I ended my last article with a comparison of color photography with black and white. Not just one discipline versus the other, but examining the very same picture, in both color and black and white.
One thing I have always loved about digital photography, is the ability to easily make an image in color, and just as easily make a copy in black in white. Many cameras have a black and white mode, but if not, almost all software programs have a feature that allows you to convert color to black and white. In my film days for the most part, I did one or the other. I did at times create images on color film, and then make a black and white print from the negative. Even with paper designed for that purpose, the quality was less than stellar.
I admit that in the early 2000s when I began digital color to black and white conversions for the first time, I only liked it if the original color picture was already lacking intense color. The subject was normally an old building or other manmade subject. It is still difficult for me to convert photos that are made in the last (or first) rays of light, of subjects that are already dripping in color. When I do make that conversion, if I don’t compare it directly to the color shot, and instead view it separately, I then begin to see the merits of those subtle nuances and tones of black and white. I learned Ansell Adams Zone System for black and white years ago, but I admit, I make my adjustments only by my personal preferences, not a chart. Black and white is not reality, it is an abstract medium from the beginning.
Below you will find another side by side….well actually an up and down comparison of a picture dripping in natural color made in Monument Valley, with its black and white cousin. When you view these pictures, first compare them directly. Try to hold both pictures in your field of vision. Then view the black and white only. Adjust your mind to believe it is a stand alone picture. Now how do you view the more subtle black and white image? Does it work better when you completely forget about the original color shot?
My next image is (was) also a dripping in color “rock shot”. This one is from The Badlands. Let’s forget the color image all together this time. Try to appreciate the tones and texture without the aid of color. Do you think that this picture stands on its own?
What about images that have very little color definition to begin with? White Sands New Mexico on a normal blue sky day, is…well…white. Still there is life (and color) in a color picture of White Sands in mid-day. I much prefer the color image here.
Now let’s look at some great black and whites by other photographers.
Colorado based photographer Dan Walters brings us a black and white version of a bison. Very few photographers share monochrome versions of wildlife images. In my opinion, most don’t work very well, just like most abstracts of wildlife fail. I love reducing this bison to the textures of black and white.
It’s no surprise that my favorite abstract landscape photographer. Guy Tal, has produced a black and white (abstract) landscape that I love as well. Of course I love a well done play of light and shadow.
This Michael Kenna foggy day black and white is intriguing to me. I do not know whether the visible noise in this image was intentional, but I like it. Purposeful noise or grain in an image is not always a favorite of mine, but it takes this black and white (abstract) and adds a new element for the eye to either accept or reject. The choice is always ours.
My Facebook pal Traci Furtado created this wonderful image of a spectacular building or monument. I love the light and shadow and the point of view.
This final shot comes from the incomparable George Lepp. It is in fact a relative of black and white….an infrared image. Digital cameras (or modes) like this only capture the near bands of infrared. The back and white tones that we normally expect from specific colors in an image, are a littler mixed up in infrared. I think subjects have to be chosen carefully in this mode. Many simply look bizarre to me, although I really like this one.
God Bless, Wayne