With the ease of publishing colour photography, both digitally and in print, monochromatic photos can seem like relics of the past. But there are moments when your shots are best served in black and white. The shapes and busyness of your composition might suggest it is time to break from colour and go monochromatic.
Look for a few reasons to make your next shot monochromatic.
Simplify composition and emphasise basics.
If the colour in your background and light sources is too busy, a monochromatic shot brings focus back to your subject. Your background elements still matter for the shot, but you need not worry about balance and blend of colours.
“Artillery” by Dennis Vogelsang, Fujifilm X-T1
Bring stark shapes to the forefront.
Images that utilise jarring shapes especially benefit greatly from monochromatic. Viewers’ eyes have less to look for when colour is removed, so more of their attention goes toward the geometry in your image.
“Brooklyn Bridge” by David Guest, Fujifilm X100S
Compensate for light sources with ugly hues.
You may have adequate lighting for your shot, but your light source is too warm or cool. If a lamp, fluorescent bulb or car headlight presents an unflattering hue, try the shot in black and white.
“A rainy night in Sydney” by Francis Gorrez, Fujifilm X-T10
Because monochromatic photos were more common decades ago, we still associate them with history. Invoke timelessness in your shots today by going back to black and white. Portraits and cityscapes shot in monochromatic feel like they have a place in the photographic past.
“Look At Me! Lunchtime Rendezvous” by Justin Curtis, Fujifilm X100S
See faces in a new way.
People of all races and backgrounds can be photographed well in monochromatic, which diminishes blemishes and discolorations. Get a full range of black-and-white hues with a well-lit portrait.
Of course, not every moment is best served in black and white. Remember why your image might need a full spectrum of colour.
“Country Meets City” by Grant Ashford, Fujifilm X-Pro2
Show clarity between objects of similar value.
If your image includes items of different colours but similar values, like navy blue and green, then a colour photo may be necessary to distinguish the hues from one another.
Communicate the time of day.
From golden hour to blue hour, times of day come through when your outdoor photo is in full colour. Catch not only the angle of natural light but also its hue to set a more vivid scene.
Make fashion the focus.
When you take a portrait focused on a person’s fashion as much as his or her facial features, colour photography showcases the colour combinations of clothing and accessories.
Allow trees and birds to show their coats.
Most outdoor photography is best suited for colour. While monochromatic works for some waterbody shots, colour shows trees changing with the seasons and birds donning their kaleidoscope of feathers.
Establish your background as more than an afterthought.
Monochromatic photos bring the most attention to subjects and their shapes. But if you have an alluring background, that may not be your goal. Stick with colour if you want viewers to appreciate much more than your foreground.
Monochromatic and colour photos both have their place in your repertoire, and knowing the best uses for each will give you confidence as you shoot with intention.