Photos © Copyright Bob Fields
Color photos or black and white photos? Which is better? That is the age-old question that comes with the answer “It depends.” I’ve written before about a similarly difficult question in the Photobird Daily, in the article “How to Tell If Your Photo is a Great Photo“.
Part of the answer to the “color or black and white?” question is that the photographer needs to decide for the audience whether the color version or black and white version is better for a specific photo. The photographer shouldn’t simply leave the question up to the audience to decide.
I agree with this perspective, which is explained to us by Alain Briot of Beautiful-Landscape.com in his free online Fine Art Print Review. Alain conducts workshops throughout the year and we’ve highlighted them in the Photobird Daily before; two upcoming workshops are the Death Valley Spring Workshop in March 2009 and the Antelope Canyon Workshop in May 2009.
In Alain Briot’s latest Fine Art Print Review, he evaluates two versions of the same photograph by Bob Fields. One is in color and the other is in black and white, and Alain explains why he prefers one over the other in his free 13-minute QuickTime video. Alain also explains why it’s difficult to choose one over the other, and the values of black and white photos and color photos in general. Alain Briot has studied at the Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris and it’s fascinating to hear him provide his perspective on these two photos and to see how he uses Photoshop to evaluate and fine tune the color levels in the color photo.
Alain Briot explains that black and white photos and color photos each have their own benefits and they have different audiences. Some people like black and white photos more than color photos, and vice versa. Alain Briot explains that while we obviously see colors in color photos, and we need color, black and white photos present us with the tones of the image, in black, white, and levels of gray. Black and white photos also illustrate the shapes and contrasts in the image, which are also appealing.
Personally, I like color photos more than black and white photos, but sometimes, specific photos work best in black and white. My feeling is that photos are generally better in black and white, or monotone, if there’s more visual texture or symbolic meaning in the photo. On the other hand, color photos are better if the color in the photo is more prominent. Also, if the content and subjects in photos don’t benefit from color, then the photo may be better in black and white; color can often detract from the photo’s message and distract the viewer.
I also think that black and white photos can often be more difficult to shoot than color photos because the photographer really needs to break down the photo — its composition, its content, its message, its quality — to the fundamental levels of photography in order for the photo to be effective and to be a truly great black and white photo. The photographer needs to really know what he or she is doing to create great black and white photos. It’s not as easy as just pointing and shooting. Much more thought needs to go into black and white photos before you can click the shutter button. You can see some good examples of black and white photos in Mords Saligumba’s photo album on Photobird.com at photobird.com/mords. Mords won the Photobird Award for the Photobird Photo Contest for October 2008 with his photo “the morning after” and he won the People’s Choice Award for the Photobird Photo Contest for August 2008 with his photo “Trance“.
Alain Briot tells us in the video which photo he prefers, but before he got to that part of the video, I had already decided that I like the color version of the photo better. Specifically though, I like the top half of the photo with the green landscape, red-brown mountains, blue sky, and white moon. I don’t care for the dead plant and the rocks at the bottom of the photo. I think they detract from the beauty in the top of the photo, which is the best part and quite stunning.