I think its fair to say that most photographers have very strong views about how and when you should make an image black and white, and when you should leave it as a colour image. I fall into that category…I have very definite ideas about how a photograph should be. I think that is the key to this issue though:- it is a personal decision, as, at the end of the day, if you have to look at a photo every day, you want it to please you, and not anybody else.
There are many reasons why you would choose to make an image black and white there are several key issues to take into account when making your decision.
Black and White is so versatile. It suits almost any type of photo. Portraits can offer beautiful graduated skin tones and can be very forgiving for mature skins (if well lit) – or can offer very dramatic, theatrical images . Personally I love all of the above, but when I’m photographing babies and small children I don’t think you can beat a colour photograph to show off their beautiful soft skin colourings. Landscapes, urban landscapes and architecture too, take on a totally different quality when they are displayed in black and white. Not only that, but its a medium that adapts really well to all lighting situations. Quite often colour photography works best in bright light settings (whether in the studio or outdoors) and low light lends itself better to black and white- but not always!
Sometimes colours can be very distracting and by shooting the image as black and white, you can easily focus attention on the thing that is of prime importance to you. In portraits it can focus attention on facial expression rather than the Hawaiian print shirt; in landscapes it can focus on the amazing cloud formations rather than the bright tractor in the foreground and in architecture it can focus on intricate details or fabulous building shapes.
Black and white photos can sell an idea or a mood in a way that a colour photo can not. They can be so powerful and moving; they offer a level of creativity that colour photographs can’t. They can offer strong, high contrast drama, or they offer a subtlety and suggestiveness that is very unique to that medium.
The black and white vs colour debate rages on. Fashion waxes and wanes, but as I said at the outset, the debate is a very personal one. For every client who loves monochrome, there are equal numbers who love the vibrancy and immediacy of a colour photo.
One of my favourite black and white photographic inspirations is Henri Cartier -Bresson. Here’s a link to Mgnum photography’s website showcasing some of his work…so beautiful! http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN