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Why B&W

It’s interesting, at least to me, the process I go through when deciding which images to process as color and which to convert to B&W. Conventional wisdom has it – and it is also the basis for my thought process, or at least I like to think so – that if color adds something to an image, it stays in color. Otherwise, it’s B&W.

There are some key indicators in that statement.

First of all, there is the implication that everything starts out as color. Occasionally, when I shoot, I already know that what I’m shooting will be a B&W image. So I am pre visualizing  the final image. Equally as often, though, it’s only when I see it in post production that I make the decision. In either event, shooting in RAW means walking away with a color image. Or, rather, a B&W image with color information – not to be too technical.

The second is the role that color plays in the image. In some images, this is obvious. In others, not so much. I admit to a bias towards color.

In the recent shoot with Faith, I chose color for one image and B&W for the others, all from the same sequence. It’s interesting, again, at least to me, my thought process in making that decision.  I started out in color, with this image, which formed the basis for my previous blog post:

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

There was no question, at least in my mind, that this was a color image. I wanted the feeling of sunlight, and to me sunlight says “color.”

But then I came to the others, like this image:

© Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

Same concept. Except, again, there really was no decision – this was going to be B&W.

So why? Why was it such an obvious choice?

Looking back and trying to intellectualize the artistic decision, I think the first image, as a 1/2 body view, was all about the face and the play of light on the face. This means skin tone and sunlight, both of which say “color” to me. Color also adds just a hint of complexity to the image, something I felt was needed for such a tight shot.

The second image was more about form, her pose, and context (even though it is a relatively simple shot). I must have felt that B&W would further simplify the image, which I thought a requirement. I also wanted to play on the contrast between the relative darkness of her jeans, the (very) darkness of her black boots, and her white blouse.

That first image only contained the blouse. You would have thought that cohesiveness was in order, and the image might have worked as a B&W. But, again, there is a certain tension – however soft – between her skin tone and that white blouse.

I find it interesting that in both images I can feel the sunlight. I think in the first image it needed to be overt – I needed to emphasize it. The second takes a moment to find. But it’s there.

And therein lies the rub. As a visual, a photograph is  ultimately about feeling – not about intellectualizing. We can save that for later. Whichever process – color or B&W – leads me in the direction I want the emotion to flow, that is what I am going to choose.

Sometimes you just know.

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