Thinking about colour and monochrome images

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There are some images that I just know need to be monochrome, even before I squeeze the shutter – I think that is perhaps the case for many photographers.  And if I have my film camera with me and it has black and white film in it, then I try to compose and visualise accordingly.  But sometimes I create a colour image and then come to the editing stage and find I have an image which could be either, and it’s not clear to me which one is ‘better’.  This is especially the case when I have a series of images, and I wonder if a monochrome development of one or two individual images might be good.

For example, this image of Ngoni is a case in point.  I have a number of these images of her on the bridge in the snow (in her bikini, in a dress, and in a coat), and this one seemed quite strong when converted to monochrome, emphasising her dark naked skin against the white snow and white bikini, with the bridge playing a less significant role than it appears to in the colour version (of course, that’s also an editing question).  I did eventually put the monochrome image on RedBubble for sale – and you can see a larger version of the image there – but I’m not wholly convinced this is the right one to have used.  The tones (values) of light and darkness are what make or break a monochrome image… and I find I’m not completely sure if this is quite right when examined under these criteria (and you may think this is because it’s not a particularly strong image, despite what I think!).  Of course, in the ‘old days’ a camera would have had either colour or black and white film in it, and composition and visualisation would have been guided accordingly, but in these digital days (even with scans of colour images from film), conversion to monochrome is always an easy possibility – and perhaps this makes life a little bit harder.  Thoughts on all this in the comments section below are most welcome!

And, of course, these questions apply not only to portraits… they also arise when thinking about landscapes.

I’ve struggled with this before…!


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