Working in black and white

DanieljGregory_CanonBeach-8015Last weekend, I taught a workshop on digital black and white photography. The class was a lot of fun and the students were amazingly talented and gifted.

One of the questions that came up was how do you know that a photograph is going to be in black and white and when should be be in color? I know that there are a lot of reasons that people can give for this answer. Some are rooted in just they way people work so they don’t know any different to choose one over the other. Other people know the impact of color and look to build on color as a part of the visual storytelling. They use the color data to shape and move our emotions, feelings, and contextual understanding of the images.

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At the same time, those people who work in black and white often talk of the world as a sense of tones and relationships. They work to tell a story that is in some ways more emotional for them because of the lack of color. With the color removed, the person is left to fill in details of the story. Mony Nagler has noted that he considers looking at a color photograph the equivalent of looking at a movie, whereas, the black and white version of a photograph is similar to reading a book. Both are amazing ways to tell a story, but each requires something different of the audience. I think that is a great way to think about it.

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So as I looked at my images after the workshop with that question in mind, I was thinking about how when I am out shooting how do I know? Are there are images that I just know I am going to process into black and white? For me the answer is yes. And as I sit here thinking about why, I guess part of the reason is from an emotional reaction that is a byproduct of my shooting film. When I shoot film, to this day, I have to think is this color or black and white and make a choice. Because of that limit I have been forced into working with a mindset of thinking about the final print at the time of capture. I guess not much as changed with digital capture. I still think about that final print and how I want to experience the story. So there are images I just know are going to be in black and white from before the shutter clicks.

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These images are show in black and white and color. While I can really appreciate the soft delicate pastel colors of the sunset, the graphical shift in the tones was what caught my attention. I remember thinking “Oh, this is going to be sweet in black and white.” Now that I am processing them, I am still drawn to that first seeing in black and white. While I could get behind the color images, ultimately as artist we have to figure out which story and experience do we want to tell. My story for today is black and white.

August 12, 2013

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