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Choosing Color or Black and White

When it comes to documentary photography there’s a lot of black and white out there, but should you always choose black and white? Honestly, I think it depends. Let’s talk a little bit about choosing color or black and white.

Most of the time when I’m shooting an everyday moment or a documentary type photo, I’m trying to capture or convey some sort of emotion. Something inspired me and I want whatever that was to come through in the photograph. For me personally, when I look at a picture, a black and white image usually speaks to me more than color. Usually, but not always. I always try to ask myself “does the color add something special to this image?” If the answer is yes, I keep the color. If the answer is no, black and white it goes.

Let me give you an example…

These were shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and my Sigma Art 24mm f/1.4. See all my gear here.
Choosing color or black and white when it comes to documentary photography.

In the images above you can see our oldest daughter, Madilynn shaking off (like a dog, she said – haha) after her dad sprayed her down with the hose on a warm spring afternoon. After careful consideration, I decided to keep these in black and white versus color.

Here’s why; even though I loved the color version and being able to feel the warmth of the sun as it hit her hair while she shook the water out of it, I felt like the background was distracting. Part of the pavers were wet from being sprayed with the hose, creating lines and darker colors and there were lots of vertical architectural lines making the background very busy. I felt like Mad sort of got lost in all of it and I really wanted her to pop, so I changed it to black and white.

In the black and white version, you still get the brightness from the sun as it hits her hair, but the background distractions are muted, more balanced, and she stands out more. So in this case, I felt that the color took away from the power of these images, so I went with black and white.

And of course, there is always an element of personal preference too when choosing color or black and white, so don’t be afraid to go with your gut!

I go through this same process with every photo and a lot of the time, I end up choosing black and white for my documentary shots, but there are definitely times when color is necessary and makes the photo even better.

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