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Landscapes – in Color or Black & White?

As a landscape photographer in Banff, I enjoy “looking” for compelling scenes. I study the weather, the sunrise and the sunset times, the direction of the light and the scene to be captured. Where to place the camera to shoot, what lens, what angle of view and then – does the scene compel me and why? Should it be colour, or is black and white going to get the mood? Is a broad panorama style image required or a single frame? What aspects would give the image its best face? Mulling these things over I formulate my “vision” and how to capture it. And sometimes it all changes and you react!

Scenes vary quite quickly with the weather and the light, and what was there just moments ago, as the weather and light shift – becomes something all together new – both in front of me and, in my mind’s eye. On image envisioned then yields to another. It is the dance of the conditions in the scene, and the vision to be captured that is so very enjoyable in making landscape images.


PhotographyVox Magazine

“Shortly after photography’s monochromatic inception in the early 1800s, enthusiasts began experimenting with colour photography. Once colour film reached the masses, many photographers eschewed the new development and remained loyal to the black and white image.Now, though colour photography is clearly the standard in the modern world, photographers still face the dilemma of deciding whether to present their images in colour or black and white.”

I don’t see it as a dilemma, rather, it is one additional element to consider in the creation of an image. Do I want to use Color or Black & White for the image I am creating.

The article goes on to say:

“A photograph’s impact on a viewer can be aided or hindered by the choice of using black and white versus color. Making a deliberate decision about colour requires a critical eye. Think about the benefits of color and the benefits of black and white before deciding which works best for each of your images.”

I do go through this process and it most enjoyable as well as demanding. One needs to slow done and really look at the scene, then see it in your mind’s eye as you want it to render. In a post by Adam Welch ( Digital Photography School ) he says …

#1 Does colour have a large impact on the image?This may seem like an easy judgment to make, but it is not always so simple. Color can be a fickle thing, and can either add to, or unintentionally detract interest from a photograph. Ask yourself, “does this image rely exclusively on colour or are there other interesting aspects that can be emphasized?

These are things that I run through my mind and mull over as I take in the scene before me and are parts of decision making process. Welch goes on further to comment ..

When you remove color from the photographic equation, you are left with only differences in tone; lights and darks. These differences are what truly make good black and white images, and the differences in light and shadow bring contrast to the photograph. …The great Ansel Adam’s said that he; “could convey a greater sense of colour with well executed black and white images using only light, shadow, and even subtleties in texture to express the qualities of the photo”.

It is a very enjoyable and demanding exercise in looking and then seeing and then seeing it ( visualization Mr. Adams called it ) in your mind’s eye for what you desire to create.

The decision making process and contemplation continues with questioning – what mood , what feeling do I want the image to create for the viewer – somber, joyful, bleak, upbeat, energetic, warm , daunting, etc. Now , which format – colour or Black & White – will best deliver the mood/feeling/story I want the image to convey. It’s not a check list per se , but a constant internal dialogue before the Camera set up is prepared and the shutter pressed.

Meanwhile, there are some who use a Check List, like this Table by Chee Ping published in Photography Life

When to Shoot in Colour, Less Colour and No Colour

A. Colour contains information related to the story
B. Colour creates element separation
C. Colour creates distraction or disharmony

1. Keep Image in Full Colour if A=YES




While I appreciate the precise and logical process Chee lays out , I find there is a more emotional and “Seeing/Feeling” input as I work through the question – Color or Black & White for this image. ( And, in the digital era we are afforded the luxury of going back and forth between the two at anytime , either in camera , or in Post Processing – not so in the days of film. And I certainly am thankful for that flexibility .) This is not to say his “process” isn’t a valuable tool – but for me it is as much more an emotional engagement and feeling as it is A+B = C. To each his own .

In yet another post in an online magazine (Envatotus+) Amy Touchette comments this way about the Color vs. Black & White question:

Colour photography adds complexity:

In stark contrast, a chromatic photograph shows the world in all its colourful glory. It’s controversial and no one seems to know for sure, but most research says the human eye can detect somewhere between 1 million and 10 million different colours. Therefore, introducing the element of colour to a photograph significantly changes viewers’ reactions to it.


Color images obviously have a much more dynamic range of colours, tones, and hues than black-and-white images. Therefore, colour photographs tend to provide a richer and deeper description of a scene.”

Once again, and more than a check list to work through –  Amy Touchette introduces more elements to consider, more need for “seeing” what is the scene I want to capture made up of – what elements are there that will be positively or negatively effected by my choice.

Amy concluded her article this way:

Conclusion: – In the end, the choice of whether to photograph a subject in colour or black-and-white is a personal one: it depends on what we want to impart to viewers and where we want their focus to be directed. Each palette has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited with great success. But in order to carve out our own unique vision, it’s essential to understand how chromatic and monochromatic palettes affect what we see and feel.

And that is how I come to shoot a scene in either Color or Black and White – it is my mind’s eye ( that word vision) , my emotional connection and reaction to the scene that ultimately dictates whether I shoot it in Black & White or Color.

Ultimately though it is you , the viewer that mandates Black & White or Color because in creating an image I want to engage you – your emotions, feelings and thoughts by interacting with the image and what it conveys to you.

The 4 images placed in this post are the result of what I saw in my mind’s eye, what emotions were stirred – what reaction I gathered – and there is BOTH a Color and a Black & White version, from the same scene , just at different moments while I worked at capturing the wonders before me.



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