I recently did a family session that was a gift from a very proud grandfather. His son lives in Japan with his wife and two small sons, and they were here in Keowee Key visiting. The session went well, and when I delivered the images, the grandfather asked me why I provided black and white versions of each image as well as color.
The question caught me a little off guard. I have been providing black and white images for the entire ten years that I’ve been in business, and no one has ever asked me WHY.
Here’s why I give my clients their image files in both color AND black and white:
The answer is twofold. The main reason is that, especially in 2004, my clients (who are mostly young families) actually PREFERRED black and white images. I think that’s a generational thing. My generation grew up when photography was rare – the only consumer cameras were expensive and not very good. There wasn’t any color film until Polaroid came out with instant color film in 1963, and it wasn’t until the 70’s that most family snapshots were in color. We loved color because it looked so much better than our dull gray b&w photos. My kids generation, however, liked the novelty of black and white photos for their kids. What goes around, comes around.
I myself prefer color for the types of images that I capture. The exception is newborn or maternity images, and occasionally closeup relationship shots. But I want my clients to be able to choose, so that’s what I give them.
The second reason I provide them is that it takes a little work and experience to convert a color image to black and white so that it looks good. A color digital image file can have over 16 million different colors. A black and white image has only 256 shades of gray. The photographer must convert all of those colors in a way that is artistic and pleasing to the eye, using editing tools such as Photoshop. There are hundreds of ways to do it, and it takes some time to learn which way suits the photographers style and vision. Most consumer cameras have a black and white setting, and consumer labs usually offer a checkbox to print an image as black and white…but these results generally don’t do the image justice. These images tend to look dull, flat, and muddy gray without true blacks and whites. I want my client images to look great in black and white, and I don’t expect them to have to do it themselves.
Take a look at this image. On the left, I used a standard black and white general conversion. On the right, I used my own personal touch to get it more to my liking.
The differences between the two are not as marked as most images that the non-pro photographer capture, because the exposure and lighting on the original image was correct, which helps a lot. But you can see that the blacks are blacker and the whites are whiter, and there is a brightness that is missing from the first that draws the eye to the beautiful girl.
Most generic black and white conversions tend to wash out the photo, losing the contrast in the process as you see on the left. Much better look on the right!
The next time you are looking at black and white images, think about the 256 shades of gray and see if YOU like the result. It is, of course, a matter of taste, but I think that it’s the sort of thing that stays with you once you begin to notice it! I’m proud to provide black and white versions of all of my digital images that my clients purchase at no additional charge…it’s another value of the custom photography experience that you don’t get everywhere.