Contrast – Color vs. Black-and-White

When it comes to contrast, black-and-white photography has a decided edge. A B&W image can be much more easily manipulated without loosing the “photo-reality”. In color photography contrast is much harder to manage. Possibly the toughest color for contrast control is yellow. In part that is because of the way the human vision system works. The highest visual contrast is yellow on black. Seeing contrast within a yellow object, on the other hand, is “delicate” at best.

Let me illustrate with a photo of a buttercup flower. These little blossoms are an intense yellow with a shiny surface almost like glass. Here is a photo as it came right out of the camera (except for cropping):


A pretty enough photo, but it lacks “spark”, contrast, in the delicate structures. In fact, it seems quite washed out. The photo shows little of the delicate tiny parts or the structure in the petals.

Working with several tools my most satisfactory image is this (the cropping is a bit tighter also):

Buttercup -  A Very Yellow Spring Flower

This looked better to me, but already there are processing artifacts that will disturb discerning viewers.

Going for a black-and-white image opens the doors of more aggressive manipulation. Here is my version of this little flower in black and white:

Spring Flower

Now the emphasis is on the fine detail. The flower, set against the darker background, still feels luminous and bright. A very different presentation altogether. To me, the B&W photo is more the “wall-hanger” than is the color version. What do you think? The image links to a OneDrive folder which also contains a less aggressively processed version – you can compare the two by clicking the back-and-forward arrows.

This B&W image is also a “participant” in Monochrome Madness 2-5 by Leanne Cole.

Leanne does a marvelous job with these weekly collections of black and white photographs by a large group of contributing photographers. Be sure to check  this out!


© 2015 Ludwig Keck

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