Black and White vs. Color Photography

I consider myself a color photographer so this blog may be biased. I rarely use black and white. However, I see how many people tend to use it or even over use. Since, I consider myself a work in progress, I decided to do some research on visual design, specifically regarding color. Now, I would like to share what I found.

To start, let us see color and emotion. Every photographer knows that color temperature affects our moods and sometimes dramatically. Warm light soothes us while cool light is too revealing and harsh. When the colors are bright-saturated hues most people respond readily and are aware of their emotional responses. We like it or not.

 It is generally accepted that green is associated with envy, blue with depression and white is a symbol of virginity and cleanliness. This could vary according to cultures. On the other hand, a photographer must be aware of muted colors in order to stimulate or control emotional response to his/her subject matter. Colors very often help us answer two of the basic questions of a good composition. 1) What? is usually about emotions like delight, sadness, and tranquility. 2) How? it concerns factual explanations E.g. tranquility is suggested by pale hues and softly curving horizontal lines.

Sometimes color is a subject itself. Many times we walk along a maple tree the whole year and we never notice it until autumn arrives, then it turns red and we want to photograph it. Why? Because is red! A red tree! No satisfactory theory has ever been devised to explain the power of red but the truth is we like to photograph red boats and red sunsets.
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Then, harmonious colors tend to convey serenity, peace and inaction. When you want to express such themes you emphasize the harmony by using soft light and soft colors and tones that are not primary (like pink). If you want to emphasize life, movement and change you may want to increase the oblique lines and primary colors (red, yellow and blue).

In all color photographs we perceive colors in relation to the other colors that are present. A composition dominated by the primary  has great stability and if you add secondary hues (orange and violet) it avoids boredom. A composition dominated by secondary hues has less stability because they "tend" toward the primaries. The tension created helps the composition to be more dynamic.
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I surely don't want to bore you so let's go to the B&W issue. In B&W photography composition and emotional impact are determined by the shapes, lines, textures and perspectives that are created by tones. In color photography both the range of tones and the range of colors establish the structure of the composition and color has a greater impact on our emotions. We tend to identify physical objects by their tonal contrasts and "like them" or "dislike them" for their color. Think of two spruce trees growing in your backyard, both are the same shape and size, both are darkish in tone, and establish their shapes against a lighter background. However one is a pure green and the other is quite blue. A B&W would render both trees identical because of their shapes and lines but when you see a color photo you would be able to state a preference. Conclusion, in my opinion a composition for B&W it easier because it only has the tonal factor into account. It is also easier to be liked by people because the color info that affects our emotions is discarded( hence the " I don't like it" response is highly diminished). 

I would very much like to hear your opinions. What do you think?


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