The choice: colour or black and white?

With the advent of digital photography, black and white (B&W) photography is quite popular these days. Almost every camera has a B&W mode, and there is even one camera (from Leica) that has a dedicated B&W sensor. In my film days I used to shoot a fair amount of B&W film, that I would drop in a respectable lab in Lisbon. Then I would scan the negatives, for digital archiving and web publishing.

Of course today things are a lot simpler, but, some may argue, not necessarily better. I do not wish to embark on a discussion of what is better for B&W, film or digital. I am only concerned about what B&W can bring to my photography, and some choices thereof. For landscape photography, B&W can add interest and drama to a scene, distilling the subject to its basic lines, shapes, and textures. No more colour to distract us.

One thing that is important to understand is, it takes a lot more than converting a file from colour to B&W, to achieve a good B&W photo. Timing, lighting, subject, and composition, have to be there from the start. Also, it is important to learn how to “see” say a landscape, or your subject, in B&W tones. When I am out in the field, I often think and previsualize how the scene would look like in B&W. With many cameras today, it is even possible to set the B&W mode, and the LCD will display in B&W. As I wrote above, it has never been simpler.

Using the example below, of a long exposure I took recently near Cabo Sardao, southwest Portugal, I thought at the time that it would make a good B&W: the streaks in the clouds would be enhanced compared to the colour version, while maintaining the texture in the cliffs and water. But I also like the colour version, I like the contrast between the golden cliffs at sunset and the blues of the sky and water. In the end, both versions work for me, for different reasons. Converting this file was easy, just a few moments in Silfer Efex, a really nice and powerful software.

So, next time you are in the field, think about how a scene could be improved by using B&W; it could be by eliminating coloured distracting elements, by enhancing textures or contrasts between elements, or a combination of other aspects.

Monochrome
Monochrome
Glorious colour
Glorious colour