Black and white photography can be tricky because, frankly, not all photos are created equal. By that I mean, not every photo can be converted to black and white and still look good. Things like cluttered backgrounds, busy images, or like colors will do nothing but a make a black and photo look like muddled.
So what does someone look for in determining when to make a photo black and white?
The contrast of these brothers against the navy backdrop makes this black and white irresistible.
I don’t make a lot of my photos into black and white because that’s simply not my style (unless a client requests it) but every now and then I come across a photo that simply must be in black and white!
The reason a photo will jump out at me and scream “Make me black and white!” is usually dependent on three major factors:
- Will the photo retain its visual impact (or maybe even be improved) by making it black and white?
- Does the image have elements in it that hinder the impact of the color version? (i.e. Some random background object or person in distracting colors; a color cast caused by some florescent lights.)
- And lastly, does the image work in black and white? Plain and simple. Is there enough contrast? Cause if the blacks look gray and the whites look like… lighter gray, it ain’t gunna work, son.
Here’s an example of a portrait that really pops in its color version.
But watch what happens when it’s converted into black and white.
All those beautiful tones of green turn to mud. The barn and flowers turn all the same shade of gray. The chocolate of the dog gets lost in the model’s plaid shirt while the bright blue impact of the antique truck goes kaput! I could tinker around with the brightness settings of the various color shades, but nothing will make this image sing like its color version.
Here’s another image that simple shouldn’t be in black and white.
The autumn colors look like an explosion of smoke that matches the skin color of the bride and groom. Hardly romantic.
The best black and white photos are simple, clean, and reveal a lot of emotion.
Here are some examples of black and white that hits the spot 🙂
In the above example when the color elements are stripped away—like the mess of green and tan in the hay—the focus becomes more about the model. The image seems simpler and her calm, peaceful expression comes into focus.
Normally grass and forest imagery turns to mud in black and white, but the strobe light on the model adds enough contrast to make this ghostly image really pop.