Nine times out of Ten, I am confident in my decision to make a photo black and white (BW), or colour. However, every now and then, a photo comes along that stumps me. It is a strong photo left in colour, but also becomes a dynamic BW. Ultimately, my decision rests on a few key things.
In my opinion, editing a photo should not be motivated by the look alone. While we all end up developing our own style (whether we intend to or not), there are certain tweaks we can always make without creating inconsistent work. Editing should enhance a photo rather than distract from it.
Colour vs. BW can be a bit of a tricky thing with clients. Ultimately, it is the photographer’s decision but it is very common for a client to request to have a photo in colour when you deliver it in BW. I am always conflicted on how to respond as I understand they are not implying they do not trust your judgement. They are simply curious or perhaps they have an idea for printing the photo and feel that colour would work best in their space. Whatever their reason, as a photographer, you should not take offence (even when you want to).
Before the time comes for delivery, you will be sitting in your editing suite and every so often, you will debate colour vs. BW. For those times, here are some things I consider when deciding between black and white.
The overall look of a photo speaks volumes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, six hundred of those words comes from the final colouring of the image. Whether it is bright and breezy or dark and moody. Both of these moods can be communicated from a colour photo just as much as a black and white photo with some basic contrast and vibrance adjustments (but that’s for another discussion).
Below is an example when I struggled to decide between Colour and Black and White. Ultimately, I went with both but for 2 slightly different poses. I still prefer the black and white in this case because I love how the trees are a stark contrast to their faces.
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When shooting is low light, it is common that black and white is going to look better than colour. This is because the colour can look off when trying to boost the exposure and gain. Black and white can also help hide some unwanted noise. Black and white can be a saviour if you were unable to capture the correct exposure in camera. It can be a bit of a post-production cheat BUT it can also save your butt and ensure that the moment you captured can still be shared with your client.
The time between the photos below was a matter of seconds and the lighting was drastically different. I simply did not have enough time to accommodate for the kitchen lightning, so black and white came to the rescue!
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Do you know the final purpose of the photo? How will it be delivered? Is it going to printed on a large canvas or print and placed as a focal point in a room? Do you know the colour of the wall it will be mounted on?
If the photo has a specific purpose, then you seriously need to consider colour vs. black and white BEFORE you press the shutter button. Is the photo for a website? Is it going to be a background image with text in front of it? There are many things to consider to ensure the final photo is a success and matches its purpose.
The photo below is a situation where either will work and therefore, the intended purpose is what determined the final decision. My friend (who is photographed) wanted to share it on her social media page, and colour made more sense with her style.
On my social media, I chose to share it in black and white. I felt the composition and contrast in this photo made for such a strong BW photo that I couldn’t waste the opportunity.
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At the end of the day, don’t be hasty in your editing decisions. You do want to remain consistent with your editing but you also want to put some thought into each setting you adjust. A photo is moment captured with a story to share. Use your editing to compliment the photo’s story.
How do you decide between colour and black and white? Comment below!