An old friend asked me on Facebook:

Ric, love all your b/w photos! I know you’re a professional. As an amateur to a professional, why do you suppose b/w photography appeals to so many? Is it because b/w leaves color to the viewers’ imagination? (in the same way books are better than movies?)

The question made me stop and think about the reasons I had started doing more and more black & white images.

I think that a big part of it is what my friend suggested: it allows your mind to fill in the color. But for me there are 3 additional reasons that I tend towards black & white:

Making it Simple

To me, black & white is more pure. When I do a painting the main tool for composition is value (the black & white scale); the colors are just a complication. When I do a photograph I try to reduce all distractions. I do this by cropping (and thus coming in closer) when I take the image. I also try and use a shallow depth of field so that the background will be out of focus. When I process the image on the computer I might remove distracting objects: power lines, garbage, extra people, etc.

Developing the image in black & white is an additional way to simplify and remove distraction. If the color doesn’t help tell the story of the image, I eliminate it.

The Hype

Part of it is hype: we tend to associate b&w with fine art, what we would see in a museum. When I show an image in black & white it is no longer ‘just’ a photograph, it is art 😉

Working Within My Limitations

A last consideration for me is that I am color blind, so I am a lot more comfortable manipulating tones than I am colors. I know that the tones will appear to the viewer as they do to me, whereas others will see colors very different from me.

Why Black & White?

Art by feifer

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