What about black and white? Chapter 1

I want to write a series of short posts about black and white. They will not be necessarily organized or extensive like book chapters, but will contain information which, in my view, may serve as conversation starters.

Photographers who are not used to working in monochrome will sometimes shoot a scene that looks good in color, desaturate it or use a Lightroom preset to convert it to black and white, then become frustrated because the black and white version is so much less appealing.

Why is that? First and foremost, when in working in black and white, it is important to recognize which types of compositions work, and which ones don’t work, before clicking the shutter. It is important to be able to “see” in black and white, and this is what I want to explore in the next series of posts.

First, let’s agree that is easier to recognize when a black and white image works out well, then it is to define the characteristics that will make a good black and white image. For this reason, I will begin by posting a few photos and ask two questions: 1) will this work in black and white and, 2) what are the characteristics that will make it work/not work in black and white?

By “not working in black and white” I mean: getting rid of color will detract from the image and make it weaker, less appealing.

I took the FEATURED IMAGE (f/18, 1/80s, ISO 400) from the Rush Ranch in Fairfield, CA (I wrote a blog post about this place last year). As is, it is a fine image and yields a beautiful color print.

Do you think this image will look good in black and white? Why?


Wall Art Botanical Images

Wall Art Photography projects

Wall Art Landscapes


Published by Alessandra Chaves

Photographer with a preference for nature photography in black and white and other abstractions.

15 thoughts on “What about black and white? Chapter 1

  1. It’s been decades since I regularly thought about taking black and white photographs, so I no longer have whatever insights I’d developed back then. I’ll hazard a guess and say that because your image contains so much blue and green and brown, it would lead to a black and white version with mostly black or dark gray, and therefore wouldn’t work well. On the other hand, with modern software you can convert each color differently and in so doing might still get appealing results.


  2. I would say no on this one. The land and water have too many similarities and setting them apart as a black and white would lose distinction. Of course you could put it in photoshop and convert to monochrome one color at a time and stretch the contrast but why bother. It makes for a better color image. We want to see the colors in this one. We want to see the green grass and blue sky reflecting into the water.


  3. I’d find it useful if the image you are referencing would be included in the article in the email blast. As t is, have to go to a different post to see the image you are referring to.


  4. I’d guess no because, though the colors are different, the tonalities aren’t too disparate. This would result in the land mass being very similar in tone and the rest of the image also of different tonality than the land, but similar to each other. Also, while the image isn’t necessarily ‘about’ the color, the colors are certainly appealing. Of course, if the inage were mine I wouldn’t have to guess, I would just hit ‘B&W’ in Lightroom and get a quick initial sense of whether it would be worthwhile pursuing the conversion 😊. Great topic and idea to discuss by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, because people do that too often to random images, look at them in presets, or desaturate, they end up concluding that it’s not worth their time, because color wins when we shoot for color.


  5. Often seeing what one thought “looked good” might have considerably more potential, for which bw could be a catalyst or even a different end point. A step, i.e., in the creative process. The “why” could be even simpler as a need to have it in in bw for publication purposes (newsletter/paper, pamphlet), and the “how” easily achieved with little more than traditional darkroom tech knowledge and necessary modern skills.

    Liked by 1 person

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