When Does Black and White Photography Work Better Than Color?

October 26, 2018

 Reynisfjara, Iceland

Reynisfjara, Iceland

When does black & white work better than color?  That’s a question that many photographers wrestle with and which I’m frequently asked about. 

Here are a few guidelines that can help.  First, check to see whether the composition you envision has any stark textures, contrasts, and shapes as lack of color can help magnify these and enhance the drama or wow factor of an image.  Second, look for bad weather.  The high contrast of the clouds against the light in a violent sky is usually a great choice for black and white, especially if you find yourself in a natural scene that already has strong blacks and whites like a volcanic black sand beach with active white crested waves or a vast isolated lava field or other similar high contrast landscapes with a glistening water element reminiscence of Ansel Adams’ famous Snake River and Yosemite black and white landscapes.  Third, if the composition you envision is moody, melancholic, or macabre, consider black and white.  Sad scenes in street photography are a good example of this.  Finally, it’s good practice to always shoot RAW as this provides the maximum post-processing flexibility when converting your digital files to black and white.