5 Reasons To Go Black & White with Raph Nogal

Black & White Is Alright!

As you cull your most recent wedding, you might be asking yourself, “When do I go black & white?” Throughout my career, I have displayed both color and black & white photos in my portfolio. I enjoy black & white images, because there’s simply something different to them; perhaps they evoke a different emotion, or maybe it’s how they visually simplify things but at the same time provide additional drama and a certain intensity. Embrace black & white, and it will not only help you show a larger variety of images to your clients, but it will also help you see things you may not have seen before.

Here are five different reasons you might want to go black & white on your next shoot. 

1. Shitty Light? Black & white!

Have you ever been in a situation where you have two or three different light sources, and when you look at the back of your camera (or at your photos later in Lightroom), you realize it looks like garbage, because of the different color temperatures in the environment where you were shooting? This happens a lot, especially with wedding photography, as we never know exactly where we’re gonna shoot (especially for the morning prep time). Near Toronto, we have a church that is famous for having light come in through the windows and fluorescent lights throughout, with a little sprinkle of incandescent lightbulbs on the chandeliers. As you can imagine, the scenario is a nightmare for color-balancing, and often the ceremony is presented to the client as a black & white final set of images.

If the lighting is not ideal or I simply can’t balance the color temperatures because of three or four different light sources, I’ll resort to black & white. This helps focus the viewers’ attention on what is happening instead of them getting distracted by the horrendous colors in the scene.

2. Dramatic effect

I feel black & white images really focus your attention on the emotion or the mood of the photograph. Throughout my portfolio, I have black & white images that strip away the color and make the viewer focus simply on the emotion at hand. Images with laughter or joy or sadness often lend themselves to black & white presentation to emphasize that emotion. Next time you have an image with a lot of emotion, try to see what a black & white version will do for it.

3. Variety

Another reason to use black & white images is to simply give yourself and your clients some variety. Within a wedding storyline context, I try to group my black & white images together. What I mean by that is: when I photograph a series with a lot of distractions in the background (such as the groom getting ready), I will often shoot with the intention that the series will be presented in black & white. When I put together the album for the client, I’m keeping things consistent in that part of the story. I think it’s refreshing to have a few spreads in the album presented in a monochrome format.

In my online portfolio, I purposely alternate color and black & white images so that prospective clients know that they will receive both when they book with me.

4. Challenging yourself

Another reason to try black & white photos is to simply challenge yourself, to try to see the various tones between pure white and pure black and whether your composition changes when you’re not seduced by all the colors in the scene. Most cameras today allow the user to switch the picture profile so you can see a black  & white image in the viewfinder and also on the back of the camera. You can still shoot RAW and re-edit the images later in black & white, or you can shoot in JPEG and have only the black-and-white version. Next time you’re out for a fun shoot or a personal project, try to see things in monochrome. I bet it will actually help improve your compositions. 

5. Client request

This is not my favorite reason to do black & white photos, but sometimes you may get a direct request from a client. They may not know why they like black & white photos but simply that they do. Including both a color and black & white version of a photo is not a terrible idea, but I certainly would not choose to include two versions of the same photograph unless I had to. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate why a photo looks better in black & white—it could be for a lot of reasons, such as that it reminds you of other photographs, that it evokes an emotion that you can’t explain, or that it’s simply different than all the colored images we see today, making it a bit more special. Regardless, if you get the request, go for it—it might end up being their favorite photo.

I hope this gives you something to think about. Do a thirty-day personal project only shooting in black & white, or process a single black & white photo daily for a week. Let’s see what happens. I can guarantee that you will only improve your composition, enhance your ability to see light and shadow, and allow yourself to explore.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the September 2019 magazine.

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