Why Black and White Over Color?

We often look for that perfect light hitting our subjects, hoping for the best scene setup hence getting that beautifully lit photograph. Unfortunately, shooting outside on the streets in real life conditions, we do have to deal with unfavourable lighting most of the time. Sometimes, the lighting is so bad that no matter how good the subject is, it was just not worth shooting. 

I encountered such situations from time to time, I do admit often I just walked away. For example, the following portrait of a stranger. 

What was wrong with the above photo? The man was standing under red canopy, hence his skin tone was overpowered with red cast, which was destructive and made the overall impression of the portrait rather uncomfortable to look at. Lighting was flat and not flattering, creating an uninteresting portrait. No matter what magic you perform in photoshop it is almost impossible to fix this photograph in color. The only option was to go black and white. Color was not the important element in this photograph, it was the look in the stranger's eyes that caught my attention, it was his willingness to be photographed, the sense of friendliness and that mystery of wanting to know who he was, that compelled me to shoot him. Colors played very little role in this particular shot, hence leaving colors behind was not such a big deal for this one. 

So here the same shot, minus the colors.

Turning the image black and white solved the ugly red color issue. Also, no color means no distraction and the main attention can be drawn to the eyes of the man, then emphasizing his friendly facial expression. Since the image was relatively flat to work with, I boosted the contrast to add sense of depth, and having the background overblown in highlight to show the feeling of being in a very bright place. 

I think I will keep the second black and white version.

Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that you can fix failed color shots with black and white conversion. However monotone is a very beautiful way of conveying the world of photography, and I sure hope more people can see that!


  1. its also effective in high ISO to turn ugly chromatic noise to grain-like texture.

  2. I always get same situation,The red light issues,on shooting stage photos. but it is better than Blue LED stage lights that make ugly over saturation !

  3. Hi Robin.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images. I have faced these issues several time during our company events as they love to organize event in the afternoon with red canopy. What I got was that first picture and I was very frustrated. I tried many ways to get the colors right but none until I changed it to B&W or sepia and the company management love it. You are right, we just can't fix everything in this manner especially when colors are very crucial to give impact to the image as a whole.
    Other the other hand, thank you for the wonderful time at the Olympus event last Saturday. ( Aiya...I forgot to drink Olympus tea. ) Raja Indra's presentation was awesome and your presentation on the lenses and the camera were superb. Though I did not try those camera and lenses, I have confident in Olympus product. Beside with limited budget, I have to purchase what lens I really need as an event photographer. My dream always to have a grab on 12-40mm f2.8 Pro and the newly develop lens 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. Couple with my current 45mm f1.8, its a complete combo for our Church's Event purpose. As for street shooting, 45mm f1.8 or 12-50mm is just good enough for me.
    May you have a great afternoon and rest well.

  4. Excellent example! B/W can be so awesome and lovely.

  5. I usually fix this kind of issues by letting Lightroom determine the AWB. Doesn't this deliver good results in your case? Anyway, I find the B/W way out really interesting and I will try to think more of this in situations where I am not happy with a color version.
    Apart from that: As a newcomer to photography and MFT (Pana body, but mostly Oly lenses) I am following your blog for quite a while now, and I find it not only very enjoyable but also extremely helpful. Thanks a lot for sharing, and keep up the great work!

    1. This is not a white balance problem. The white balance was perfectly fine and the color is as seen with naked eyes.

  6. i love to shoot BW in most cases ! colors are not too informative for me, but almost always distract the viewer
    thank you for this sample