Coffee or tea, Mac or PC, and when it comes to photography, black and white or color. Choices need to be made. I’m going to take the photography quandary here. What's so cool about black and white photography? It's classic, it's modern it's romantic, it's storytelling - you like? Let's keep talking.
In the 1950’s color film became an expensive option for image makers. Prior to that – no options - unless you wanted to go that hand colored route. Eventually the cost came down and color pictures became the norm in the 1970’s. Photography purist would argue that the tonal quality of early consumer color film and printing had much to be desired. Look at anyone’s vacation pictures from 1973 and you’ll notice a slightly (horrifying) golden-orange hue, very telling of the early process.
Now we have choices! With digital photography change is but one tap away. There are countless filtered looks from grainy black and white to a burnt sepia haze. When I see a converted image is often ask, “Why?” Did the creator start off with a black and white photo in mind or was this the result of going through 47 filters and blowing hour of time that they’ll never get back?
When creating professional portraits, I start out with the intent to make a black and white image, if that’s the desired outcome. Black and white can be more artistic, emotional and timeless. I like the impact created when the light and dark areas play strongly together. When an image is mostly high-key (white) with just a pop of deep gray and black, the portraits can feel pure and innocent. An image with deep dark areas and just a spray of highlights creates a moody and romantic quality. Black and white tamps down the distractions and documents a more authentic feel.
Black and white, two tones with a lot going on…
When planning for B&W keep in mind, tone and environment in a color image will produce different results in black and white photography. Colors like light green, tan, coral and gold all translate into some version of medium gray. So, an outdoor portrait in the fall might come off a little flat when converted to black and white.
Keeping everything in the same tonal rage allowing for the face to be the lightest or darkest area creates impact.
Reds and violets will come off as darker grays, something to consider when choosing makeup.
Textures can be more interesting in black and white photography. A white stucco wall in color will be white. The same wall in black and white will be a light gray pattern. A textured sweater will show off the pattern of the weave more in black and white. It’s the contrast between the lights and the darks, that will grab our eyes attention.
Black and white photography illustrates the subject differently than what we expect to see. Imagery is transformed, and this opens an opportunity to challenge or our brains to be creative and fill in the blanks between what our eyes see and the missing information in the monochromatic image.