IMG_3522_BWColor

 Why do you need to understand color to get the best black-and-white images?

Let me count the reasons.

1          You Need To Understand How Flexible The Luminosity Of Saturated Colors During Exposure And Conversion

Understanding how light and/or dark you can make saturated colors will help you pre-visualize the tonal possibilities within an image before exposure. When post-processing, while you’re converting color images to black-and-white, I recommend you make all of these ideas visible realities, making many different black and white versions and comparing them side-by-side. At the same time, you need to understand how neutral and near neutral colors do not offer the same flexibility, which will improve both your vision and your efficiency.


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Suffusion VIII

You may not think there’s a problem. You may think you know the difference. It’s obvious right? But is it? Do you? After a lifetime spent in the arts, I find photographers’ ability to describe color woefully limited, and this is never truer than when describing “black-and-white” images.

Most antique processes are black and white, right? Certainly, silver gelatin is black and white. But what if you tone it? Is a platinum print black and white or brown and white? Is a cyanotype black and white or blue and white? What about hand-tinted photographs? They were black and white but then they became colorful again, but it’s a different kind of color, isn’t it? And if only a little color is added is it still black and white? At what point does an image become black and white?

The problem is that having only two terms – color and black and white – for a wide array of color palettes limits not only our communication but more importantly our perception and thinking.


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Revelation XXVI

Can you effectively present a project or body of work that contains both black-and-white and color images? It rarely works, but in rare cases it can.

The problem is that color and black-and-white images appear to be from different times or even different worlds and sometimes both. They’re so different from one another that presenting them together breaks the continuity of the larger story being told (Even a collection of separate poems creates a larger story, albeit with a much looser narrative and context than an essay.) and it undermines the suspension of disbelief required to imagine that a small two-dimensional image accurately represents our much larger three-dimensional world. Viewers end up paying more attention to the way the images are presented and our attention is deflected away from their content. We spend time and effort trying to figure out a pattern between images that are color and images that are black-and-white and the reasons why they’re different from one another, which is wasted if there aren’t any. “It looks better.” isn’t a strong enough reason to break continuity and suspension of disbelief. If there is no reason that contributes to the content of the series, then it’s a few small wins for individuals but a big loss for the team, and we leave the work feeling confused and frustrated. (“I don’t get. Is it me?”) For these reasons it’s best not to mix color and black-and-white images. Instead, present them separately.


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Read our conversation here.

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Explore The Essential Collection Of Quotes By Photographers.

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"At B&H’s Optic 2018, photographer Keith Carter talks about myths, magic, and mojo. He believes that the best way to elevate your photography is to tell the truth as you know it through your photos, and he stresses that there are great lessons to be learned by revisiting history. We can learn a lot about how to shoot well – even in this digital age – by studying classic photos that pre-date digital photography."

Find out more about Keith Carter here.

Read our conversation here.

Read quotes by Keith Carter here.

View 12 Great Photographs By Keith Carter here.

 


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Enjoy this collection of photographs by Dorothea Lange.

View more 12 Great Photographs collections here.

Explore The Essential Collection Of Quotes By Photographers.

Explore The Essential Collection Of Documentaries On Photographers.


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