When should a photographer use black-and-white instead of color?
This is another case that hinges on the photographer’s personal preference; however, there are some factors which can make black-and-white a good choice.
Consider choosing black-and-white if any of the following conditions apply.
- When the busyness or brightness of color in your image overwhelms your eyes
- When color is not key to the message you are trying to convey
- When your image has interesting lighting or stark contrasts in tone
- Ansel Adams said he could “convey a greater sense of color with well-executed black and white images using only light, shadow, and even subtleties in texture to express the qualities of the photo.”
- When your image has texture: wood, metal, stone, plants, human skin
- When you want to express a mood that is somber, etherial, nostalgic, or brooding
- When your image has blur or grain
Color is a good choice in the following circumstances.
- When the colors are key to the message you want to convey
- “In black-and-white you suggest, in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty.” -Paul Outerbridge
- When color sets the mood for the image:
- Red = power, excitement, urgency
- Green = balance, harmony, stability
- Blue = soothing, calming, trust
- Purple = creativity, imagination, royalty
- Yellow = energy, happiness, caution
- Orange = energy, inviting, freshness
- When color indicates season or time of day
- pastels = spring
- warm, earth tones = autumn
- vivid, bright tones = summer
- stark colors = winter
For fun, pick a few of your color photos and convert them to black-and-white. Show the color and black-and-white versions side-by-side to a few people. Ask how their reaction to the photos differs.