Color or B&W?


The shift from traditional negative/positive photography and chemical development to digital photography and development has made photography much easier. There’s no need to guess how images will turn out when I click the shutter. There’s no need to choose whether to shoot with negatives for exposure latitude or with postives for to ensure how my photo turned out is not controlled by the printer. There’s no need to pick one film speed for day use and switch mid-roll to a different film speed for the night. And there’s no need to choose color over B&W film or vice versa. With digital media I can have all those cakes and eat them too.

For most of the ways digital has made my photography simpler, choosing whether to go with color or B&W for a particular image isn’t one of them. Now, easier isn’t always simpler. It’s easier to not have to futz with film, but definitely not simpler to decide when an image should be processed in color and when it should be converted to B&W and processed instead.

Take this one of a ferris wheel I took over the weekend. It was taken as a color photo, and that was what I had in mind when I made the shot.

I like the color image as it is. The contrast of the colorful lights against the black background is great.

 Ferris wheel at the Waterfront Park V

But how convenient it is in Lightroom to switch between color and greyscale. And before long, I was playing with different development settings for my B&W shot. To get to this image, I lightened the yellows and darkened the reds to get the needed contrast in the lightness area.

 Ferris wheel at the Waterfront Park V in B&W

The color gives a different kind of impact than the B&W. The B&W does seem to come across as more “artsy” and emotional to me, and maybe that’s better.

I wish there was a simple rule for when an image works best as color and when it works best as B&W. If Mike Johnston has his way (very interesting article BTW), most of the photos will be in B&W. But I’m not quite as convinced. I actually prefer the first murky green photo in his article, rather than the boring B&W version. However, Mike’s discourse on how B&W can help judge a color photo, and how blurring a color photo can help judge the “quality” of the colors are excellent tips.

I’m a huge Calvin & Hobbes cartoon fan, so this except from one of Bill Watterson’s comics (unfortunately, I can’t reproduce the actual strip due to copyright reasons) as commented on Mike’s article brought a smile to my face:

Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn’t they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It’s just the world was black and white then.
Calvin: Really?
Dad: Yep. The world didn’t turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
Calvin: That’s really weird.
Dad: Well, truth is stranger than fiction.
Calvin: But then why are old paintings in color?! If their world was black and white, wouldn’t artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.
Calvin: But… but how could they have painted in color anyway? Wouldn’t their paints have been shades of gray back then?
Dad: Of course, but they turned colors like everything else did in the ’30s.
Calvin: So why didn’t old black and white photos turn color too?
Dad: Because they were color pictures of black and white, remember?

What does this have to do with color or B&W? I dunno. Just thought it was funny.

I don’t have an answer to the age-old color vs. B&W debate, but am sure glad I no longer have to decide before I take my photos.


2 Responses to “Color or B&W?”

  1. It’s definitely hard to choose between the images and that is a great shot, very evocative you can almost smell the candy floss.

  2. 2 TopL

    I almost bought some candy floss when I was there! Cheers.

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