Church of St. Trophime, Arles

A lot of pictures on this site are black and white. My niece recently commented on some black and white family pictures: “Black and white ones are so cool!” In response my wife replied: “They do have an interesting quality but I prefer colored ones. H (that’s me) loves b/w photos”. So why so many black and whites?

First it’s not that I have anything against color. I’ve seen many exceptional color photographs. It’s just that I’m not very good with color. It seems to be so simple. Everything around us is in color so we should be taking color pictures. Right? I think that the problem is that while all around us is color, much of it is mundane. To me a good color photograph is one where color plays a major role. The color makes the picture rather than just being there. I’m not very good with color theory so I don’t understand well enough, which colors when combined together will achieve the maximum effect. I thought maybe reading up on color theory might help so I bought this book. I could barely understand much of it. We recently had a water leak in our house and this book was destroyed. I won’t miss it. I’ll keep trying though. Maybe over time I’ll get better. From time to time I get a decent color pictures – more by luck than judgement though.

Second, and linked to the first, I tend to see tones rather than colors. Take a color photograph. Convert it to black and white. I’ve read that if it doesn’t lose much then it wasn’t a very good color photograph to begin with. An example:

In the above pictures the black white conversion doesn’t really work. The color contributes too much to the image. Take it away and the picture doesn’t work as well. Or maybe I just didn’t do a very good black and white conversion….On the other hand I have from time to time “rescued” a mediocre/poor color photo by converting it to black and white.

It’s often said that light is the most important element in creating a good photograph. I think this is true, and it’s particularly true of color photographs, perhaps even more than for black and white. it’s also often said that the best light is early in the morning or early in the evening. I’m usually too lazy to get up in the mornings and I’m usually too busy early in the evening. So I tend to miss the really good light and don’t tend to get good color pictures.

I’m of an age (61) where “classy” photography was always in black and white. Many of the great photographers photographed in black and white. I was also influenced by movies in black and white (even though I suppose most of them were already in color at that time). My earliest experience of movies was of being taken to see “Batman” serials. They were in black and white. Later I would watch old movies late at night. They too were in black and white. So I suppose black and white kind of went into my psyche.

If I like black and white so much why don’t I just shoot black and white film? I’ve never developed my own film so I would have to get it processed somewhere and and such places are getting harder and harder to find and more and more expensive. Although I enjoy occasional film photography I also like the convenience of digital and the control I can get in digital processing. Maybe if I could get into developing my own film I’d shoot more and more black and white film. One day…

My wife got it right when she said “H loves b/w photos”.

Leave a Reply