Does it Black and White??
Every Wednesday, in our Facebook photography group (Click here if you are interested in joining)
we celebrate Black and White Photography. As I don't have the bank roll to go new places every few weeks, it is a really fun way to re-examine some of my older images and share something that is new again. While any strong composition should be good in both Black and White and Color, I feel that there are times when particular images will benefit from a conversion to Black and White.
While there are no hard and fast rules, I definitely have a thought process that I go through when I determine which images I make in to Black and Whites. Like anything else, your mileage may vary, so buyer beware. In the examples I am about to share, there will be both the Black and White and the Color version so that you can compare and contrast them. For me, there are several different factors in what makes a good candidate for B&W image:
(1) The composition is strong, but color is not a dominant factor in the image. An example that comes to mind is when patterns and textures are more important compositionally. As humans, our eyes are naturally drawn to two elements – color and brightness. These elements can sometimes overwhelm other important elements of a composition (shape, form, line, texture and space). By converting the image to Black and White, the rest of the image is allowed to shine.
This is one of the perennial Yosemite set-ups. It is a wonderful view of Half Dome - but unfortunately there was no drama to this sky. No color was coming this day - and while it is a lovely image that was competently taken, there is nothing really exciting about it. This is one of those images that is so iconic, that I felt like I left there not being able to show it in a unique way. That's a really sad commentary for me because I think it is a genuinely nice image in an of itself. What is also sad is that I feel like I am echoing Erez Marom's comments that I railed about a couple of months ago in my article, "Is it Art?"
I feel that converting it to Black and White enhanced it's presentation for a couple of reasons. The first is that the B&W version shows much better textures and does a better job leading the eye from the water to the face of Half Dome. The second is that so many of the iconic images of Yosemite were taken by Ansel Adams, who did most of his work in Black and White. While the Black and White version is not necessarily unique either, I feel that it provides a lovely homage that is worth sharing.
In the event you are wondering, the B&W is a conversion of the final Color product. That IS the image. It is interesting to me that the foreground trees of the Half Dome shot looks mushy me but the Black and White version really comes alive. While you may be able to sharpen the trees in the foreground of the color version, the point I am making is that this effect in this case was solely from the B&W conversion that I did in Affinity Photo.
(2) The photograph was taken at Noon O'Clock, and the light was harsh. Like most landscape photographers, I tend to shoot in that "magic hour" of light around the rising and setting of the sun. That is not the only time I shoot - if I have a set-up that I like, I take it. I don't really care what time of day it is. I think it is a bit of BS that the only landscape images that are lovely are the ones that are taken during Magic Hour. However, I will say that most of the images I share are those that were taken during those magic hour(s). The upshot is that sometimes I wind up with a composition that I really like - but that I was not able to tame the strong light values in the final product. These images may make wonderful black and whites.
These two images are from Moose Falls. I learned about Moose Falls from Richard Strange some time ago - but in all of my years at Yellowstone, I had never been to them. What a shame - they are really lovely falls. These images were taken late in the morning after we were done in Jackson and were driving up to Mammoth. As it was my day at Disney Land, I attacked these falls with a gusto. I didn't care that the light was harsh. I did my best to make this Color Image work, using my Dodge and Burn tools to work on some of the brighter areas of the image. I really like how it comes out though in Black and White.
(3) To help make a portrait ‘pop.’ I find that many of my portrait images – even my critter portraits – really look more powerful when I convert them to Black and White. In this event, I am deemphasizing the colors so that that there is one less thing to distract from the subject of the image.
This poor bull. I have been in love with this particular image for 20 years. It is one of my first 'decent' wildlife portraits, taken in 2002. It has been revised and re-touched so many times, and I only recently feel like I 'got it' to where I wanted it. I wish that this was taken with a current camera as it is too low resolution for any sort of real publication purposes anymore (I think this is 6 MP image, but I resized in in Gigapixel AI). While I don't think the color version is bad at all, I believe that the Black and White really makes this behemoth stand out. He was such an impressive guy - I wonder if it is still alive. Probably not.
(4) To portray time or an emotion. Black and White images are often used as a motif for something that happened in the past. It gives a feel of “old time” even if it was taken in the present.
This image was taken at the Bodie Ghost Town. It is the only decent image I got while I was there. I wish I had a chance to live there like Hank...but I digress. One thing about this image that always annoys me is that the car is dustless - obviously taken care of by those pesky volunteers. I don't mind the B&W having no dust on the car because it catapults you back in time to when this was a bustling community - and it would have been appropriate for the car to have no dust on it.
(5) To add depth and perhaps a bit of drama. We see the world in color – black and white is inherently less realistic. This gives you as an artist a ton of leeway to work with your blacks and whites for artistic effect.
This image of Canary Terrace from Yellowstone National Park (Thanks to Lori Jacobs for the idea to shoot there), is one of my favorites from my last trip. I like both images a lot. The color version provides a really lovely sunrise - particularly with the elk eating on the hill below. The entire image works. So why convert it to Black and White? I see an entirely different background and sky. The Black and White completely changes the image - deemphasizing some of the things I really liked in the color version. The Black and White really pops. Both images work.
(6) To see what you actually have in an image. Digital cameras pick up so much detail today - that sometimes we miss things that are right in front of our faces. I make the suggestion that when you start processing your images that you just make a B&W conversion as a matter of course. You might find that you see new things about the image that you did not notice in the color version. That does not make it better or worse, just different, and you might want to share those equally interesting elements of your image.
I took this image at Signal Mountain of the Tetons last year with my family. It is one of my favorite images from the trip - the clouds and rainstorm made for a real light show. Converting it to Black and White shows me a slightly different image - I still get the drama of the mountain and clouds, but by losing the color, I am now I am seeing all of the detail in those foreground trees. I think both images are worth sharing.
I hope that you found this article to be helpful. As I end, I think it is important to put up an important disclaimer. I am not the Art Police. As I mentioned when I started, these categories above are hardly rules. They are just guidelines for me that help me determine when I want to covert an image to Black and White. Everyone's mileage may vary, as they say. If you like something one way or another, that is up to you. It is your art - enjoy it. If you don't think what we do is art? Well. Go to a gear head site. Sorry. Still bitter. If you have no idea what I am talking about, feel free to read my essay, "Is It Art?"
Last, I want to make one last pitch for our Facebook Photography Group (Join Here)
. It is private, so you need to request membership - but it is one of the most supportive and fun places on Facebook. Seriously. There is a wide range of talent, from beginners to people who have sold it all. We have a few basic posting rules - and we keep the conversation like Thanksgiving Dinner. No Politics, No Religion and No Negativity. Just fun. Also, if you have never visited this website before, feel free to look around. We have some great articles, professional interviews and gear reviews.
All of the images included in this article are (c) James Morrissey and the Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum. Please like and share the article. Just please don't steal my stuff. Even if you think it is art.
Thanks to Richard Strange, who edited the article and also gave me some advice on how to enhance the images.