Black and White vs. Color Photography

Posted by Jennifer Forrest on July 19, 2018

4 pointers to help you capture the mood of your moment

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In the 1973 song “Kodachrome,” singer Paul Simon said “everything looks worse in black and white,” but, while performing it live, he is known to change the lyrics to “everything looks better in black and white.”

So, which is it?

Let’s rewind back to 1839, the year that photography (originally called “daguerreotypy”) was born. That metal-based process soon evolved into paper-based, thus making photography more timely and efficient. By the mid 20th century, roll film made it possible to shoot in black and white or color. And with the introduction of digital cameras, the photography world evolved once again. Film-based photography quickly declined as digital cameras took over as mainstream. Today, digital capabilities now allow photographers to make the “black and white vs. color” decision after the photo is taken.

So, what decision should you make?

THE CASE FOR BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

Black and white is dramatic and timeless. It makes the viewer pause and look more closely since it differs from what our eyes see. As you can see in the example of the baseball team photo below, the conversion to black and white enhances the mood of the image and really gives it a timeless feel. Losing the color elements does not detract from the image.  

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THE CASE FOR COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Color grabs attention. It can convey the setting or the tone of the subject based on the coolness or warmth of the colors.  In the photo below, color is an attention grabber. The vibrant colors of the clothing and the eyes of the little girl are what draw you into the photo.

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4 POINTERS FOR DECIDING

1. Does color affect the meaning of your photo? Does the scene rely on its colors to convey its mood or message, or does the color detract from the scene? For instance, if the photo contained a brightly colored hot air balloon against a vibrant blue sky, then color would be a good choice because it would amplify that scene.

2. Does the photo contain compelling contrasting elements? If the scene emphasizes extreme lights and darks or uncommon lights and shadows that bring contrast to the image, then black and white would be a good choice.

3. Are there appealing visual textures in the photo? The smoothness of a flower petal or the coarseness of an elder’s hands are examples of texture in a photograph. Typically, black and white photography shines when it comes to emphasizing texture.

4. What is the mood of the scene? Whether it be the silhouette of a sailboat against a setting sun, or the dreariness of a street of blighted homes, properly choosing black or white or color will enhance the mood of the real-life scene. Generally, black and white photos communicate a more serious and solemn mood, while color photos carry more energy.

So, does everything look worse or better in black and white?

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It’s up to you! Using our pointers, take a look at your photo in both color and black and white to get a sense of the mood each conveys. As Paul Simon said, all that matters is that you “love to take a photograph.”

Visit our portfolio for examples of our event photography!

Sources:

Topics: design, graphic design, photojournalism, photography, color vs black and white photography

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