Do You Prefer Images in Black and White or Color?

Sylvia's Tree (black and white)

I thought I was done with this image, I really did.  When I created the color version of it awhile back, I thought the colors were so compelling that there really was no need to explore other interpretations.  I was (and remain) very happy with that result.


There was a another interpretation of this image in the back of my mind.  An interpretation of a black, silhouetted form against a bright, almost glowing background.  An interpretation where color wasn’t the dominant feature (indeed, not a feature at all).  An interpretation that emphasized the sharp, black lines of the tree against the soft, textured layers of the sky.

I really tried to ignore this vision.  I generally don’t like to have two versions of the same image floating around, and the color image is quite nice.  But I just…  couldn’t…  get it…  out of my head.

And so here it is – “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”

Do you have a preference for black and white versus color?  I suspect most people do.  Rarely do I come across a photographer whose work is evenly balanced between the two.  Even when I do, to my eye, one of their bodies of work usually is stronger than the other – either the color over the black and white, or vice versa.  It’s hard to move seamlessly between these two worlds, because they really do emphasize different visual languages.

To me, color is about, well…  color!  Muted colors versus bright colors, contrasting colors versus similar colors, limited color palettes versus every hue in the spectrum.  For a color image to work for me, color really has to be its own, independently compelling compositional element.  It’s not enough that the image happen to be in color.  Rather, color has to be there for its own purpose, to make its own statement.

Black and white, on the other hand, is about all the other elements of composition:  line, shape, form, pattern, texture, and their arrangement to create relationships of rhythm, proportion, balance, and weight.  To me, a good black and white image really feels designed, where all the compositional elements are arranged just so to make a compelling, unitary whole.  And, of course, black and white is superlative for communicating that most essential of photographic qualities, the quality of light.  Diffuse or defined, high key or low key, dramatic contrast or glowing midtones, striking silhouettes or saturated detail – black and white, to my eye, communicates the nature of light in a way that color cannot.

I like a good color image, really I do, and as mentioned, I think “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” is quite nice.  It definitely fits my own personal criterion of color being its own, independently compelling compositional element.  When all is said and done, though, I think I prefer “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”  I find it to be a very different image than “Sylvia’s Tree (color),” and in the end, a somewhat stronger image overall.  Since, as mentioned, I don’t generally like to have two versions of the same image floating around, I’m taking “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” out of my image galleries and replacing it with “Sylvia’s Tree (black and white).”

You may have noticed that I have not included “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” in this post.  That’s because I really think these two versions do not look good when placed side by side. To my eye, they each seem to cancel the strengths of the other.  Those who are interested can see “Sylvia’s Tree (color)” here.

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