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Color vs. B&W

I consider myself a “color” photographer. However, I do find myself doing a fair amount of B&W. This has really intensified since I purchased Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2, as it makes the process easy and fun. The presets are great starting places, and I often use them “as is.”

There is a certain appeal to a B&W image. Perhaps it’s from viewing the classic images of Adams, Penn, or Cartier-Bresson that we associate timelessness or a sense of purpose to a monochromatic image.

I try to follow a guideline I have heard countless times: if color does not add to an image, make it B&W. B&W does tend to simplify, to force the viewer to analyze an image as all of the information has not been filled in already for him. Extra work is required, as if a negative has been presented and the viewer must then print it.

Jay Maisel has said that there are 3 ingredients to making a good image (pick any 2): light, color, and gesture. Without color the strength of the image now must lie with composition, its graphic qualities, and the action (or inaction) of the subject matter, and, of course, with light. But a simplified light, a light without warmth or coolness – a light that just is.

Sometimes the decision is difficult.

Take the following image. I finally decided upon the B&W version, choosing to emphasize the graphic nature of the scene. Somehow, to me, without color it comes across as more of a vignette, a slice of the lives of the people in the image, a simplicity that at the same time emphasizes their individuality and yet, without color, adds a sense of uniformity. They are all the same. And yet they are different.


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