Color vs. Black and White, a Change in Emphasis

Single Flower

Single Flower – Austin, Texas

Single Flower in Black and White

Single Flower in Black and White- Austin, Texas

Last Thursday, after an Austin SMUG (sponsored by SmugMug) photography lecture, I spent some time making photographs. The monthly lecture takes place as the AT&T Executive Conference Center on the University of Texas campus. The facility is part hotel and part lecture halls and is decorated in an upscale, tasteful corporate look. I had my trusty Sony NEX-5 and I wanted to capture some of the details of this place. Near the front desk there were some small round tables each with a single flower. I like the simplicity and I attempted to capture the zen minimalism of the design.

Each table was spot lit which warmly highlighted the pink flower and amber vase while the surrounding area was relatively dark. I framed the flower so that the background would remain dark and the light would fall off just beyond the flower. I was satisfied with the image I created and posted it to Flickr a couple of days ago. I really liked the warm color and how the pink of the flower and the amber glass seem to almost blend together to form a single complete object. Then today, just on a whim, I converted this image to black and white. The character of the photograph changed of course, but I still liked the image, but for different reasons. The bright white of the flower now decouples it from the supporting container, which now mostly blends into the background. The emphasis shifts from the warmth of the flower and vase to the geometric shape of the now almost levitating flower. I also think the mood of the images shifts from warmth and harmony to one of starkness where the flower becomes the star and everything else takes on a supporting role. Interesting that just the removal of color changes the image so much — at least for me and my interpretation. Perhaps, I’m over-analyzing the photographs but I’m taken by the difference an absence of color can create.

This little exercise also taught me that I should play more with black and white. I am generally attracted to color when creating my photographs but maybe experimenting with black and white, even in post processing, will train my brain to look at more shapes. I’ve attempted to incorporate more shadows and negative space into my exposures. Seeing beyond color and looking for shapes, I believe, can ultimately help strengthen my overall images whether they have color or not.

So which image do you like better?

Make sure to click on the photograph to see a larger version.

My Thought Process

Image 1: As I mentioned above, I was initially attracted by the color and warmth of the flower, vase and the setting. I wanted to emphasize the simplicity of the table centerpiece so I wanted to exclude all details from the background. When framing, I shifted my position to make sure I did not get any lights and reflections in the background. I also reduced the exposure to show more details of the flower and to make sure that the background will be as dark as possible. I like how the light on the table goes a bit past the flower and then drops off into total darkness while the well-lit flower nicely contrasts against the black. I also made sure the flower was not dead center in the frame. I used a small table top tripod to ensure maximum sharpness and highest quality. The tripod allowed me to shoot at ISO 200 at 1/10 of a second.

Image 2: This image was created totally in post processing using Aperture 3’s black and white setting.

[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]

Image Details

The photograph was taken in RAW with the Sony NEX-5 with the 18-55mm kit lens. Both photographs were post processed using Aperture 3. I used the black and white conversion built into the Aperture to create the second photograph. The sharpness and brightness were increased on both and the color saturation and vibrancy was increased on image 1.

Image 1: f4.5, 1/10 sec, -1 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 18mm
Image 1: f4.5, 1/10 sec, -1 exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 18mm

7 thoughts on “Color vs. Black and White, a Change in Emphasis

  1. Andy, I like the color better here. Another option with this type of shot would be to shoot in color on a black background like velvet cloth. This would emphasize the flower. I would also zoom in on the flower to take up more of the frame.

  2. Fantastic post, I’m liking the b&w here and agree wholly that it can make the definitive difference in an image.. Nice work!

  3. Andy,

    Great shot.I think color often becomes a distraction. Black and white, just seems to have more of a raw, in your face composition centric feel to it. My vote is for BW.

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