Before digital photography, the photographer’s creative eye needed to determine before loading their camera with film if they wanted their next series of images to be captured in color or black and white. This is something I love to keep in mind as I’m shooting, often asking myself, “is this a situation that would be enhanced in black and white?”. And while I shoot it in color, I shoot with that end goal in mind. There are a few different reasons why I may think this way and wanted to share some of that thought process.
Black and white images… create a timeless look.
If I was asked to describe my photography in three words, timeless would be the first out of my mouth. I think of this ideal in everything I do: my posing, my editing, my client gifts. I want every single touch point to be an experience that will transcend time and my images would be at the top of that list. Popular color choices for editing are ever changing; a few years ago it was that bold, contrast-y look and now it is an airy, softer palette. No matter what your preference or how the trends may shift, black and white is always in style.
Black and white images… embrace the light.
On wedding days when I’m with the bride and her girls getting ready, the first thing I do after setting down my equipment and learning names is turn off all the lights, leaving the window light as the sole source. My reason for doing this is to cut out all competing light sources — if a yellow lamp is on, that will create a color cast on whatever I am trying to shoot that is nearly impossible to fix in post processing. But that is a situation where I have control and can make the necessary changes — so often, we don’t have control of the available light. One instance that comes to mind was a huge church in Northern VA; the ceiling was primarily this beautiful stained glass that was right above the main aisle. So as the wedding party was entering on this bright day, these different colors were shining down on their faces in unflattering greens and pinks. There was absolutely nothing I can do about these color casts, so this was the perfect situation to embrace the available light with black and white in mind.
Black and white images… eliminate distractions.
Black and white images show us the true essence of an image, forcing us to focusing solely on the subject and composition. Actually there is even some science behind this; according to the Journal of Consumer Research, this idea is regularly used in marketing products, stating, “Black and white images can lead consumers to focus on the abstract, essential, and defining components of a product. In contrast, color images can draw attention to the concrete, sometimes unimportant and idiosyncratic features of the product”. I often think of birth photography as a good example — there are so many colorful distractions in a hospital room: equipment, couches, bags, etc — all things that cannot be carefully curated. But those are not the purpose of the image and by literally blacking them out, it’s almost as if we remove them from the image.
Black and white images… provide more drama.
This absolutely goes hand in hand with eliminating distractions. Black and white allows you to focus on the emotions at hand; it immediately kicks up the drama in any image by having you focus on the subject’s state and feelings, whether that is the look on a groom’s face as he sees his bride for the first time or when a father toasts to his beautiful daughter. These moments in black and white allow you to look at nothing else, which draws you in and begs you to feel.
Black and white images require intention and purpose and I use the criteria above when making that determination for the images in my client’s galleries.