Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Black and White

I've often been asked if "fine art portraiture" really means that I just shoot black and white, rather than color. The answer to that, of course, is "no". Now, I'll readily admit that many of my studio images are in black and white, but the reverse is also true in that most of my location work is in color. There are also times when I'll shoot an entire session in either color or black and white, with no mix between them.

I definitely consider myself an artist, and not a "photographer". An artist is one who creates, who envisions, and is capable of reaching an audience regardless of the medium. Most importantly, an artist is one who can do all of that consciously. To me, a photographer is one who captures what is in front of them, without any thought to the end image before the shutter is pressed.

My style of photography is based upon being able to capture more than just a likeness of an individual. I try to capture mood, and evoke thought. With child subjects, I try to give the viewer a glimpse of that child as they will be, and not just as they are now. With seniors, I try to capture vitality, energy, and the evolution that takes place as one turns from an adolescent to an adult. With families, I try to show the bonds and relationships between members. Each of these types of subjects requires different thought processes and different methods to capture the desired effect.

So, why black and white so often in the studio? The reason for that is simple. As human beings, we all have biases. That includes color bias. Some people favor red, some blue, some green, and some may even like orange. A black and white conversion removes any color bias of the viewer. It strips all of the distractions in everyday life and exposes the core of the subject. Combine the control studio lighting provides, with the power of an image removed of any color bias, and the results are devestatingly powerful.

Also, as an artist I visualize in black and white. When I want to focus on a specific element, and determine how to capture what I want, the first thing I do is remove color from my mind's eye. Once I've lost the distraction of color, I can clearly see how to light, how to pose a subject, and how to compose the scene within my lens. I can then start to visualize the scene in color, and if the scene maintains it's integrity, I'll capture and display the image in color. If I feel the image is not as strong in color, then I'll push onward to capture, edit, and display in black and white.

The final decision to photograph as color or black and white is really a factor I have no control over. It typically is a result of clothing, lighting conditions, or background elements that cannot be overcome. To make color images in these situations would destroy the integrity of the photograph. It would counter the mood I wanted to set, or cause distractions I did not want.

In sum, the best answer I can give as to why so many of my images tend to be in black and white, is that it is the best way for a viewer to see something as I see it in my mind. It is the sharpest tool that I can use to ensure the end result is pure, and evoke that raw emotion that will instantly bring a mother to tears. It is one of the reasons, along with lighting, posing, and composition, why people will stare transfixed at an image and absorb the beauty captured within.