Weather you prefer black and white photography or colour photography or really don’t mind, you will at some point come across a picture that you prefer in the opposite method of processing. Why? Because its not just about choosing black and white or colour, its about choosing which processing method goes best for a particular picture. An example in wedding terms; pictures of flowers, colourful dresses, the mother of the bride in her outfit or the wedding reception room decorations… all of these could be processed either way, but the likelihood is that in order for the picture to serve as those valuable memory reminders, colour is going to be needed in these instances.
You may then ask, why do we bother with Black and White if colour only goes to provide more information? Well in my opinion black and white serves a purpose when you really want to make a point of what is occurring in the frame, the movement, the drama, the emotion within wedding photography needs to be enforced, and to do that one of the tricks I, as a photographer, can use is to take out all the distracting colours, leaving black and white and taking the viewers eye straight to the lightest part of the frame, where the action of focus will be taking place.
So Black and White has it purpose and so does colour wedding photography, a mix of both is always my attitude, some times a particular wedding will lean more one way than the other and sometimes other factors contribute to my choice of processing, such as the frame before and after in the story as well as who the likely viewer of the particularly picture is going to be, however the general rule for me is what works best to make that one picture look the way I intended when I pressed the shutter.
Many wedding photographers, or you, may have been led to believe that black and white photography is easier than colour photography, and to an extent their is good cause for this argument, when using black and white you can afford to get the colour pallet of an image wrong and its also normally easier to push pictures in terms of exposure when dealing with black and white, however in order to produce good quality Black and White photography requires, in my opinion, a much better knowledge of both equipment, editing, placement of subject and most importantly lighting.
What do I mean by good quality ? Well a number of factors are important but ultimately I’m talking about two things, lighting and contrast. So many ‘photographers’ click that all important desaturate or black and white button and must think the job is complete – this is the stem of poor black and white photography. The beginning of good quality black and white images is when you push the shutter, insuring that there is good contrast in the image already, some highlights (whites) and shadows (blacks) and ideally the subject of your photo is one and the background is the other. Take this example in colour where you can see the shadows (dark areas) behind the subject and then the subject is the highlight of the frame (much brighter than the background) straight from the camera:
This is a start, however when simply clicking that black and white button in your editing program you will end up with something a little like this:
Because their is natural contrast in the image, it does’t look too bad – ok it does – but an untrained eye may think thats satisfactory. However my job is to take it one step further, to take a little more time and allow the image to use its full potential. Here is the same image with one more simple step, increased contrast, making the dark shades of grey a little darker and the lighter shades a little lighter, and the result:
Their are of course other aspects to achieving a good quality black and white photograph to print, but in my opinion, getting the contrast correct in both the camera and on your editing platform are the key areas to be considering when creating such black and white pictures. I hope that this will go some way to help understand for some how black and white isn’t always the way forward, and if it is, how to spot it being done well.