When a Color Image Should be Converted to Black and White


There are many good reasons for converting an image to black and white. Some images contain a lot of contrast and texture which can be better emphasized in black in white. Others have historic content that fits well with historic black and white looks. And sometimes an image is part of a series, and the best way to bring the entire series together is to process them all similarly in black and white.

But in the case of the image above, the main reason for conversion may not be apparent at first glance. Photographers have limited tools for controlling the color in their images. In some cases the only practical control of color is the veto: remove all chromatic information, and work from there. A look at the original image below should be enough to explain the reasoning in this case. It might make a good shock value image in color, but removing the bright tones certainly simplifies the image.


C. David Tobie

Published by cdtobie

This blog covers a range of issues of interest to photographers and those involved in the digital photographic workflow, digital tools and platforms, and fine art output.

2 thoughts on “When a Color Image Should be Converted to Black and White

  1. Interestingly, I like both versions for different reasons. Initial reaction to the B&W image: I’m immediately interested in the older lady and her circumstances – where is she in the world, etc. I would certainly have a more neutral tonality in the first image, and make a subtle separation between the fountain and the brick wall to make the fountain stand out (as in the color version).

    Initial reaction to the color version: I am struck by the juxtaposition of the very old fountain with the ultra-modern intensely colored plastics and fabric, and what statements may be conjured from that. For instance, I think about the old lady, even older fountain, and the ultra poke-in-the-eye of the modern plasitcs. Interesting contrasts and questions leading various places.

    1. Yes, this is an image I processed some time ago, and I agree that I would use more neutral tones today. And when I went back to retrieve the color image, I no longer felt it was without merit, as I had originally, but of some value for a modern color juxtaposition. So we are both thinking in the same direction.

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