A Horse of a Different Color

One of the many endearing qualities of digital photography is the ability to almost instantly see a color image presented in monochrome, or Black & White.   Sometimes a simple click…or two…okay…12….of the computer can totally change the visual dynamics and therefore the ‘feel’ of an image.  At times, merely viewing an image in Black & White will point out areas of adjustment that might enhance the color version.  At other times it becomes an arresting revelation!

With film the photographer had to make that choice before shooting because we would either use color film or B&W film.  Granted, with the proper equipment, which was expensive and hard to come by, a color image could be converted, but not readily.  It would be considerably easier now due to the cost and  accessibility of film scanners.

This image gave me no choice because the camera was loaded with Black & White Infrared film, though I don’t think color would have done anything but detract from the already subtle ghost ship that appeared through the fog for a matter of seconds. (And depending on your monitor, you may not see the ship at all.  I have one home computer that absolutely refuses to show the 3-masted schooner.  Maybe it IS a ghost ship!)

Ghost Ship

I have always loved B&W photography and I don’t know if it’s because of the visual dynamics or a sense of nostalgia for what all photography used to be.  Some will claim that B&W is more ‘pure’.  I read a comment recently from a photographer who claimed to only shoot black and white because it was “more natural”.  I’m not sure that’s exactly what he meant because unless he was born color-blind, there’s very little that’s ‘natural’ about it at all… appealing, in some cases, yes, but natural?


Tulips bw

Recently, a blog that I follow by Australian photographer Leanne Cole  is featuring posts called “Monochrome Madness Challenge” every Tuesday, in an effort to showcase the Black & White images of photographers from around the world, and as a place for them/us to share personal techniques for B&W conversion, which are as diverse as the photographers themselves.

I am showing a few comparisons of images that were captured in color but that I think work equally, if not better, in Black & White.  As with all photography, my interpretation of an image is somewhat independent of the viewer’s interpretation, although the techniques involved in capturing the image and then in the post-processing will inevitably influence the interpretation somewhat.

CYS Cellos

CYS Cellos bw

The following 4 shots were taken with Black & White conversions in mind as they were to be the production/kitchen action segment of a cookbook that would feature the ‘plates’ in color.

GB ckbk055

GB ckbk055 bw


Monti bw

Cul Inst Grad 140

Cul Inst Grad 140 bw

Chef Peter

Chef Peter bw

The photo of Chef Timmins instructing his apprentices becomes much more dramatic in Black & White. ( You may notice that I also added some Gaussian blur to further draw attention to the chef….and I also added a ‘toque blanche’ to the one apprentice in front who had removed his just before this was exposed…!!)

Black & White was a satisfying surprise after this session.  As usual, I did a quick conversion, liked what I saw and further tweaked the Black & White process.  I still have a hard time deciding which I like better, but I’m leaning towards the monochrome version. It seems to draw more attention to the face and hands without the color of the blouse and earring vying for attention.


Eunice bw

I had Black & White in my mind’s eye from the conception of this shoot with Daniel, based on the photography of George Hurrell.   The B&W treatment smooths out what are very slight distractions in the color version and also is a much more ‘classic’ look.


Daniel bw

This color version of the wind turbines is pretty much straight out of the camera.  Obviously the B&W presents a much more dynamic photo by allowing for an increase in contrast and expansion of the tonal range.

Windmills 1

Windmills 1 bw

This is a photo that I intended to shoot in color with a 4×5 View camera, but in my testing phase I ran out of 4×5 color Polaroids and shot it with a Black & White Polaroid. I knew that this was the look and feel that I wanted. I think this may have been the beginning of when I decided to look at all images in Black & White, just in case.


There are as many styles of artistic expression as there are people producing them and as many ways of interpreting it as there are viewers.  I enjoy, no, maybe crave the opportunity to ‘revisit’ my photos on the chance that possibly I just didn’t ‘see it right’ the first time.

GH  fountain

GH  fountain bw

~ by rkpowers on March 25, 2014.

2 Responses to “A Horse of a Different Color”

  1. Thanks for your visit to my blog 🙂
    This is a great post, very interesting comparison between color and black / white version.
    I find that your portraits – and the photo of Chef Timmin are the best working og your series.


    • Thanks for the comment. I do enjoy B&W for portraits, and the thousands of kitchen shots, with Chef Timmins and others, was one of my favorite projects to work on.


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