Friday, August 1, 2008

Don't be afraid to ditch the color

Beware the photographer who only shoots in black and white.

Just to be clear, there are a lot of great, artistic photographers out there (some right here in Tampa/St. Petersburg) who shoot predominately in black and white because they have an artistic motive. However, there are some that shoot in black and white because they are lazy.

You see, light is a tricky thing. The biggest problem with light is that it refuses to maintain the same temperature regardless of the source. Light from the sun doesn't look the same as light from a light bulb, which doesn't look the same as light from a fluorescent light bulb... and on and on....

So, what can happen is that you'll take a picture of someone who is lit by two different sources, say, a flash and the sun, and the color will get all wonky because the camera can only adjust for one color at a time. But if you convert to black and white...PRESTO! No color, no color mistakes. (I know from which I speak because I've done it. Every photographer has converted an image to black and white because the color is bad. It's a dirty little secret of the profession) To avoid this problem, a photographer has to set his camera to a custom white balance setting or fine tune the white balance in post-production. It's time consuming and tedious.

That being said, there are still a lot of situations that simply demand black and white and if you are not using this option with your camera you are missing out on a lot of great pictures. Black and white can change many things about a picture but for this post I just want to show an example of one.

In this picture, your eye is drawn to the skirt. How can it not be, it's so bright and pink and everything else is sorta flat. However, I don't want to look at the skirt, I want to look at the cutest little ballet dancer in the whole wide world (who just happens to be my daughter).

Now the attention is drawn away from the skirt and onto the face because the face is lighter than the skirt. The entire feel and focus of the picture has changed just by converting to black and white.

In this picture, black and white guarantees that you are seeing the girls and not the outfits. I have often wondered if the way we perceive black and white pictures has something to do with news print being black and white. Do we subconsciously legitimize a picture that is in black and white because it looks like something we would see in the newspaper? Time will tell because the younger generation gets all their news in color. Will black and white not provoke the same reaction for them?
Booray Perry is a photographer in Tampa Bay