25 February 2011

Color or B/W? (Part 2)

[Part 2 of 3 in a series exploring the choice photographera have to make between shooting in color and black and white. Part 1 highlighted some of the strengths of b/w.]

Part 2: Color Works

Photography really developed into an art form in the days before color film. So when color became more prevalent beginning around the middle of the 20th century, there was still a hold-over...um...snobbery about it from art photographers. Color was deemed fine for “snap shots” and “commercial work” such as magazine advertising.* But it wasn’t art. (That’s the nutshell version of part 1 of Color Magazine’s history of color photography.) Maybe this prejudice was a little like that of, say, painters toward illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and even comic strip — whoops, I mean graphic fiction artists.

But for photography, that’s changed, with good reason. Each approach — color and b/w — has distinct advantages in art photography. Black and white allows the photographer to emphasize lightness/darkness contrasts, patterns, and shape and light without the distraction of other colors or differently colored elements in the frame. It also helps a photographer create a range of darker moods and reflective emotions.

The advantage of color is, well, the colors. This should be clear without further comment in the before-and-afters below.
Most of us see the world in color. Many have experienced a sort of squeezed-chest joy at the utter brilliance of a sunset, an autumn tree, or some other color extravaganza the world can throw at us. Color photography allows the viewer to go: “Wow! Reality's amazing!”

The art of color art photography, then, comes in presenting a slice of reality — I like to think of excerpting the world — in an artistic way (say, through compositional elements). At least, that’s my take on it.

Here are a few color excerpts to enjoy:
The final installment in this series will consider some images that work well in both color and black and white, and why that is.

* We came on a trove of People magazines from the mid-1980s and early 1990s. It’s hard to believe now, but most of the images in these magazines were in black and white! Only the covers and inside advertisements were printed in color.


  1. Nice blog! beautiful collection! Love the way you presented this

  2. The post above was written by Gabijan:)