly black on black) but these bend towards the artistic photography. These tend to be some of my absolute favorites, but then I have a long standing affair with the "art" of photography....just like black & white vs. color....beauty in the eyes of the beholder!

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Laurie Madsen 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Laurie,
Thank you so much. I know what you mean by low contrast images. I love high-key and low-key images and I'm sure I'll be doing a post on that in the future. I have some images I'm anxious to share. I think that is the beauty of black and white. There are very many options and styles. 

I'll eventually find my personal style. In the meantime, there is so much to learn and share. I am a sponge and become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information, just on monochrome photography. Each week it is challenging to decide what to share and how best to share it. 

Thank you for checking in and sharing your thoughts.

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Laurie Madsen Replied to Heidi Egerman 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Well you are doing a fantastic job on what to share and how to share it!
I'm glad you enjoy hearing my thoughts...lol
Don't get too overwhelmed....you'll forget to enjoy it...
Free your heart and your camera will follow....

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
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