Starting out as a landscape photographer I worked exclusively with colour film. I had played around a bit with black and white previously, learning the basics of developing and printing for myself. But ironically, it was while taking a course in Dye Transfer colour printing at the University of Calgary, that my passion for b&w was awakened. Another student in the class informed us of an exhibition on 100 Years of Landscape Photography taking place at the university museum and gallery. Viewing it would turn out to be quite pivotal in my photographic journey. I went to see it several times, and although both colour and b&w photography was represented, I found myself more drawn to the b&w images. They had a timeless quality, and, this may sound somewhat odd, but appeared more like art than many of the colour images. The best examples had a gorgeous range of tonality that drew you in. I became hooked. One of the photographers represented in the exhibition was Ansel Adams. I had seen reproductions of his work previously, and had even explored some of his instructional books on photography, but seeing an Adams original was the difference maker. 

I resolved to learn the art and craft of b&w image making. It seemed to me that the best way to go about doing this would be to commit to shooting only b&w film for a period of time. I decided a year seemed about right. Little did I know that would begin a decade plus period of doing only b&w. Though I would occasionally see situations where a colour photograph would be best, I would just pass on those opportunities and move on to the ones that I knew would work well as a b&w.

But then came the start of the digital revolution in photography. I purchased my first digital camera not realizing the impact it would come to have. Because the digital sensor natively captured a colour image, you would have to convert to b&w afterwards. This afforded me the opportunity to evaluate the image both ways. I began finding photographs that I preferred in colour, and over time my collection of colour images increased.

So what determines which way to go? That’s not always a clear and easy decision. First off, if the photograph doesn’t benefit in any meaningful way from the colour information, or perhaps distracts or even detracts from the image, that would be reason enough to consider b&w. If I want to emphasize or draw particular attention to texture, shape, form or tonality, b&w often excels. I mentioned earlier how the b&w photographs in the exhibition appeared to me, more as art. This may be a personal view, but somehow I find that b&w has a way of being more detached from the literal subject of the photograph and becomes more of an art object in itself. More of an interpretation of the subject rather than a facsimile. Then there’s the overall aesthetic appeal. Some images just look better one way than they do the other. 

So what are the main advantages for using colour? For starters, if you want a more literal interpretation it may be best, because we see in colour, and naturally interpret the world around us in this way.  Also when you need to separate similar tonalities within the subject, colour may in many cases help. Then there’s the subject of mood. Colour is often associated with different emotions, and so the use of colour within an image can be a powerful influencer. Light at different times of the day or in different atmospheric conditions effects the colour temperature from warm to cool and this can only be revealed through a colour photograph. And of course colour in itself can be beautiful. The colour contrasts between cool shadows and warm sunlight are a perfect example.

So in the end, to Be or Not to Be, can be a bit of a tug of war at times. I still love b&w for it’s virtues, and have never regretted the years I invested in learning to see and photograph with this very pliable monochromatic medium, and will continue to do so. However I am also delighted to have come full circle, embracing once again the colour palette that at times makes the landscape around us so magical.

WJ

To Be or Not to Be....some thoughts on choosing b&w or colour.  Starting out as a landscape photographer I worked exclusively with colour film. I had played around a bit with black and white previously, learning the basics of developing and printing for myself. But ironically, it was while taking a course in Dye Transfer colour printing at the University of Calgary, that my passion for b&w was awakened.
I’m sure most of you have heard the expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Well at the beginning of my photographic journey...

To Be or Not to Be

7/2/2021

Starting out as a landscape photographer I worked exclusively with colour film. I had played around a bit with black and white previously, learning the basics of developing and printing for myself. But ironically, it was while taking a course in Dye Transfer colour printing at the University of Calgary, that my passion for b&w was awakened. Another student in the class informed us of an exhibition on 100 Years of Landscape Photography taking place at the university museum and gallery. Viewing it would turn out to be quite pivotal in my photographic journey. I went to see it several times, and although both colour and b&w photography was represented, I found myself more drawn to the b&w images. They had a timeless quality, and, this may sound somewhat odd, but appeared more like art than many of the colour images. The best examples had a gorgeous range of tonality that drew you in. I became hooked. One of the photographers represented in the exhibition was Ansel Adams. I had seen reproductions of his work previously, and had even explored some of his instructional books on photography, but seeing an Adams original was the difference maker. 

I resolved to learn the art and craft of b&w image making. It seemed to me that the best way to go about doing this would be to commit to shooting only b&w film for a period of time. I decided a year seemed about right. Little did I know that would begin a decade plus period of doing only b&w. Though I would occasionally see situations where a colour photograph would be best, I would just pass on those opportunities and move on to the ones that I knew would work well as a b&w.

But then came the start of the digital revolution in photography. I purchased my first digital camera not realizing the impact it would come to have. Because the digital sensor natively captured a colour image, you would have to convert to b&w afterwards. This afforded me the opportunity to evaluate the image both ways. I began finding photographs that I preferred in colour, and over time my collection of colour images increased.

So what determines which way to go? That’s not always a clear and easy decision. First off, if the photograph doesn’t benefit in any meaningful way from the colour information, or perhaps distracts or even detracts from the image, that would be reason enough to consider b&w. If I want to emphasize or draw particular attention to texture, shape, form or tonality, b&w often excels. I mentioned earlier how the b&w photographs in the exhibition appeared to me, more as art. This may be a personal view, but somehow I find that b&w has a way of being more detached from the literal subject of the photograph and becomes more of an art object in itself. More of an interpretation of the subject rather than a facsimile. Then there’s the overall aesthetic appeal. Some images just look better one way than they do the other. 

So what are the main advantages for using colour? For starters, if you want a more literal interpretation it may be best, because we see in colour, and naturally interpret the world around us in this way.  Also when you need to separate similar tonalities within the subject, colour may in many cases help. Then there’s the subject of mood. Colour is often associated with different emotions, and so the use of colour within an image can be a powerful influencer. Light at different times of the day or in different atmospheric conditions effects the colour temperature from warm to cool and this can only be revealed through a colour photograph. And of course colour in itself can be beautiful. The colour contrasts between cool shadows and warm sunlight are a perfect example.

So in the end, to Be or Not to Be, can be a bit of a tug of war at times. I still love b&w for it’s virtues, and have never regretted the years I invested in learning to see and photograph with this very pliable monochromatic medium, and will continue to do so. However I am also delighted to have come full circle, embracing once again the colour palette that at times makes the landscape around us so magical.

WJ