When to go black and white?

When should an image be made into a black and white?

I get that question asked a lot. Most photographer will default to the old standby…  if the lighting or coloring looks weird, make it black and white. Or if you want it to feel more “arty” make it black and white. But is there something more to it than that?

One of the factors when color is removed from an image is that there is heightened detail awareness. (There are other factors in play as well, but that can be for another day.) So one of the questions to ask yourself is… “Is this image about the details?” If so, then black and white will be a good idea.

Let’s look at an image… pretty much straight out of the camera


This image is about the girl and the rocks… the sky is not really giving us much and is not a main character in the story

When editing, you need to ask yourself “what am I trying to say?” or “what is the story?”

In this image, the story is about the girl and the rocks. If there were clouds or more color in the sky to add to the drama, maybe the story could have been about or included them, but for this image the sky is a bit player. The rock detail and the pretty girl are the story. As a matter of fact, the bright colorful shoe-laces are distracting from the story and pulling our eye down to her feet.

So now look at the image when edited in Lightroom and changed to black and white.


Now the story is about the details and the focus is on the girl and the rocks and not the shoes.

The rocks come alive and lead you up to the girl and there is more drama in the scene and less distraction from the bright laces and the muddy, not great sky.

So when trying to decide whether to change to black and white… think about the details.