I love color. My friend and advocate at Art-Exchange.com, Howard Berkson, lists the use of color as one of my strong suits as an artist. And if you read the last post about printing, you know I’m a fanatic about it.
But sometimes color is the wrong way to go. Color can actually be a distraction, putting our attention in places it doesn’t deserve to be.
In the color version of the Indian picture above, we’re called away by the vivid background colors, and since green and orange are complementary, and there’s a fair amount of orange in her skin, she doesn’t stand out from the background very well. It’s a neat picture, BUT.
The black and white version is actually far clearer. Now I’ll confess to using photoshop’s RAW converter to play a little with various color components.
You can lighten or darken individual colors which affects how the BW picture looks -- it’s like using filters with film cameras. Just the same, the BW version of this picture clearly emphasizes the woman, while the color version doesn’t.
So when do you use color, and when not?
- You use BW to reduce distractions, bringing out tonality (shading) and shape which may be lost in a very colorful image.
- You use BW when the image is fundamentally monotone (unless you have a good reason for not doing so, like a single colorful element, or “selective color” when just one element is colored and the rest is BW). Again, playing with the curves of each color lets you get the most bang for the buck.
- You use color when color itself is the main subject, as in this picture of scarves at a summer festival:
- You can use either color or black and white when you’re trying to set a difference in mood. Here are a color and bw version of snow in the winter. They’re both good pictures; they just make different statements. By the way, the BW version looks incredible when printed on Sunset Cotton Etch paper mentioned in last Friday’s post.
Obviously, there’s a great deal more to be said on this topic, but I can’t do everything all at once.