There are photographers who never make work in colour, from conception to showing, but there are also many who only make images in colour with the belief that the final choice of how the image should look can be decided through a software package.

You used to have to make this choice when you loaded your camera. Black and white or colour film, a choice based on decisions other than just aesthetic. Cost was one, the ability to self-process and print another. Practical decisions. As a commissioned photographer I always used colour film and a pro lab, but I always had a couple of rolls of black and white loaded just in case that made sense on location. I used a specialist black and white lab and printer for that work. I saw them as different ways of seeing and working and I still do with my digital work.

I have one camera permanently set up for black and white, whilst my others are set for colour. That change of camera body forces me to think differently. To concentrate on light, shadows and mid-tones. Of course I consider all of these with colour photography but the removal of the consideration of colour aspects within the composition places a greater importance on them.

To make colour images and convert them to black and white in post-production removes this essential understanding at capture. That is just a fact. I have no issues with this form of image conversion but the lack of depth in the reasons for such change does raise questions.

I am sure that you have all seen someone post two images side by side on social media, one colour, one black and white, asking which is best? Such a question suggests further questions. The need for validation is clear but so is the lack of the photographers intention in making the image other than to seek approval through aesthetic judgement.

I often hear photographers giving the reason for making images black and white in post. These include that they look more moody, more classic, more serious, more retro, more interesting, more photographic. You get the picture! All are surface descriptions, they offer no sense of photographic foundation to the work.

Those who work in black and white and colour at capture have that foundation. They are not merely dealing with the surface. If you don’t believe me let’s consider what William Eggleston said about his use of colour, “The way I have always looked at the world is in colour. And there is nothing we can do about that.” And some words from Walker Evans, “Colour tends to corrupt photography and absolute colour corrupts it absolutely.” Two ways of seeing both as valid as each other. A difference to be respected if not necessarily agreed with. Not one to be ignored.

Dr.Grant Scott
After fifteen years art directing photography books and magazines such as Elle and Tatler, Scott began to work as a photographer for a number of advertising and editorial clients in 2000. Alongside his photographic career Scott has art directed numerous advertising campaigns, worked as a creative director at Sotheby’s, art directed foto8magazine, founded his own photographic gallery, edited Professional Photographer magazine and launched his own title for photographers and filmmakers Hungry Eye. He founded the United Nations of Photography in 2012, and is now a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, and a BBC Radio contributor. Scott is the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019), and What Does Photography Mean To You? (Bluecoat Press 2020). His photography has been published in At Home With The Makers of Style (Thames & Hudson 2006) and Crash Happy: A Night at The Bangers (Cafe Royal Books 2012). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was premiered in 2018.

Scott’s next book Inside Vogue HouseOne building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is now on pre-sale.

© Grant Scott 2024

Categorized in:


Last Update: 04/28/2024