Torn Between Two Lovers

January 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Nymphaeaceae, Water LilyNymphaeaceae

Autumnal, Japanese Maple, LeavesAutumnal I've always smiled at the thought of American Poet Robert Frost's epitaph, which reads, "I Had A Lover's Quarrel With The World."  I get that. As photographers and artists, I think we all have a genuine love affair with the medium, and by extension, with the world as well. Most photographers become drawn to certain types of images, be they monochrome or color, and pursue that aesthetic almost exclusively.

And with good reason. Each way of photographing has its own unique considerations and qualities to master. With black and white, or monochrome images, you have to see in a different way than you do in color. When everything is reduced to tones of greys, from pure white to pure black,and everything in between, you become far more attuned to seeing line, form, texture and the subtle nuances between tones. Composition becomes a paramount visual element. Not all images will translate to monochrome as well as color. It helps to think as you're shooting if you want it to be in black and white to see the image with an eye for those things that make a great B+W image. 

Seeing in color is our natural gift, and when it comes to color photography, we have certain unique things to think about. First thing is the harmony of colors. The relationship of harmonious colors communicates beauty, order, and emotions we all share. Odd or dissonant color combinations can evoke tension and uncomfortable feelings that, given the purpose of the image, may be what you want to say. Color photography can be bold, vibrant. or subtle, pastel and quiet. It is the best at bringing forth emotions in viewers.

Not every photographer dances well between the two mediums. A lot of black and white masters from the past simply didn't have, or couldn't develop the proper sensibility to work in color. It is a different mindset, and for those who do work creatively well in both worlds, it can sometimes feel like being torn between two lovers. I get asked all the time from photographers, "Should I make this a black and white, or leave it color?" 

That's a question I ask myself every time I start to process images. Assuming you are always shooting in RAW, it's good to do a quick B+W conversion in post just to get a taste of the difference. If it looks worth pursuing, either in color or monochrome, then work the image fully until you are satisfied. In the end, you may process an image fully in both methods, put them up side by side on the computer, and spend hours deciding which works best!

At the end of the day, the more you explore each aesthetic, you will find what works best for you. If you decide to master both color and black and white photography, you will be richly rewarded with a fuller experience of seeing. Study great art and photography to learn about the qualities of color and monochrome and how others have translated those qualities. With any luck, you won't have to feel torn at all.  


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