To Color or Not To Color… {FAQ for Cyrience}

One of the more popular questions I’m asked about photography isn’t which lens I use most or even who my favorite photographer is…which would be the 35mm f/1.4 and it depends on the day you ask :-) No, the question I am asked most – “How do I decide which photos to keep in color and which to convert into black and white?”

Cyrience black and white versus color study

There are any number of reasons to transform an image; I like to use the word “transform” because the photo really does take on another life when stripped of its colorful properties. Going to black and white can eliminate strange color casts if there are conflicting light sources in a space, it can make a messy background virtually disappear so the viewer can concentrate on the heart of an image, it can highlight shape and form that would otherwise go unnoticed. But perhaps the reason I mainly rely on – it instantly gives an image a classic, historical feel. No matter how beautiful an image in color, as soon as you see it in black and white it looks timeless, becoming a permanent, ever-lasting imprint on the world. It’s this feeling that a photograph can possess, that makes me love my job all the more…

Cyrience black and white versus color study

 

In the image above, this is what happens when you aren’t quite in the right position to take advantage of the golden hour of sunset. Their skin is too red and no amount of color-correcting will save this image. But I love the tender, loving moment between them and couldn’t just discard it. As a black and white image, it’s as if there is a spotlight on just them, highlighting their love for each other.

Below, there is nothing wrong technically with the color image; there are no strange color casts, her skin tone and the leaves are all correct. But when I transform it to black and white, her face is framed with the lighter color leaves that you don’t pick up as well in the color version. The branches make for great leading lines, drawing you right to her face.

 

Cyrience black and white versus color study

 

I love the shapes and flow of the image below, but in color I’m distracted by the color of the staircase. In black and white, your eye is drawn first to the couple, not to the stairs.

Cyrience black and white versus color study

 

I love the next image in color, but it’s a great example of how transforming it instantly gives it that timeless feel. Cyrience black and white versus color study

 

This next image is just precious, a grandmother and grandchild. While it works in color, his red jacket and the disarray of the party in the background take the focus away from their beautiful faces, which is where the heart of this image lies…

Cyrience black and white versus color study

So there you have it, a brief glimpse into why some images, while good in color, are just breathtaking in black and white. And as a photographer, we love when someone gasps when viewing our work and just can’t take their eyes off of the image we have made…

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