The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

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You have probably heard various reasons for converting a photograph to greyscale. I think that there is just one good reason.

Small Point

First though, a small point – the terms black and white versus greyscale.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Is it black and white?

It is a personal bugbear. We all do it. I do it. But we really should not say “black and white”. Maybe it is easy to say, and B&W does have a much wider catchment of understanding, however, it is a long way from the truth, and “greyscale” is much more accurate.

Singular Reason for Choosing Greyscale

The reason for choosing greyscale seems very clear to me. I could write one sentence, take a bow, then exit stage left. However, I think you, readers of dPS, deserve a little more explanation than that. Also, I admit, I have experienced that it is not necessarily an idea which others always greet with immediate enthusiasm. So I am very interested to see what you think.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The pipe walk?

You have probably heard some of the standard reasons given for choosing greyscale. For many people, at the top of the list is that it reveals form, shape, and line. Closely related to this is the capacity to emphasize texture. Also, the use of greyscale can help to set a mood, enhance an atmosphere. The luminance, the relative brightness of objects within the frame, often takes on more importance. All these are good reasons for choosing greyscale.

First Example

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

A good guy …

Months after I had taken it, I came back to the image above and converted it to greyscale. I liked this guy when I met him. Rather, I liked his face, but I did not think the portrait offered much. Then:

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

… shines out from the picture.

In the context of writing for dPS, I find it difficult to comment on my own photographs, but surely the greyscale version is a great deal better, do you not agree?

The reasons include many of the standard ones given above. For me, and we all see things differently, the prime thing is that the mood is much more dramatic. Surely the greyscale version emphasizes the shape of his face much more. The processing choices are quite extreme and show the texture and details of his face. Luminance is now also a much bigger factor. For me (please refer to my dPS articles on Photographer’s Metadata) it shows the man’s vibrant character more strongly. That is curious, isn’t it? When the color is removed the character is more evident.

Zen

For me, the preliminary point to grasp is that if something is not contributing to a picture in a positive way, it probably has a negative impact on the final result. If an element in the image is not contributing in a good way, it is very likely a distraction. All a bit Zen, aiming for clarity of vision, with all the unnecessary removed.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

A little Zen?

Removing the Distractions

Looking at the photograph of the watermelon store below, what do you think is the point, what is the subject, what is the story? I think it adds to the photograph that there is retail transaction taking place, and this tells part of the story. However, at least for me, I do not think that is the main subject of the photograph.

The biggest feature is obviously the melons, and I do not think it is their color, I think it is their shape, and the repetition of that shape which is emphasized by the rim light. I am certain that the van at the back is not helpful, adds nothing to the story at all, and it is quite a big distraction.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

What is the subject here?

The Zen of removing non-contributing factors, unnecessary distractions should be the reason why you choose to convert a picture to greyscale. The item at the top of that list of distractions is the most obvious thing. The biggest distraction is color itself. A tip that I heard a few years ago, which I have found very helpful, is that the reason for converting an image to greyscale is that it REMOVES THE DISTRACTION OF COLOR.

Sorry, did I raise my voice for a moment there? I hope I did not offend you. But, at least for me, it is about as solid and certain as anything is in the compromise-filled world of photography. If color is not contributing to the photograph, it is a distraction.

Whether you agree or not, as I’ve said, for me the photograph of the melon stall is about the repetitive shape of the melons. All of the items mentioned a couple of paragraphs above, the standard reasons, are improved by converting to greyscale, by removing the distraction of color.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Shapes and light.

More Examples

Another street shot.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Filipino street boys.

In the greyscale version below, the luminance of the objects is improved. Just look at the plastic begging cup in the boy’s hand, it is much more of a feature. The texture is shown a great deal more clearly in the grime on the boys’ faces, shirts, and very much in the matted nature of their hair. The mood grimmer. All of these, probably more, are part of the standard list of reasons for choosing greyscale. However, all of them are subservient to the main overall reason. All the improvements are achieved because a conversion to greyscale has removed the distraction of color.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

With every detail clear to see.

The next photograph is a typical Filipino sari sari store.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Minding the store.

Again, I acknowledge that we all see things differently. I can only say how I see it, but I would think that for most viewers, the removal of the distraction of color, has made the store owner much more prominent. Also, the clutter of all the sachets seems greater, their pattern, you might call it texture, seems more evident. It seems color was a distraction.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

It is clear to see.

Greyscale for portraits

I am very fond of using greyscale for portraits.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

This does not work.

It would have been better to use a different chair, as that yellow is a huge draw away from the subject of the photograph, but I was chasing the light. The use of greyscale soon removes the distraction.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

This does work.

As with the man at the top of this article, portraits can sometimes be greatly improved by using greyscale. The face, which is, after all, the subject of the photograph, is what your eye is drawn to.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Incomparable.

As I have said, the use of greyscale can help to show shapes and lines, make more of a feature of luminance. All of that is gained because – you may well have gotten the mantra by now – it removes the distraction of color.

To my eyes, photographs of babies seem to work particularly well in greyscale.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

There are too many distractions here.

Returning to the original Zen question, does the color add anything to the photograph above? Being a little absolutist about it, no it does not. It is, therefore, detracting from the end result.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Fewer distractions.

Removing the distraction of color, allows the texture to be emphasized. The skin of babies, and their young mother’s too, usually has a lack of texture, it is the beautiful smoothness which is emphasized.

Sometimes it can be a matter of personal taste.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Sweet dreams.

But I much prefer the emphasis of lines and the calm mood of the greyscale version.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Sweeter dreams.

Finally, on the theme of portraits, and children in particular.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Greyscale for other subjects

If you even half accept what I am saying, mostly from the examples of portraits, what do you think about applying the same idea to other subjects?

Below is a unique form of transport in the Philippines, a jeepney. What do you think the color adds to the version on the left?

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Converting to greyscale emphasizes the shiny parts, and the shapes and lines as well. Aren’t your eyes less drawn to the blue roof, and blue spare wheel cover?

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Though it is almost monochrome, does the color add anything to this image of buildings?

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

A bit of a crop, a change to greyscale, and the subject, the bicycle, becomes much clearer.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Then, with the photograph below, what do you think the subject is? Yes, of course, it is sand dunes. More specifically, isn’t it the lines of the sand dunes? It seems that this is a good time to ask the Zen question again. Is the color adding anything to that? The sand is not a color which appeals to me in this example, and the sky is a very insipid. To my eyes, the color adds nothing.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The desert.

The lines, light and shadow, the texture … the subjects of the photograph can sing their song when it is in greyscale.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The shapes, lines, textures of the desert.

The Counter Example

Sometimes a point is made clearer with a counter-example. You might think the point of this photograph is the radiating lines.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

I think the color is at least an equal part of the subject of this photograph, not a distraction at all. The color version is much better to my eye.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Then, I wonder what you think of this photograph.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

That girl!

You may have different tastes than I do, and you are welcome to disagree. I would recommend that you question each individual shot, keep thinking, do not follow any formula. It may seem contrary to many of the decisions and comments I have made above, but I much prefer this shot in color.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Closer, warmer.

I’ve had to think about why I prefer the color version of this image. I think the really shallow depth of field is a factor, meaning that, with much of the image out of focus, the color is less present, distracts less from the subject of the photograph.

Also, because the main subject is a fairly large portion of the photograph, it is quite an intimate photograph. The color is not only NOT a distraction, but enhances that intimacy, with a warm tone, and even the detail of the small pink tongue. The luminance is a factor in both versions, but the face seems to still shine through in the color version. Neither is the photograph as much about line, shape, or texture. Simply, it is a much better, more fully cohesive story when told in color.

Processing

One extra bonus to converting a photograph to greyscale is that it can allow quite a lot more flexibility in post-processing. My assertion is that this is also a result of removing the distraction of having to deal with color. If you do not have to worry about color when processing, you can certainly kick around all those greyscale pixels a lot harder. The distraction of color might be, as in the case of this photograph shot into the light, that the color was not very good in the original shot.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

I would never even start to think of publishing this.

Or?

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

This? Yes!

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

This is not a great landscape photograph to start. I think it is very clear that the light, and the subsequently flat colour, does not help. It is too dull and flat.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Remove the color, and the greyscale version is nowhere near to being a competition winner but, at least to my mind, it is better. It has a bit more depth, a bit more spark.

As stated repeatedly, with color out of the equation, no longer needing to be considered, you do have a lot of choices.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Soft, warm Arabian colors.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Hard, lots of contrast, the structure of the pot and its holder are shown clearly.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

Texture, details, more balanced.

The One Good Reason to Choose Greyscale

The feel and the look that I had in my mind’s eye.

For those who might remember the early Elton John album, Tumbleweed Connection, the album cover was my inspiration. I felt I got close. The point being that without color in the way, you can bend those pixels into all sorts of different moods.

Simple Conclusion

The first thing is an acceptance that if something in the frame is not adding to the photograph, it is detracting from it. Then, choosing greyscale removes the distraction of color! Simple!

P.S. Yes, of course, I also call them black and white photos all the time too!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Richard Messsenger is from Nottingham, England, and is currently based just north of Manila in The Philippines. Photographic opportunities of all hues present themselves daily. However, he like projects with parameters to work towards, targets to aim for. Older, hair too thin, belly too fat, knees wobbling, but he still enjoys using his talents and enthusiasm to make photographs.

  • Von Will
  • J Public

    excellent – different

  • Richard Messenger

    I’ll settle for that! Thank you.

  • Richard Messenger

    Hi Von Will.

    I can see the appeal of the B&W, but I actually like the colour version. I don’t mean I think it is much better, but I see you used a polariser, and those super saturated colours look a bit cartoonish, and fun to me. Mind you, looking a second time, that helmet is pretty much the only think in the photo in the B&W version, and that is pretty fun too!

    I’m glad you think I made my point. Thank you.

  • Darryl Lora

    Thank you Richard……a real eye opener article for me. I will going back through my photos and definitely be converting some to greyscale. I now live in Thailand and I have found a lot of the vibrant and varied colours of street scenes makes a lot of my photo too ‘busy’. Thanks again…

  • Richard Messenger

    That is VERY cool! Thank you.

    What’s the subject, the story? Does the colour add to that? If not, it probably distracts.

    It would be great to see a before and after if you got chance.

  • Peter Gowdy

    I’ve been searching for a decent argument to use greyscale over color for years. The only thing I have come up with is that it reminds me of earlier times when we used ‘black & white’ film. It’s just like looking at the first color prints in the 1960s, where the prints all had a kind of orange glow.
    I completely disagree with most of your comments about greyscale images above. If you want to get the yellow chair distraction out of your portrait, don’t photograph your subject sitting in a yellow chair. The photograph in the watermelon shop is just not a good picture at all. You rightly ask what the subject is. If it is the watermelons, they look all dark and identifiable in the greyscale version. In color they are ‘watermelon green’ which helps. Again the truck color ‘distraction’ only distracts because there is no identifiable subject in the photo. The sand dunes photo is not great to begin with. It is clearly a sunny day, so why is the sky not blue? I can see how turning the dunes photo into greyscale makes it more like abstract art, which is fine, but it is not about photography when we’re going down the abstract art road.
    I respectfully disagree with your ‘color as a distraction’ thesis, and continue to look for a reason to convert to black & white I mean greyscale. Sometimes I just convert a photo to greyscale to see if it might look better. It usually doesn’t, through my eyes.

  • Maria Salomonsen

    Very interesting article. I agree with you on most of the photos, but not all. I tend to like colourful photos for the sake of colour – I like the photo of the Filipino shop + shopkeeper better in colour for example. I tend to convert my photos to greyscale not so much to remove colour distraction, but to emphasise contrasts 🙂

  • Richard Messenger

    Wow!

    You haven’t got a reason, though you’ve clearly been thinking about it for a while, but you completely reject mine. Good luck with your continued hunt.

    The photos were chosen to make a point, not because I thought they were the greatest photos. I could pick through your comments, but really can’t think that there would be much point.

    Really love it when people say ‘respectfully’ and clearly mean the exact opposite.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Great article, good advice Richard! I started in “grayscale” in the 60’s because it was user-friendly. I went to school where we did everything in (B&W), large format. Eventually I bought a studio and did all the B&W myself, farming the color out. I’m not at all sure that I ever really learned to “see in grayscale” event though at least half my professional work was in it. Since the miracle of digital I “see” in color, as my eyes do, thus even though I know I can convert anything I want to grayscale I hardly ever do because I couldn’t see a reason. Your piece gives me at least one reason: remove distractive color. Then, support and enhance shape and line. I shot B&W because it was what I could process myself. I shoot color because it is now as easy or easier than any film ever was, but you have given me a shove to try to learn to actually “see” in monochrome. Thanks, Richard!

  • Richard Messenger

    Thank you Maria. I’m glad you found it interesting.

    I agree. I prefer the photo of the shop in colour. It was used just to make the point, and I think a comparison shows that it does make that point about texture an brightness. I think that a colourful photo for the sake of being colourful is absolutely fine. I can think of ones I’ve taken with the same thought. The subject is largely the colour. it is NOT, therefore, a distraction. I do not (ho, ho) agree with myself about all the photos either!

    My point would be that it is removing the distraction of colour which allows the contrast to be emphasised … allows the texture to be more prominent … makes the structure and shapes clearer … without the colour getting in the way. That works in my brain, but it might not fit, line up in quite the same way in yours.

    As I said, it feels to me like one of the most certain things in photography. And! There is very little I am at all dogmatic about in photography. I talk about guidelines, and compromises, all the time, but this is one which works for me in a very solid way.

  • Richard Messenger

    What a really lovely, thoughtful comment. Thank you.

    I have very much enjoyed the dialogues generated by the articles I’ve written on DPS. I have learnt a lot.

    As I probably say too often, I think there are NO irrefutable rules to photography. However, I think this is pretty close. At least it works in my head – what doesn’t add, takes away. If the colour is not adding anything to the telling of the story, the point of the photograph, remove it.

    You’re raising a really interesting point. Do we, should we, take photos knowing that they are going to be B&W? I’m not sure it really matters. But if you think that the scene is interesting in some way, but don’t like the combination of colours. you might just think to yourself ‘Ah! I can remove the distraction of colour later!’. I certainly took the shot of the girl on the yellow chair, knowing that it was very likely going to be converted. I think I might even have known that I was going to apply a yellow filter in Silver Efex. Maybe that is wishful thinking.

    I hope it doesn’t sound in the slightest bit patronising, it certainly is not meant to, if I say I think it is some compliment that i can introduce an idea to a professional photographer. And, at least to my way of thinking, it speaks positive volumes that you, like me, think that you need to keep questioning, and learning. It is part of the joy, isn’t it?

    Thank you Charles.

  • A great piece for a newbie like me, with logical arguments and stunning examples – you got me on the first one.

    Incidentally, old record cover albums are a constant source of inspiration for me too.

  • Charles G. Haacker

    Not patronizing at all! And I completely agree that there are no irrefutable rules. I sometimes refer to the “suggestion” of thirds, or “guidelines,” or whatever. The “rules” are great teaching tools, and I use many if not all much or even most of the time, but I also think there are times when breaking them may get a better picture.

    Most if not all modern cameras have monochrome options, but they only deliver jpegs and I shoot only raw. I’ve seen challenges to go out and shoot only monochrome, on the principle that it takes thought and practice to learn to “see” in grayscale. I think that’s probably true to an extent, but one would think that a guy who shot half his professional work in B&W would have learned to see grayscale, yet I don’t think I ever did. I shot scads of public relations stuff, candids of meetings and conventions, all 35mm Tri-X. I was seeing in color and delivering B&W. I shot weddings in color. I shot portraits in one or the other or both. I never stopped to consider if I were “seeing” (visualizing) when shooting in B&W; I just had to get the picture and move on.

    That is why when I transitioned to digital (long after no longer working) I was gobsmacked by its flexibility. I started only in 2007 with a tiny Nikon L12 point-and-shoot and was mad about digital from the first test exposure. I felt I could do things, in color, that previously had only been reasonably possible in B&W, such as mixed light (and this was shooting jpegs in a tiny-sensor P&S). I learned post processing. But I essentially abandoned B&W because (1) I saw little reason for it and (2) if I tried a conversion I never liked it as well as the color.

    But since reading your piece I now strongly suspect that the reason I rarely liked the conversions was that I was converting the wrong pictures. I will now be looking for things with strong lines and shapes that lend themselves to conversion, and I will try to see when a color is a distraction, although I should mention that I have never worried too much about changing a color, or at least desaturating it, sometimes all the way to gray. I am still very big on available light and candid shooting, meaning that often there will be something in the frame that draws the eye away from the subject. I have been in the habit of removing the offending thing altogether where possible to do so seamlessly, or desaturating it, or changing its color, but now thanks to you I will at least try a conversion and see what works best. Thanks again, Richard. ?

  • Joel

    Good points about removing distractions and emphasizing lines and form. The “Good Guy” photo has quite a bit more processing than a simple conversion to greyscale and you should have mentioned that.

  • James Micu

    <3 this article! so useful, as well as a fun read!

    it got me thinking about my own reasons for using grayscale, and i agree with your #1 reason: removal of the distraction of color.

    i'd like to add my own #2 biggest reason for converting to grayscale which is *to remove the deadening effect of familiarity.* when i see an object, landscape, or even a person with which/whom i'm familiar, it's already at a disadvantage, in terms of its impact on me. but grayscale brings certain things (lines, shapes, textures, contrasts) to the fore, and suddenly i'm seeing a familiar thing in a completely new way. that effect, a sort of artificial yet natural newness, is so fun for me as a photographer.

    i think that sometimes the positive but vague comments i get ("so cool!" "wow, love this shot!"), i may not have received, if i'd gone with color, simply because the viewer's brain would have automatically categorized it as something they've seen a million times before.

    we have sooo many great tools & techniques we can use to 'force' (benignly) viewers to see [and be affected by] things with a completely new perspective. i think grayscale is one of them.

  • KJ

    While I agree with much of what was written, I also have to agree that the examples in my opinion fall short of proving your point. For the most part the color images are underexposed and the B&W are correctly exposed. The contrast is also modified to be greater in the B&W. I would like to hear why the portrait of the girl in red ‘doesn’t work’ . I see it is underexposed and lacks the sharpness of the B&W but that is the result of post processing, not the composition or the fact it is in color !

    Just my opinion. I prefer to shoot in B&W which I also believe to be the ‘correct’ term since gray on photography is just a saturation difference between absolute black and ‘gray’ .

  • Richard Messenger

    You got a ‘wow’, and a genuine ‘COL’ (Chuckle out loud’) from me.

    What an excellent #2! That was the wow.

    The chuckle was the thought of something or someone being at a disadvantage. I often laugh with pleasure when I hear something very smart, very self-aware.

    Somewhere on the list of reasons for taking photographs, it might say something like ‘Engaging the interest of others’, or ‘Encouraging others to see things in a new way’. I think they are perfectly good reasons. I think that might be your #3?

  • Richard Messenger

    I’m glad you found some good points.

    It sounds very abrupt if I say just say ‘Why?’. I wonder why you feel that I should have explained the processing of that particular photo more fully. More so than any other. I promise you that these articles could easily go to 2 or 3 times the length without much encouragement. (Yes, I am smiling). But, I very much doubt that that photo did, at least to my way of thinking, have much processing. I will have taken it into Nik’s Silver Efex and stabbed a preset, and probably done very little more.

  • Gil Seeber

    Hey, Mister Messenger!

    I spent my first years with a Nikkorex F and Tri-X (circa 191960-61), and always did consider color to be a kind of add-on which detracted from “the message.” I loved Walker Evans, the folk music of the Carter Family, and, of course, Mr. Bressson…
    I remember seeing my first “okay, even good” color photo at the Art Institute of Chicago; it was of an adobe wall & window, with straight-backed chair, in color. Subtle color. I saw how color was part of the composition, the message, not only not distracting but actually in some (subtle) way contributing to the image/message. (I sometimes think of myself as a poet, and see the image-as-message as a vehicle of such expression.)
    So, in short, thank you for your article on greyscale. It has helped/encouraged/reminded me of my initial drawnness to photography. (I was blessed with the gift of letting me have a B&W show of rural poverty in Indiana at Roosevelt University in 1963.) No doubt much of my in-between–the-years work would benefit from a new look through the lens of that former orientation. I look forward to visiting some of my loved pictures with this in mind.
    Thank you! You have helped me re-touch my self.
    Gil (AKA Poppi Gilly) Seeber, age 78. Still shooting Nikons!

  • Richard Messenger

    Ah! I’m guessing from your name that we might be of a similar generation, and of a time when music was a much more significant part of our lives. (And album sleeves didn’t need a magnifying glass!).

    Hey! Thank you very much for the kind words.

  • Richard Messenger

    Great thoughts.

    I am all for trying to push the decision making process as far forward in the process of taking as possible. Actually, that convoluted statement is just my way of saying ‘get it right in camera’. What you’re highlighting is that this is one decision that you do not have to get right in the camera.

    Actually, I don’t really know why I am responding, because I should just nod and agree and thank YOU! I can’t help myself …

    The incremental cost of each push of the shutter button used to be quite significant. Removing that jeopardy has certainly helped accelerate the learning process, but something has been lost too. You learned your craft when each click was more significant, and I think that might be part of the process which brings you to this point now, with such a clear, considered … to use one of today’s trendy words … mindful photographic process.

    I say these things as If they are written on stone tablets. Not at all! You see! I’ve learned things. Thank you for encouraging me to think.

    Oh! In one of my other articles, I refer to ‘G.O.T.’ the Guideline of Thirds. Yes, I think we’re singing in harmony.

  • James Micu

    😀 nicccce i’m converting that to a metaphorical gold star and sticking it on my day!

    i do mostly portraiture, mostly of friends & family. it’s so common for people (at least in my circles?) to have a negative view of their own appearances. so, it’s extremely gratifying to shoot someone who’s never had ‘professional’ shots done before, and watch their anxiety turn to delight upon seeing the final edit.

    them: “wait– that’s me?!”

    me: “well yes, sort of. it’s a reinterpretation that’s designed to make you feel the way i feel when i see you.”

    and that’s usually my guiding principle during editing (apart from the more objective technical standards): when the image makes me feel the way i felt when i looked at them in the moment i took the shot, that’s when it’s done.

    so… encouraging others to see things in a new way? yes. and, specifically, encouraging others to see things the way *i* see them.

  • Richard Messenger

    Last paragraph? Seems a very serious response to what I thought was a mild joke. Part of my point is that photographs are almost never just two tone. And, surely, if you change the saturation, the result ends up on a grayscale, and is certainly not B&W. Up to you if you want to think of it differently.

    I was choosing photos to make a point. I am sorry if you do not feel I chose good examples.

    ‘I would like to hear why …’ Goodness, I feel like I am on the Headmasters carpet. The girl in red? Very good! What I think most of us would call the girl sat on the yellow chair? And there lies the answer! The answer I am stating for the 23rd time. The colour yellow is NOT the subject of the photograph, the chair is not the subject of the photograph. The colour is a distraction. On my good quality monitor, set at a very low 30% brightness, in a reasonably bright room, the exposure of the colour version looks fine. It is certainly brightened for the B&W version, The B&W will have been processed from the colour version, and I would place a very substantial wager that no additional sharpening was done. I sharpen infrequently, almost never on portraits, unless it is very selectively for a studio style shot. ‘For the most part …’ Really? The photograph of the back of the jeepney is too dark. Otherwise … as you say … just an opinion … I just looked and to me, the B&W version of the girl has LOWER contrast.

  • Richard Messenger

    Great words, beautiful thoughts. Can I lean over and draw a big smiley on your day too?

  • Richard Messenger

    Not for the first time in responding to these comments, I am caused to say WOW! What a beautiful story. I would never have imagined that such a humble article could illicit such a response. I feel like I would like to say much more … I’ll just add, I agree, I think you are a poet, and you caused my eyes to dampen.

  • James Micu

    *col* do it!

  • pete guaron

    LOL – you can’t make this stuff up! Richard, the very next article I read was Simon Bond’s article “How to Make Your Photos Stand Out Using Color Contrast”!
    There’s not one “right answer”, is there? It depends on the shot – some colour photos are a mistake, they should have been B&W – others would be a mistake if they were NOT in colour.
    I do feel that many people lose the plot at times, shooting in colour – they rely on the colours to make up for the fact they’ve ignored tonal values in composing their picture – and if the colours are stripped out, the underlying composition exposed, then you see the shot for what it is – weak! or maybe (even) failure!
    But of course that gets back to thinking a bit more, before pressing the button. Unhappily, many people just press that button, and all they end up with is a snapshot – not a picture worthy of the name “photograph”.

  • Richard Messenger

    ‘Not one right answer’ is absolutely it. Photography is a game of compromises.

    Though I can see the humour, I suspect Simon’s article is no contradiction. If the colour is not a distraction, if in fact it is part of the story … why not give a boost?

    I do not, for one moment, want to appear argumentative. But that ‘compromise’ business even extends to ‘snapshots’ and ‘spray and pray’. I’ve been know to get out of the car, the taxi … whatever, and start mashing the shutter with no care for settings. Get the shot, then worry about it later. Then there are times, when you need to sit down, take a breath, think about what it is you’re trying to do.

    Oh heck. Please do not be offended, if I say, as if we were having a chat over a beer, I’m actually a huge advocate of the ‘snapshot’. Much I could say, but sometimes we are so busy being serious (for want of a better word) that we don’t take the snapshots of the folks we are with, of the harbour bay in its entirety, of the nice restaurant, of the rental car we drove 1,00 kms, of the silly fella we gave a ride to, or … I do hope you see what i mean.

  • Joel

    Why ? Because luminance, contrast and clarity were greatly enhanced during the conversion. If “stabbing a preset” is the method you use, just say it and let the readers roll the dice as it appears that is your way of doing things. It’s called Instagram.

  • Richard Messenger

    I’m sorry you’ve chosen to miss the point. No need to be rude. No worries.

  • Joel

    I did not miss your point. Taking the color out of an image can benefit it in many ways, I acknowledged that in my original post. If I point out that you can get the same results you have posted by using Instagram, that is not rude but simply a fact.

  • pete guaron

    Oh dear – yes, I take snapshots too – I imagine everyone does. I wasn’t trying to suggest we shouldn’t. It’s just that a lot of snapshots simply never end up as keepers. Although . . . sometimes some clever play in “post” will do a Lazarus act and breath life into what was a dud at the time the shutter button was pressed. Cropping, for instance, is often a form of “mouth to mouth” resuscitation for a poorly composed shot.

  • Recently started using greyscale photography when shooting activities in our city. The colors were a real deterent and the greyscale brought across the message and the images clearly. People were a little surprised at first until I showed them the difference!

  • Hanno Barka

    First of all I want to say that the following post is meant as an input to think about. It’s no way meant offensive in any way. If it reads that way the reason is my lack of proper English skill (I am not a native speaker) and in that case i want to apologize.
    You have a good point with distraction but I think there is much more than just distraction alone. I think there are several points that you should keep in mind when you make the decision between b/w or colour.
    When I was a student one of my professors said to me: Always keep in mind that photography was developed with b/w emulsions and had fully developed it’s visual and emotional language long before the first colour picture was taken. So always ask yourselve if colour provides any important information in the picture you are going to take, before you load your camera with a colour film. (Yes that was in a time when film still ruled the world and digital cameras were something SF-ish). And that’s imo one of the biggest points.
    But I think it’s not only about unecessary information – which is pretty the same thing you call distraction. If you use colour in a picture no matter what medium you have to do a colour composition as well. Colours interact with each other and change in context with other colours. Some colours come into the foreground and some disappear into the background and to look good colours need to harmonize with each other. So the question is: Do you have control over the colours in your picture? This might be the case in a studio – at least as you don’t have to take a portrait of a customer who insists wearing some shirt in a colour that absolutely doesn’t work together with the colour of his hair. But outside? If you do street/ people photography, using colour is kind of a russian roulette with 5 bullets in the revolver instead of one. You can bet that someone will have a handbag, rucksack or shoes in one of those signalcolours red, yellow orange that will ruin your picture composition instantly because that draws the eyes to that pesky accesoirs – away from the focus you had set in the picture. That’s what happened in your piture of the phillipine store. The red frame draws your attention and the shop owner and her shop fade away.
    And please don’t even try to argue about reality is coloured or something like that. Photos have never shown reality and they never will. The photographer distorts distances by the choice of the focal lenght, he shows or hides details by the choice of the aperture and most importantly he shows only a tiny part of his choosing of what would be visible to a person that stands in his place and he chooses just a fraction of a second of something that lasts for minutes, hours or even years.
    So maybe the question should not be is there a reason to shoot in black and white but is there a reason to shoot in colour? 🙂

  • Richard Messenger

    Really would not have guessed for one moment that you are not a native English speaker. I think, and i hope none of this sounds patronising, you express yourself very well, and you also raise very interesting points.

    I do not think that what you are saying is at all contentious, in the sense that it contains just about as much truth as any of us are able to claim. I do think there are some points I’d like to discuss at length, and I might come back to that later. Hope that’s ok.

    Your closing sentence actually, for me, encompasses what you are saying. At least, how I would summarise it. It is ‘horses for courses’. What suits one persons way of doing things, what works for them is fine by me. I try hard not to be prescriptive with anyone (including myself) regarding things photographic. Whatever works for you! I should bite my lip, but if you say, ‘I’ve been looking for years … but I do not have any idea why anyone would take b&w … and I do not like what you say’, that seems like an unhappy position. If you say, here is my version (and I would really have to think about how it is very different from, at least at odds with what I have suggested … first, quick look, I think what i’ve said, might be a subset of your more sophisticated point), then that is totally fine with me.

  • Richard Messenger

    I think we might have a different idea about what a snapshot is. It may well be me who is out of step. I see a snapshot as something which starts with no attempt at producing something of great merit. Nonetheless, I happen to think that they are important. That they should be taken. That we can get too wrapped up being serious and miss the casual, often scene setting ‘snap’. To my mind, this means that they should be kept, but probably not published!

    I do like your ‘mouth to mouth’ analogy. I do think that a bad photo can rarely be made into a good one with post-processing. Might be improved, but there’s something which remains ‘not quite right’. I’ve got one for you! It is like cooking. The celebrated chef, Mosimann, used to say ‘only the best ingredients’ (That doesn’t mean ‘exotic’ or ‘expensive’), and it might be the same with photography.

  • Hanno Barka

    Thanks for your compliment regarding the language and it doesn’t sound patronizing at all. I’m always concerned about a possible misunderstnding because over here we are used to express many things “between the lines” which can be quite problematic when you meet people from different countries 🙂
    Totally ok for me when you want to discuss some things further a bit later (I hope the notification will work then 🙂 )

  • Richard Messenger

    YES, you did miss my point. NOT the point of the article. The point of my answer to your question about ONE photograph from the whole article.

    Maybe I have lost the power of communication, but my point was that I could not reasonably be expected to give descriptions of how all the photographs were processed. I will pay you the further courtesy of explaining that it was an article about why you might convert to black and white, I do not think there is much mention of processing, that is another article! The most processed photographs, by a huge margin, are those towards the end, the ones of the man with the baseball hat took a lot of fiddling about, and the Arab water vessels clearly took more than 5 minutes! But, as I say, this is not an article about processing.

    I was being flippant when I said ‘stabbed a preset’. Sorry you do not share my sense of humour, my attempt to be casual, and choose to sneer at it. A mate of mine uses ‘Wet rocks’ preset as one his starting points. I would not be surprised if I used ‘High structure (smooth)’, I find it often serves as a start. Have you ever used Nik’s? The presets are great, often give something close to what I have in my mind’s eye, and certainly a good starting point. I very much doubt you can get the same results with Instagram, and i might be offended on Nik’s behalf.

    Oh heck Joel! This disqus thing is interesting. Looking at yours does reveal a bit of a history. If it was not your intention to be rude, you would say so, possibly even apologise, not try and justify yourself.

  • Richard Messenger

    Sounds like you’re having fun.

    Long may you continue to surprise people!

  • Richard Messenger

    Over where?

  • So nice photos.. Thanks for sharing..
    http://yuriysphotography.com

  • Hanno Barka

    Austria.

  • Joel

    Thank you, Richard. Your paper thin skin and pedantic Olde English verbiage have freed me from wasting time reading or commenting on another of your articles.

  • Richard Messenger

    A happy ending!

    Get Outlook for iOS

  • Richard Messenger

    Thank you … happy to do so.

  • Richard Messenger

    Ah! I was a little puzzled … your name, the references … It is easy to find my email address … I’d be happier to have a chat away from this public forum.

  • Hanno Barka

    Sorry couldn’t find your email but I found you on facebook and sent you a message there 🙂

  • such a beautiful article about chossing greystyle photography http://safavi.org

  • Stephen Crane

    Hi Richard,

    Thank you for writing this. It was very helpful. I like that it can be summarized as one rule to remember when either composing or processing (in my own words): “eliminate the color if it is a distraction”. I had never thought about color being a distracting element before, but it can be. If it is just one color, I will simply reduce the saturation and/or luminance of the specific color in Lightroom (e.g. the yellow chair, the blue van, etc). If it is color in general is distracting from the primary emphasis of the photo (e.g. mood, texture, contrast, etc), converting to greyscale is a winner.

    The bottom line is I like simple guidelines that are memorable that I can keep in my head as a checklist when I am composing or processing. You gave me another simple and powerful tool, and I am grateful.

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