One of the age old questions that will undoubtedly pop into your head when editing a new photo is whether to go colour or black and white. This is an important choice as it can make or break an image but ultimately there is no right or wrong answer, both are valid options and it is down to you as the artist to make that creative choice.
Take this panoramic of San Francisco I took last year during our visit to California. I had pre-visualised a number of images I knew I wanted to captured on this visit (see blog on the importance of pre-visualising) as this could be the one and only time we visit the Speak Easy and a black and white panoramic was on my hit list. So when I took the series of images that went into the panoramic I could see the final image in my head. However, once I started to isolate the colours during post processes it started to add a subtle dimension to the images I hadn’t noticed when I took the original series of images and I ended up not liking the image after I took it. But fast forward 10 months and I have revisited this image and now am seeing both the colour and black and white versions in a whole new light (or colour….).
My original vision was to go for a gritty black and white style image especially with the San Francisco weather closing in. So by adding some extra clarity it really helped to bring out the definition in the buildings and sky which the image needs as it doesn’t have the colour to draw in the viewer. The final image is pretty close to what I had in my head before the trip however when I tried it in colour it gave a completely different look
Once the colours have been isolated and saturated to bring them forward in the frame the level of clarity from the black and white image makes it look almost HDR and that’s not what I wanted, so I needed to soften the image to balance the details and colour of the buildings. One of the consequences of lowering your clarity is that the contrast in the images is also reduced meaning the image doesn’t jump out at the viewer as much but you do get more dynamic range especially in the mid tones of the image.
I have ended up liking both images so how do you choose? As a standalone image I prefer the muted colour and higher detail in the shadows which draws me more to the colour option however after studying the image in black and white it has made me want to go back and review all the images from the trip from a new perspective. This has given me a new goal to create a series of black and white images that capture the emotion of the trip and portray California in a different light to the obvious colour images I made first off.
So to answer the question how do you choose black and white or colour, it requires you to fully understand what you want the image to portray. Is it a standalone image or in a series that need a linking element to each image, does taking away the colour remove the message or emotion of the images, can you replacing the colour with another element like texture or contrast, what style of photography are you working on? All these questions and more should go into the creative process during post processing, it is how you develop your style as a photographer and can lead you on to new projects or highlight weaknesses in your skill set that you need to work on. Either way don’t just click black and white because you think it makes it look “more arty”, think about what you want the images to communicate with the viewer and let the image guide you during processing.