Color or B&W: How Do You Choose?

There’s something special about black and white landscapes. They have the ability to cut through all the distractions and display a beauty of form and texture that can be so easily hidden away by color photography. But knowing when to convert to black and white and when to leave an image in color is rarely an easy choice. In the video below, photographer Mark Denney helps us out a bit with some tips for choosing black & white or color:

Some photos are definitely better candidates for black and white than others. Features such as texture, tone, and contrast have a lot to do with it. Other issues such as harsh lighting often come into play. And landscapes shot at midday will often look horrible in color but anywhere from salvageable to stunning in black and white.

Just to make things clear, we’re not talking about shooting in black and white (i.e. choosing that mode in-camera). It’s better to shoot in color and then convert to black and white later. That way you have all the color information in the file and have all the editing options available to you in post-processing. Once there, programs like Lightroom make it easy, since you can get a preview of a number of different black & white presets just by hovering over them.

does the photo need color?

Denney asks himself three questions to decide whether or not a photo is a good candidate for black & white conversion:

  1. Does this photo need the color?
  2. Does the photo have interesting light or shadows?
  3. Does the photo have interesting texture?

But while Denney is speaking mostly about shots already taken, the thing that will most help your black and white photography is shooting with it in mind. It’s definitely a different way of looking at the world and at the shots you compose.

black and white highlights the texture in a photo

What other questions do you ask yourself when choosing photos for black and white? I look for images with a lot of sky that’s not really contributing to the feel of the image. How about you?

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