It’s Not As Simple As Black And White

Learn how to determine if a RAW image file will be successful when converted to black and white

Certain debate topics will always be discussed: Ford vs. Chevy, Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony, Favre vs. Elway, Coke vs. Pepsi, stout vs. IPA, black and white vs. color. Wait, why debate something that’s a slam dunk either way? Does one have to be better than the other when both are great? It’s photography—there’s no downside when it comes to what we all love. The bottom line is to incorporate both. You just might like it!

Even amongst those who are on either side of the fence, there’s an understanding that subjects comprised of lines, patterns, shapes and textures tend to draw more black-and-white interest. But, the beauty is that the RAW file is captured in color, so both options exist.

Back in the day, I was the photo geek who carried three bodies. One had slide film, one had Tri-X and the third had color negative film. (Who’s smiling because they just identified with me?) At times, I’d capture the same scene with all three. Other times, I’d gravitate to just one based on my gut. Now my gut simply tells me to press the shutter and I have the luxury to choose later. That’s having your cake and eating it too.

There are givens when it comes to certain photo aspects. Images recorded in color create reality. We see in color and, generally, it’s more widely accepted. Black and white takes on more of an abstract quality. The images are optimized as interpretations of reality that emphasize graphic qualities of light and form. Think of an extraordinarily colored sunrise. Recorded in color, the reality of the WOW moment is taken in. Converted to Black and white, for all intents and purposes, the image could have been made on a cloudy gray day.

The more deeply a photographer studies color theory and levels of subject reflectivity, the easier it will be to predict whether or not a RAW file converted to black and white will be successful. Black and white interprets all it sees in tones or shades of gray. The more widespread the range of tones, the greater the contrast. Variations in tones are created by differing amounts of light that’s reflected by each color. For instance, a yellow flower reflects much more light than a medium blue one. Therefore, the yellow flower reproduces as a lighter shade of gray than the blue one. Apply this basic concept to an entire scene to increase your understanding of a black-and-white representation. It will expedite how quickly you comprehend how the final image will translate to black and white.

Can color act as a distraction? Can black and white be too basic? Is there a right or wrong answer? Which conveys more of an emotional response? Is one art while the other reality? For every one of these questions, there are concrete examples that prove them true. But, for every one of these questions, there are concrete examples that prove them false. The bottom line is to optimize the RAW file in both color and black and white and let your own opinion decide how each hypothetical question should be answered.

The purpose of this week’s tip isn’t to try to convince you that one medium is better than the other. It’s here to get you to think about trying both and have you make a decision based on your love of the art of photography.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is ͞All About The Light͟ and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.