What's Best Color or Black and White

The surreal aqua color of ice and water associated with Antarctic Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 24mm. Exposure Details: 1/400 second @ f8 ISO 400.I was fortunate indeed to co-run a photography tour to Antarctica during November 2010. The tour was 19 days in length and, due to the significant distances involved, included some days at sea with no landings. Those who weren't laid up with sea sickness (which happens to the best of us) used their time well photographing sea birds flying around the back of our ship, socialising or downloading and processing their images, often in common areas like the bar or the dining room.

On one such day several people commented on photographs I was working on at the time. The comments, while complimentary, were a little guarded due to the fact that I'd decided to render the images in question into black-and-white. I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss my thought process and why my approach didn't coincide with these other members of the group.

Antarctica is an amazing location for landscape photography. One thing that hits you in Antarctica is color: the water, sky and, in particular, the icebergs. So, with that in mind, it's not surprising that a peer or colleague might wonder why I opted for a different approach (albeit on a very small percentage of my images).

We all go through stages in our photographic life. For years I used medium strength telephoto lenses in my landscape photography. These days I prefer wide-angle lenses.

Interestingly, while many folks love using long telephoto zoom lenses for portraiture, I've preferred mild wild-angle and medium telephoto lenses.

I've always loved working in color but, since 1986, when I first became aware of the history of photography, I've very much enjoyed looking at classic black-and-white imagery.

Beautiul Mountain scenery from ship's deck crusing through the Lumiere Channel, AntarcticaCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 50mm. Exposure Details: 1/800 second @ f5 ISO 400. These days I try to dismiss from my mind any images or preconceptions about a particular location (e.g. "the ice in Antarctica is this amazing cyan/blue color"). I think its important, wherever possible, to make images that separate you from the crowd by the uniqueness as much as by their quality. Aim to discover and cultivate your own unique way of seeing the world and let that inform the way you practice your art.

As far as photography is concerned it's a fact that some subjects or scenes look better in black-and-white. The trick is to let the image you've created tell you whether it is suited to color or black-and-white. Lines, shapes, textures and shadows will appear more dominant in a black and white photo. Likewise the color of the light, complimentary (opposite) and harmonious colors may demand rendering in color.

The only question that matters is which treatment will best convey the feeling, mood, theme or subject you want to explore.

One of the great advantages of applications such as Adobe Lightroom 3 is the ability to produce a Virtual Copy of any camera-based image within your database. This allows you to experiment with both the original color file and, where appropriate, a black-and-white copy.

Black-and-white photography will allow you to open yourself up to a whole new world of adventure and fun and, in doing so, allow you to discover and cultivate your creative self.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru