Discussing the Age-Old Debate.
Not wishing to make it sound like I’m imagining the two forms in a boxing ring, I use the word ‘or‘ instead of ‘versus‘. It’s not a win or lose decision, nor should it be a fight between the two so, I’ll get this said right off the bat – there’s absolutely no wrong answer. The simple reason for this is that both colour and monochrome have their place in photography and this has always been the case since the advent of colour photography back in 1861. We see in colour, for one thing, so that alone should give colour output the edge, right? Well, as it happens, no, not at all. What I’m hoping to achieve here is to pass on a collection of my own personal, simple thoughts on a subject that never seems to go away, and, which may help anyone considering this very question with the intent of applying such notions to their own work. Although it’s a question that I have considered during almost every shoot or processing session, I believe, for myself at least – that I have simplified the issue to a point that now, for me, it’s no longer a difficult decision. Perhaps this will help others too and, whilst I may not be considered an authority on the subject, well over twenty years behind the lens affords me a pretty full insight. Pinch of salt, an’ all that – but read on if you’re interested.
In the Dog-House? | 720nm Infrared
You may have gotten bored already and zipped down the page, noticing that I have only posted black and white images here. This is deliberate. No, I do not shun colour output, nor do I dislike it. I simply feel that if colour output is desired, the colours in the frame should be the sole reason I realised that I wanted to create it in the first place. Whilst I might produce an aesthetically pleasing BW from the colour RAW too, this would not discourage me from preferring the colour version. I’m getting a little ahead of myself at this point, so let me back-up a tad. What I should have said was that, I prefer black and white output, black and white prints, even previewing in black and white in camera. My brain just seems to think better in black and white. But it’s not for everyone and, learning to see light and dark colours as shades of grey came with time – but it’s how my brain interprets a scene more naturally than it does so at interpreting and processing colour, unless, the colours create something special. But black and white should not be (as it so often is) seen as the grail, in photography or, the best way to see an image. I can understand why many do, and yet, I also – can’t. It’s subjective, of course. Like colour, it’s a mode of expression, often over or under utilised. I know this to be true because I have been very guilty of this, too many times.
Horse-Chestnut or, Sticky Bud.
For sure, the very first reason anyone should create either in colour or monochrome is – personal preference. However, I find colour distracting, largely unimportant and, mostly unnecessary; in the main. As one having way more than a passing interest in photography, my learned and experienced notions of light, composition, message and interpretation, contrast, texture, scene or frame interest – all of these things and more besides, reside in my brain and help me to make what I hope to be a successful image. Whether there is colour or not, doesn’t even become a consideration to me, unless, as I have mentioned, the colours have shouted at me already. Sometimes they do, mostly though, they don’t. If I make a shit frame – it’s my own fault and in no way is the presence or absence of colour responsible for it.
The Wellspring | Full-Spectrum.
Rather than wax-on, paragraph by paragraph (the last thing I wish to induce is reader-fatigue, or even worse, your waking up to find your keyboard imprinted on your forehead!) – I shall instead, bullet the main points which I believe are most conducive to each output. Please remember, these are simply elements which work for me and, I speak for or against no-one else’s opinion. Hopefully, some of this will explain itself.
Considerations for Colour Output:
- Personal preference (either for screen viewing or, for actual prints).
- When more accurate or representational reproduction is required.
- When presenting colours and shades create a desired contrast by their very existence (in other words, the colours are the actual reason you make the frame).
- When the distraction of colour does not overpower the message of the image.
- When a potentially lesser contrasty or less punchy image is desired – where heavier contrast would interfere with colour intensity, textures or overall / general dynamics.
- Lower ISO usage where higher ISOs would increase colour noise (though with good APS-C and FF sensors, this is way less of an issue than it once was).
- When shooting longer wavelength IR.
Considerations for Black & White Output:
- Personal preference (either for screen viewing or actual prints).
- When a more ‘artistic’ look and/or feel is required. No, colour is not unartistic per-se, but the brain processes in colour and therefore, any black and white image causes it to reinterpret in, for want of a better description, a more artistic way.
- When the removal of colour allows for greater appreciation and, undestracted absorption of the content.
- When greater contrast may be utilised to increase the punch of an image.
- When shooting at higher film speeds where otherwise shooting on colour would not necessarily be conducive to higher noise values.
- When the content of the image speaks for itself and does not require the use of colour to emphasise itself.
- To remove the illusion or potential appearance of an era or time-frame; this is dependent on content, of course.
- When WB cannot be pre-set accurately or, is unlikely to be achieved in post.
- When content, light, contrast and texture are the image key there is often little requirement for colour.
- When shooting infrared: longer wavelengths can yield pleasant faux-colour results with knowledge and experience, shorter wavelengths, less so, once you head north of 720nm.
Telford Woz ‘ere… | 720nm Infrared.
Many of these elements are of course, by our own nature and preferences, completely subjective and your views or interpretations may differ; though not all of these principles can work for every subject, I have found them to be extremely useful for me as starting points when I make the choice to reproduce in either colour or monochrome. For posts containing glorious colour please take a look at any of these posts: Travelling Light, Closer Still(s) PT.II – PT.III – PT.IV or, click the colour tag on any of my entries and, feel free to have a mooch. If you got this far – thanks for bearing with me (and, I’m sure that those little square imprints in your forehead will disappear shortly!)
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