3 Tips for Choosing Between B&W and Color

Something I’ve always found difficult was knowing when an image should be converted to black and white and when it should be left in color. It’s one of the more contested discussions in photography and there really isn’t a “black and white” or cut and dry answer to it. After much trial and error, I’ve come up with three questions that I consistently ask myself when trying to determine if a color image is a good candidate for B&W.

Question 1: Does the image NEED color?

Some images need color in order to be effective and to accurately represent a moment in time. Color is fantastic at catching the viewers attention and depicting seasonality or setting from a time of day perspective. In the example below, if you remove the color from the scene, the entire story changes and you can no longer lean on the autumnal colors as the main subject of the photo. On the other hand, images that have a subdued color palette and don’t rely on color to portray the story could be good candidates for a B&W treatment.

Question 2: Are there interesting light or shadows?

B&W is great at showing off the tonal range in the light and shadow areas of your scene. Many times in situations similar to the image below, color can actually become a distracting element that takes the viewers attention away from the interesting light and/or shadows.

Question 3: Are there any interesting textures?

Now this is my favorite question! If you have an image that has interesting texture then it could most definitely be a great candidate for B&W. Images that are captured when the sun is low on the horizon, providing side light that rakes across your subject creating incredible textures – well this is where B&W shines the most in my opinion. When people think of B&W they think of a raw and gritty image that has a certain level of toughness associated with it and this is emphasized even more when B&W is applied to an image with interesting textures.

Although this isn’t an exact science and these questions are by no means the end all be all solution to identifying good B&W photos, they will certainly jump-start the creative thinking to help you identify what works best for a particular image, B&W or color.

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About the author: Mark Denney is a landscape photographer based in North Carolina. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.