Black and White used like Color

Parker's Corner Market - Liberty Hill, Texas (black and white)

Parker’s Corner Market – Liberty Hill, Texas (black and white)

A reader once asked me, when do I do black and white conversions? You see, I shoot all my photographs in color and I convert a select few to black and white.

I do have some vague rules for conversion. I can tell you that I use black and white when I want to emphasize the shape or texture of something. I also tend to do monochromes for street photography since there is a historical precedent. But ultimately, I have to admit that I do black and whites when I think it looks better. How’s that for a fluffy artistic answer.

Over the years, I have gravitated towards colorful and dynamic images. I’m really not into desaturated, moody and subtle imagery. Give me bold and unambiguous. Ironically, my interest in saturated colors came from looking at film. I was never a serious film shooter but I noticed the rich depth of color and saturation of film. Digital files look really flat to me. Too washed out with wimpy colors, even for JPEGs. RAWs, of course, are even worse because they are “unprocessed”.

Film black and whites too, have a bold look, which can be further enhanced by the type of film and processing. I like the ones with deep blacks and bright whites and less grays. When I do a black and white conversion, it’s this look that I’m going after.

I’ve discovered that I use black and white, like I use color — to make a photograph bolder. If an image doesn’t have great color — either it’s wimpy or the contrasting colors are not there, I consider it a candidate for conversion. Yeah, I know. I’m certainly not a black and white purist.

You might recognize the Parker’s Corner Market photo. I had a color version of it in my previous post about Liberty Hill. I think the colors are decent. There is a nice contrast between the blue sky and the yellows and browns. But I was experimenting with monochrome for these old building shots.

The black and white just kind of works for these things. It gives these old buildings a timeless quality So despite the more than adequate color, I decided to do a black and white conversion, and I like it. It looks bolder and has more presence. The clouds pop beautifully off the darkened sky. It has transformed a so so shot into something more artistic.

I look at the photo, especially the black and white one, and imagine seeing it 30 years from now. The modern and sleek Mazda SUV will look dated like a 1980’s clunker. Perhaps in the future people will say, “Why the heck did they drive such large vehicles at the turn on the century?” And with any luck, Parker’s will still be there in Liberty Hill, looking the same as it did 30 years ago.

Please tell me what you think. Which do you like better, the black and white or the color?
(the original color version added below for reference)

Parker's Corner Market - Liberty Hill, Texas

Parker’s Corner Market – Liberty Hill, Texas

Photograph taken with the Canon 6D with the Canon 24-105mm f4 L lens as part of the kit.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

8 thoughts on “Black and White used like Color

  1. the b/w is better. i work almost totally in color using mostly digital with film.
    b/w i do myself. b/w scanned at home..Film is too expensive, the way i bang away.
    my color is special. i look for matching tones, colors and shapes! Similar to Costa Manos,
    Magnum with whom i had privilege of discussing color. jason gold.
    Oh! i think scans of any kind suck compared to wet darkroom printing.
    i have stopped for many lazy reasons..

  2. Somehow, b/w takes the modern cheezy look out of colour photos (for me at least). What you plan to do with the photo will dictate. My opinion.

  3. B&W by far. As you say the color photo is just so-so; for me a 2 star rating at best while the B&W gets a 4. If I had to point to one thing it would be the clouds for me but the same dark tone of the SUV and the window with T-Bone written on it is a very close 2nd, it balances the picture very well.

  4. My rule for choosing between b&w and colour is simply asking the question: Does the colour add anything to the image? In this case, for me, the answer is no so I too prefer the b&w shot.

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