Black and White vs. Color Photography

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Article Courtesy by Denise Gormish

Which image style is better - black-and-white photographs or color photographs? It is a question that has been debated back and forth. In the digital age, it is just as easy to produce one style as the other style, which gives photographers more options. So which one is better? The question of which image style to use depends entirely on the photographer and each individual image.

Style. All photographers have their own style for taking photographs. The conditions that you use to take photographs and the type of photographs you take may determine which style you prefer. If you like to focus on the mood or the timelessness of a photograph, then black-and-white might be for you. If you like to focus on action shots or the details in the photograph then color might be more appropriate for you. Most people enjoy a balance of the two styles. My photographs often involve action or details so I often print my photographs in color.

Mood. The choice of black-and-white or color can be a choice of mood. The mood in a black-and-white photograph is often serious and classic. On the other hand the mood in a color photograph is energetic and contemporary. In my photograph of the Roman Coliseum I wanted to highlight its classic form.


Focus. The focus of your photograph may help you choose between black-and-white and color. Black-and-white photographs produce excellent results while highlighting the subject. The mix of contrast and highlighting will provide a striking look to a photograph focused on a single subject. With fewer colors a black-and-white photograph is easier to view and keeps the focus on the subject. This makes black-and-white photography very popular for portraits. If the subject is full of details or is very active, color makes a better choice. The range of colors and details in a color photograph will get lost in a black-and-white photograph. In my photograph of my daughter I wanted the focus on her while downplaying the distracting background, so I chose black-and-white.


Purpose. The choice of style can also be based on the purpose of the image. With all the colors stripped away from a black-and-white photograph a timeless and elegant feel is created. This is often used in wedding photography and portraits. Color, on the other hand, picks out details and movement. This is especially useful for action or to ground a photograph in a certain time or place. In my photographs of the Cinque Terre I wanted to emphasize the details so I chose color.


Timing. Black-and-white works better than color for bright, overcast days. Instead of showing a distracting overexposed sky, the subject remains the focus. Black-and-white photography also works best when the lighting allows shadow to show shape and details. In situations when it is dark or a flash is necessary, then color is more appropriate. In these lighting situations, black-and-white can look flat. At dusk I was taking photographs of Indiana University. The lighting created some dark photographs, which looked much better in color.


Both black-and-white and color photographs have their advantages. Make your choice between them for the most creative photographs.


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