Deciding whether to shoot black and white or colour? The battle rages on.
I’m a black and white shooter, unquestionably. I’ve always had emotional attachments to monochrome images that colour just can’t compete with. There. Simple. End of blog.
OK I’ll at least ask myself why, as it would appear you’ve taken the time to visit my site. Perhaps it stems right back to the great masters of the subject, or maybe it’s that by removing colour, it also takes out any possible distraction from the photographers intended subject. If I’m honest it’s not something I’ve ever really tried to dissect because inherently I know that black and white is just ‘my thing’ and we all have our own style and preference right?
Delving further then, if I feel it’s an inherent instinct that drives emotional reaction then should I take the time to examine my own personality traits to establish why? (Boy, this blog is unravelling fast!).
Well OK, I certainly have a melancholy and sometimes sombre side to my personality. I’m not particularly confident and I’m forever frustrated by my inability to communicate verbally. Beautiful imagery, like music are mediums that untangle the complexities of day to day life in my brain. I can see it, feel it and recognise it and the more emotive the better. I’ve heard it said that you see colour photography but you feel black and white. That’s kind of it.
My wife on the other hand has an incredibly sunny disposition, floods her life with colour, listens to music that makes her feel upbeat and has an incredible electricity about her. She is fun. She is colourful. There is no other way to describe her. God I love her for that.
I digress. Or do I? I can’t tell anymore. Only one way to find out, sorry.
The point is I’ve lost count how many times over the last year or so I’ve shown Helena an image of mine and her response would be ‘wow’ and then follow it with ‘that would look lovely in colour’. In truth, at first this would grate. I’m a black and white shooter, unquestionably remember, and being slightly stubborn I would therefore take offence and quietly sulk (Yes I’m 41 and I still sulk). How is it she can’t see that this would never work in colour and that the image in question is all the more compelling for it’s monochromatic majesty.
One shoot I did earlier this year was of her twin sister and her fiancé. They’d just got engaged, had a baby on the way and wanted to mark this with a couple of pictures. I’m sure it’s pretty obvious to the viewer but for the record, when these were taken she was going through chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
I shot all the images using natural light and spot metering in what I would describe as very much the way I like to see images. I did however make use of the bracketing feature on my X100T and shot in classic chrome also. At least then I could put these images side-by-side and justify my choice of black and white.
The thing is I couldn’t. I really couldn’t. Bugger. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise I preferred the colour images. This unwelcome can of worms had unwittingly been prized open and it was one I definitely didn’t want wriggling around my consciousness every time I raised the camera to my eye, or indeed taking up valuable time in post-production.
The next commercial project I worked on I decided to leave my options open and shoot both again. Disaster… I liked some of the images in colour and others in black and white. Fortunately it didn’t matter to the client either way and he gratefully accepted both.
Where does that leave me though? Once so assured about how I shot and the justification for it, I am now left wondering which images are going to work in colour and which in mono. Can there ever be a fool proof way of deciding such matters?
Technically of course it’s easy enough to keep my options open with either bracketing film simulations or shooting RAW/jpeg combinations and in the commercial world, clients will generally dictate this for me anyway. For my personal work however, it’s a different matter.
Certain situations/subject matters will go a long way in the decision process. A glorious sunset would seem to benefit from being in colour, whereas a street silhouette would (in my opinion) seem more striking in mono. But what about the in-between? Those images that in theory can work either way. This image I took of my children taking a siesta on holiday very much comes down to personal preference and I still find it hard to work out which I prefer.
This has turned into a complete nonsensical ramble (if you’re still reading, I’m seriously impressed). Nevertheless it’s been cathartic and I guess the reason I am perhaps concerned by it is that established photographers have a definitive style. Is not knowing whether to shoot in black and white or colour holding me back in defining mine?
My conclusion (for now at least) is that the subject matter for the most part will define how to shoot. For those in between shots, I need to remain flexible and adaptable enough to study the differences between the two and begin to establish why. That in itself is learning and growth and with it I’d hope my judgement and understanding will improve over time, thus making me a better image maker. And that dear reader can’t be a bad thing, can it.
Thanks for reading, comments welcome.