Black & White vs. Color Photography
by Dave Mobbs – May 8th, 2018
What is the difference between black and white photography and color photography – aside from the obvious?
According to our two guest Coloratti Ambassadors, there are two key elements for both colour and black and white photography: light for the shot, and color management for the print.
Other factors play major roles – composition, editing, printer types, even paper stock – but light and colour management, in different ways, both help to create a successful shot.
Black & White photography with Keith Cooper
Keith Cooper specialises in commercial and industrial photography, though he enjoys capturing big natural landscapes as well. While his commercial work is generally colour, he has a passion for black and white photography.
“I think you really have to make a conscious choice to shoot black and white,” Keith says. “You can convert any color shot, of course, but it should really be an active choice and active involvement at the time of shooting. If you take a black and white landscape shot, you want the sun at an oblique angle so you get interesting shadows that take on a more solid feel; compositionally you start thinking of shadows as objects in themselves.
Capturing the same shot in colour would be better with the sun out of the way behind you so you’re not seeing shadows, you’re seeing everything lit and looking at the interplay of colours.”
Keith’s architectural background helps him to visualise form and structure, which is key to black and white photography. “It depends how you internally represent space. Architects think in 3D space, but not everyone does, so you have to find your own approach,” he says. “Shooting in black and white lets me represent the structure and solidity, it gets rid of the frippery.”
Color with Kimberley Coole
On the other hand, Kimberley Coole, an award-winning photographer specialising in travel photography, is happier working in color. “I like black and white but it’s a whole different method of photography. Color is what I do and what I know best, and I think that color really brings you into a photo. I’m a very colorful person, and it makes me happy to see all these mad colors all together,” she says.
In terms of her approach to a shot, she looks at both color and composition, but again lighting is key. “Color catches my eye first, but photographers tend to see in rectangles, so the composition will follow from that initial flash of color,” she says.
“With color, your light has to be right. I only use natural light, but I’m a perfectionist so I won’t shoot if the light isn’t right – I tend to shoot what I like rather than working on commissions, so I’m lucky to have the luxury of being able wait for the right moment.”
Color Management with B&W and Color Photography
Color management plays a key role in both kinds of photography, largely to avoid surprises. “When I’m looking at my images, the screen must be properly calibrated and profiled – I use the X-Rite i1Display Pro and this helps me trust the tonal response I’m getting when I’m editing black and white images. It also takes the guesswork and frustration out of calibrating and profiling my screens and saves me so much time in edit” says Keith.
“Also, the screen can’t be too bright – 95% of the time, that’s the answer when people wonder, “why are my prints so dark?” You need to set to a known brightness.
“Additionally, I shoot raw colour files even if I know the print will be black and white, because I want the maximum information out of the camera. I’ll use a very large colour space such as Pro Photo, which vastly exceeds what any known monitor can display. Your file represents colours that your monitors can’t display, but I want the choice of how to represent different colours as different shades of grey.”
Kimberley also relies on colour management for the best results. “When I first started I had an awful laptop that wasn’t calibrated. I’d spend hours editing images, then when I printed them, they looked wildly different to my screen interpretation,” she says.
“Luckily I found X-Rite’s color management solutions really early on so I don’t waste time any more as I can get the colour right from the start. If there are shadows that need more work, I might spend half an hour editing one image, but if everything is right, it could only take a minute of processing to get the image I want.”
Keith has a final tip for printing that applies to both kinds of photography: test images. “Once you start printing your own images you have an emotional attachment to them, and perhaps you want a certain look, and that’s fine; however, if you calibrate with a test image it’s easier to be objective about the accuracy of how it’s printing, whether in colour or black and white. Once you have an accurate representation, then you can add the creative side,” he says.
“For me, that’s where colour management comes in – it’s not about a spurious sense of perfection, it’s about getting things right more often.”
Find out more about Keith Cooper, including tips and tutorials:
Find out more about Kimberley Coole: