Color photography is an exciting thing. It does justice to fields of sunflowers under clear summer skies; it captures the hazy pinks of a mid-winter sunrise; it sees the bright patterened gifts under a decorated Christmas tree. Our world is so full of vibrant scenes that just beg to be captured in color. But that doesn’t mean black and white images are outdated or less important; they still have a huge role to play in modern photography. Some of my favorite photos—my own and others—are black and white.
I often use black and white to bring out textures or shapes. Sometimes color can distract from the most basic elements that make a photo interesting. In black and white, there are no bright colors to catch your eye and you’re forced to focus on things like composition, textures, and shapes.
One of my college friends once said something like, “I’m not a photographer, but if you want to make a picture look cool, just make it black in white and crank up the contrast.” She was sort of joking, but there’s actually truth there. Black and white is great for high-contrast scenes. In color, the contrast can only be increased so much before the image starts to look weird, but black and white can really bring out the darks and lights in a photo.
Black and white can alter the mood of a photo. To me, a black and white image just seems more thought-provoking than its color counterpart. Maybe it’s because you know, at least subconsciously, that the photographer had to make a conscious choice to either shoot in black and white, or to convert the image to black and white after it was captured.
So why do I choose to convert an image to black and white? It depends. I don’t have a set of criteria for choosing whether one of my photos should be black and white or left in color. Sometimes it’s because I want to bring out textures or draw attention to the emotion on a subject’s face. Sometimes I look at a picture and think, “I like this picture, but it’s boring. Let’s see how it looks in black and white.” And sometimes it’s because I remember why I took the picture, and while the color version says, “This is what I saw,” the same photo in black and white reminds me, “This is what I felt.”