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november 08 2010

When Color, When B&W?

written by: Christian Oth

We shoot every image in the RAW format. This means the maximum amount of information is recorded, which is almost always in color. Back at the studio we change certain images to black-and-white during the editing process.  There are some distinct reasons why we choose to convert some images and not others, so here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at how we decide which photos are best in color and which should be in black-and-white:

Typically, black-and-white is a better choice for documentary images that tell a story (but not always).  Converting a photograph from color to black-and-white is great for environments with busy backgrounds because taking away the distracting background colors directs focus back to the subject.  For example, a New York City street scene tends to look far better in B&W.  Images that look cluttered and chaotic from all of the colorful street signs change to a much more focused, classic cityscape in B&W because the eye has less to register.  Unexpected elements like the weather can also have an effect--on bright but overcast days, color photographs can look too washed out or overexposed, whereas black-and-white photographs don’t register this effect.  

Although black-and-white photos can be great for busy backgrounds or classic, timeless moments, color photographs bring out the joy and celebratory feel of the day.  Detail shots of the flower arrangements, bridesmaids dresses, and some of the portraits should reflect the thought and care put into choosing them.  Colors also help to distinguish a time and a place.  During spring and fall when there are brightly colored flowers or foliage, shooting these details in color can help to tell the “where” and the “when” of the story.  During late afternoon and early evening, the color of the light can be beautiful warm tones of yellow, orange and red, so color photographs are often preferred.  There is great benefit to having both color and black-and-white photographs, and a good mix will offer the strengths of both mediums. 


And then there are those images that have that certain ability to look great in both mediums. The choice to convert those to B&W is purely aesthetic and sometimes depends on the adjacent images and the flow of the story.



Peter Hanowell almost 4 years ago

Great write up on this. I tend to go overboard with the B&W, but my wife tames it down and we provide a nice split for our clients.

Sarah Garton over 3 years ago

Christian occasionally I'll log onto your blog site and just read snippets or scroll to view your beautiful images........very inspiring for my work, thank you! Sarah

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