As recently as ten years ago, photographers and designers, marketers and business owners opted for black and white imagery because it was significantly less expensive to shoot, print and develop. There was a time when full color printing was as much as 10 times more expensive.
Along came the digital age. Without film to purchase or develop there is no increase in cost for color photos. Beyond the camera, digital printing technology has improved. The quality is now close to that of traditional color printing at a fraction of the cost. Since printing full color is just slightly more expensive than black and white, even the smallest of businesses can afford to use color. This doesn’t always mean they should.
When to use black and white
I have always loved black and white photography. Something happens when you strip the color out of an image. Things are left to the imagination of the viewer. They’re left wondering: How red is the flower? How blue is the sky in the photo? Let the viewer decide; they’ll be more invested in the image.
If the colors in real life aren’t perfect- perhaps your shirt clashes with the color of the wall behind you- converting to black and white removes the distractions and inharmonious color combinations.
Stripping away the color makes contrasts more apparent. You suddenly notice the small differences in shades of grey. Without color to distract you, the emotion of a photograph is clearer. Take for example Dorothea Lange’s famous Migrant Mother image. I think it would be less compelling in color.
In a world filled with color, choosing black and white makes a statement. Black and white ads stand out in fashion magazines because they are different than all the others.
A black and white example
All of these thoughts were in my head as we worked on the home page for remodeling contractor, The Homewright. Our web designer Peter came up with a great design concept for the home page, with the new logo our graphic designer Jenna had created floating on top of the main image instead of in the upper right. None of the beautiful examples of the finished projects looked right in the featured image box. The strong color of the logo and the strong colors of the image were in conflict.
Switching to black and white eliminates the color clash and accomplishes much more. As you land on the page, the large black and white image is unexpected and holds your attention as you try to put the color back mentally. Suddenly the bathroom is something every potential customer can relate to. Each visitor can visualize the walls and trim colors in a way that’s most appealing to them.
Black and white isn’t right for every product or service, but it can add an element of luxury and interest to many aspects of your design. Don’t be afraid to experiment- you might discover that black is your color.
photo credit: Matt Wright