How I Choose a Black and White Edit

A lot of photographers will deliver both black and white and color versions of each photo in a gallery. If you’ve received a gallery from me, you know that I don’t do that. There have been a handful of very rare occasions where I deliver a black and white as well as a color edit of the same image. But more often than not, it’s either or.

When I process your images in Lightroom, I correct the technical aspects of the image (such as exposure, shadows, contrast, color tone, etc) and I edit to emphasize a mood and enhance the story. Creative elements like cropping, color and light can add to the tone and message of an image.

When I choose whether to edit an image in black and white or color, it must enhance all these elements. Most of the time a photo will look just fine both ways. But for me, the color of a photograph is part of the story. If changing a color photo to black and white does nothing to change how I feel or the mood or benefit the storytelling, I leave it in color. If a color photo is too distracting and takes focus away from an emotion that’s trying to come out, I change it to black and white. So while technically, almost all of your photos look just fine both ways, I won’t give them to you both ways unless it serves a purpose.

Let me show you what I mean.

 

Example 1 - Katie and Jeremiah

 
 

This is a photo that Katie and Jeremiah received in their gallery. It is beautiful in color. I love the blocking of primary colors and how their skin pops. The yellow of the leaves bring focus to their almost kiss and you feel a connection as their hands are together but also slightly in motion as if they only momentarily stopped dancing to steal a kiss.

 
 

The story just isn’t there in black and white.

It is a perfectly good picture in black and white, but it just missing something for me. If I were to process this image in black and white, I would crop it differently to create an entirely different mood.

The crop on the right tells a more intimate story. In this black and white it is all about Katie. The photo becomes feminine and the story shifts to womanhood. There is a classic romance feel to it. Katie is in control here. We see more detail of her neck making it more romantic, rather than youthful.

You can see now how a simple crop and change in color tone can create an entirely different photograph.

 
 

Example 2 - Imara and Tony

 
 

This is one of my all time favorite black and white images! It is so classic and I feel like it’s from an old 1950s movie! I love this in black and white because it takes all the distractions of the city street out and makes it all about them. The monotone of the framing elements makes it more defined. I love how the buildings are a washed out white and they are bold and black and filtered with light! This image is timeless. The color version is ok but doesn’t make as much of a lasting impression. Click the photo above to see the color version.

 

Example 3 - Kristin and Brian

 
 

For this image, the difference between black and white makes the difference between the feeling of intimate chemistry between a couple and a beautiful image of the love of a couple. I prefer the first. I love the rawness and the mood that the added grain creates. The black and white makes this image memorable and intimate. I like the color version too and I delivered both to Kristin and Brian. The color image has beautiful tones and is a bit more youthful and innocent. But the black and white is breathtaking! Click the photo to see the color version.

 

Example 3 _ The Austin Family

 
 

My last example is more playful than the others. I use black and white primarily to isolate the emotion in an image. I remove any distraction and other information from the environment and force the viewer to see the emotion. Walt Whitman said, “What I like about black and white photographs is that they’re more like reading the book than seeing the movie.” Black and white photography is naturally emotive and it forces us to see the story. In color images the details are handed to us. Black and white photos are nostalgic, timeless and evoke universal emotions.

Take for instance this image. What is the story going on with this family? We see a journey. A mom carrying her son and the rest of the family carrying on in the same adventure. The older boy at his own pace, the dogs excited to be included. And a boy who can now see the world higher than hip-level! There is comfort, adventure, excitement and wonderment. We can relate to this image and even the faceless people who are living the story. Click over to the color image. It is a pretty picture, but it isn’t timeless or nostalgic. The essence of childhood isn’t as present as in the black and white. The bright colored jacket takes our focus away from what we really want to connect with. This one would not work in color and that is why Summer and her family received it in black and white only. I deliver more than pictures - I deliver your visual story. It’s not about what you look like - it’s about who you are. And sometimes black and white says it all!

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