Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When do you use black and white? part 2

As I said in my last post, there are no set rules for when to choose black and white over color. The best way to decide for yourself is to experiment. Convert some photos from color to black and white and then compare. For me, the most important general rule might be the following:

Use black and white when light is more important than color.

Black and white emphasizes tonal range. I don't mean to suggest that light is not important in color photos, but sometimes color competes with (or is less important than) what is happening with the light. In the above photo, for example, the wet pavement, the tabletops, the texture of the metal grating, and the chrome outline of the chairs all gain more interest in black and white. The deserted scene also seems to call for monochrome.

Another photo that I've used before in color is well suited to black and white. The flea-market setting and the old photogravure give a sense of the past—as does black and white. Something about the emotion changes when you remove the red from the container behind the dog and the pink from the tablecloth.

This photo I took of an older man examining the provocative window display at a large Parisian department store looks more Doisneau-esque (not a word, I know) in black and white. As with the photo of the dog above, the emotion changes in black and white. The relation between the man and the mannequin (each "looking" at the other) somehow changes, but I can't put it into words.

What do you think? When you use black and white? Share your comments, and share your work this month.