Black and White vs. Color Photography: When and Why to Choose

Black and White VS Color photography

Back in the day, old school photographers (that would be me) faced a creative decision before even shooting a single image: whether to load their camera with black and white or color film.

 As a photography student, it was always black and white film for me because color film was about 50% more expensive. I RARELY splurged for Color film except for when completing a class assignment that specifically called for color images.

After graduation, I opened my photography studio and specialized in shooting acting and modeling headshots. For most of my twenty five years in business, I shot in black and white because that is what was standard in the professional headshot industry.

So for the majority of my professional life, I "saw" and worked in a black and white world.

Today, all digital cameras default to color, with the option to convert  to black and white in post-processing. Those that came of age in the digital camera world, are so used to shooting in color that they rarely, if ever, think about Black and White. 

The decision between black and white and color continues to remain a powerful decision. So If you're interested in stepping out of the camera default color world, then here are a few things to consider as to what “type of film” you might choose for optimal impact with your images.

When to Choose Black and White:

Black and white photography strips away the distractions of color, leaving the viewer to focus on the essential elements of an image: composition, texture, contrast, and form. This can create a powerful image, as the absence of color can evoke a sense of timelessness, nostalgia, and introspection.

1. Highlighting Contrast and Texture

When you want to emphasize the contrast between light and dark areas or bring out intricate textures, black and white can be particularly effective. The absence of color allows shadows and highlights to play a more prominent role, adding depth and drama to your images.


2. Creating a Timeless Feel:

Black and white photography can give your images a retro, timeless quality. If you're photographing historical sites, vintage-themed events, or subjects that evoke a sense of nostalgia, black and white can enhance the mood and transport viewers to a different era. 

3. When shooting in “Bad” Lighting: 

Dark, overcast, dreary days or high contrast, bright sunny days can both be a great time to shoot with a black and white image in mind. 

When to Choose Color:

The Vibrancy of Color Photography

Color photography brings vibrancy and realism to your images, capturing the world as we see it. Colors can convey a wide range of emotions, set the tone, and add layers of meaning to a photograph. They can also guide the viewer’s eye and highlight specific elements within the frame.

1. Capturing the Beauty of Nature:

When photographing landscapes, flowers, the rich hues of a sunset, the lush greens of a forest, or the vibrant colors of a flower are all subjects that naturally would look better in color.

2. Conveying Mood and Atmosphere:

Different colors can evoke different emotions and moods. Warm colors like reds and oranges can create a sense of warmth and energy, while cool colors like blues and greens can evoke calm and tranquility. Use color to enhance the mood you want to convey in your images. 

3. Highlighting Details and Variety:

In scenes with a lot of visual interest, color can help differentiate and highlight different elements. Whether you’re shooting a bustling market, a colorful festival, or an eclectic street scene, color photography can capture the richness and diversity of the environment.

Combining Both for Creative Expression

Sometimes, the choice isn’t obvious.between black and white or color.  With digital photography, you can easily shoot in color and convert to black and white in post-processing, giving you the flexibility to decide later which suits your vision best.