Black and White or Color?

28th May 2015
I can't remember a time I didn't have a camera in my life - in my hand, over my shoulder, around my neck, in my pocket or mounted on a tripod.

I shot primarily B&W and some color film for almost four decades using Pentax, Contax, Olympus and Minolta. In 2006 I was captured by the allure of digital when Sony purchased Minolta. I now find the digital age of photography a pure joy. The cameras are technically different, however, the fundamentals of seeing, composition, exposure, light and lighting never change. Most of my digital work, early on, was color, however, my love for black and white (monochrome) gradually took preeminence.

While the original software for converting from color to black and white was clunky and unintuitive, the current software tools are extremely powerful, sophisticated and both easy to use and very complex. A crude analogy would be having only ridden a bicycle and then being placed behind the wheel of a Formula One Ferrari. My current workflow is to create the very best color image that I can with my digital dark room of Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik filters. I then convert to black and white and continue to work with the image to render an image that expresses what I am feeling or the story I am trying to tell. Sometimes the black and white works and sometimes the color image works and often they both work but differently. Which one to show? Lots of indecision. My ultimate decision is that I don't have to choose, and have stopped agonizing over what I will show. I am now quite content to show both images in my Color and Black & White portfolios. It is very interesting to hear and sometimes see the differing reactions to the two images in the context of their particular portfolios.

With Black and White images I am drawn in more quickly and my eyes see all the details, the tones, the textures and the mood of the photo quite differently when there is no color to distract. The lack of color often helps me examine other elements of the image and capture the root of the story that is being told. There can be a rawness and sensuality and yet something aesthetically pleasing in a well-composed, properly exposed and exquisitely printed black and white print.

However, there are some images that just need to be in color, feel better in color or allow me fuller expression in color. The soft pastel hues of mauve, pink, yellow and gold of the sandstone in the Valley of Fire, the multi hues of a sunset or sunrise and the plumage of an exotic bird are just a few. Most of my abstract images are in color as the visual discovery of the ephemera, the hidden figures and the ‘juicy’ surprises are heightened by their color palette.

Whenever I am shooting I am thinking black and white and thinking of the possibility of creating a black and white version of my image. Keeping my 'black and white eyes' and my 'color eyes' open provides me with more potentially good images and I will never turn down a good image just because it doesn’t work in black and white. As well there is the occasional color image that just doesn’t work in color that can be transformed into a strong image in black and white.

Here are three examples of images I really like.

I would love to hear what you think – color or black and white?

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