"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.
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
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)