With Color, Less is More

I learned to develop black and white photography in my college darkroom decades ago. Back then, we didn’t shoot or develop color photographs. Instead, we hand-tinted black and whites if we wanted to colorize our images. I learned a lot about values, composition, form and line in those days by using black and white rather than color to express my subject.

Some Photographs Are Stronger with Monochromatic Tones

I think that the architecture I remain focused on in my photography is well suited to the monochromatic palettes of black and white and sepia. There is a certain attention to architectural detail and structure when color is not a distraction.  Figures that wander into my architectural photographs also benefit from sole focus on form without color distraction. However, once in a while, a small spot of color is the exclamation point I’m looking for in certain images.

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Color Can Add Drama to Photos

The addition of a color accent or punch to a photograph must be done with infinite care. Just as light contributes to form, color may add to a monochromatic composition. Architecture as well as figures in an architectural setting may be strong in their lines and form, but the composition may be overpowered by colors that demand attention. I have created a practical system of addressing color in my black and white and sepia photography that is highly compatible with my workflow:

1.  Working with RGB raw files, I create a folder for my project/image.

2.  In Adobe Bridge I look at the multiple images of one building I shot to decide on the photograph(s) I would like to use in postproduction.

3.  Using a selected shot I “fix” any distractions in the color image using Adobe Photoshop, such as straightening, cloning out dust spots, aligning windows or moldings, etc.

4.  Once the raw image is corrected, I desaturate it.

5.  Using plugins (Nik, Tiffen, and others) and/or Photoshop, I pop the whites, darks, or crunch values.

6.  At this stage I decide if I want the photograph to be black and white or sepia and develop it in that hue/tonality.

7.  When everything else is completed, I slowly bring in the touches of color that I think will really punch up the photograph by going back through my layers and masking.

8.  If I add color, I might revisit steps 5, 6, 7.

windowbox BSRPersonally I find color a powerful addition to a black and white or sepia image.  Although I rarely use color, I find it can give my architecture photographs and the occasional figure in an architectural setting more by using much less.

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