Colour or Black and White?

Cream phlox

HeyJude is challenging us to compare a colour picture with a black and white version and say which we prefer and why. While b&w most obviously lends itself to landscapes or portraits, I wanted to try some flowers.

Black and white phlox

I prefer the colour version of the phlox, if for no other reason than I like the colour combination of the flower, although the b&w hides the faded flower towards the top right corner. The flower has an innocent look in both versions that appeals to me.

Cream rose

The ethereal colour of this rose appeals to me – cream, with a hint of pink – but it has a touch of botrytis. After working with roses, I have a mild horror of botrytis: the browning on the edge of the petals which, taken to the extreme, converts the petals to brown mush. While this rose is beautiful despite it, fully fledged botrytis can be a disaster, particularly in a bucket of cut roses earmarked for something special. It loves cool, humid conditions and is one of the reasons experts suggest that many cut roses should not be misted in an attempt to keep them fresh.

Black and white rose

Even my critical eye doesn’t pick this out on the black & white version. The shadows show up well here because the petals are pale, the contrast giving a feeling of depth. A crimson, red or mid pink flower would be less effective converted to b&w (I tried them), particularly so if the flower is against mid green leaves.

I like the way the b&w seems to accentuate those wiggly petal edges and minimises my hand holding up the rose. Sometimes a hand is essential to make the flower face the camera so we can look inside it, but it is an unwelcome visual distraction.

Whether a b&w picture of a rose can ever be truly satisfying, I’m not sure. The first question of anyone seeing it would most likely be ‘What is its colour?’

Black and white picture of Rosa 'Golden Celebration'

Still, I’m trying another rose – a large, sturdy flower, looking upwards because it’s not fully open. The petals overlap evenly and also have a nice wiggle on the edges. Because of the beauty of the form, I feel quite happy with the b&w version.

Did you guess the colour?

Rosa 'Golden Celebration' | yellow English rose
Rosa ‘Golden Celebration’

As an afterthought, here’s an example that illustrates my point about crimson roses in black and white.

Rosa 'The Bishop' | Crimson rose
Rosa ‘The Bishop’

Black and white version of a crimson rose

The b&w has worked its magic on the blackspot, if your eye runs to such things, but has also hidden the rose too much for my taste. There might be someone out there who thinks the b&w version is really romantic, but I wouldn’t bet on it!

What do you think? Check out HeyJude’s submission and find out more about the challenge here.

42 Replies to “Colour or Black and White?”

  1. This has been an interesting challenge, hasn’t it? Before I actually looked properly at yours, I’d have thought that b/w flowers wouldn’t stand up to the test. But they have, surprisingly well. The layered petals of then rose invite a closer look in the b/w, whereas the colour version is more of an ‘oh wow’ experience. Well chosen exampleas!

    1. It has been interesting. Your comment prompted me to add in a crimson rose, even though it doesn’t work, which is perhaps what had been expecting. It is the sort of challenge where we are encouraged to experiment and the picture explains better than I could.

    2. I agree. Sometimes the colour stops us looking at the beauty of the shape and form of an object, particularly with flowers.

  2. I agree with your own comments. I would only choose black and white if the form is more important than the colour. For that reason I would rarely B/W a flower, although your third example works very well, possibly because of the crispness – and I didn’t guess the colours 🙂

    1. My thoughts too – the third image works well in B&W because of the strong shape of the rose, but the delicate colours of the top two images and the richness of the colour in the last rose are too lovely to lose.

  3. I much prefer to see flowers in colour. After all, their beauty is mainly their colour and showing them in black and white kind of removes their souls.

  4. My favourite is the large and sturdy rose in black and white. It draws the eye to its form and structure without the distraction of colour, providing a sense of peace.

  5. I wish I read my comments before pressing ‘post’. So many typos! Yes, adding that last rose sort of illustrates what I’d expected. It’s flat and dull rather than luscious as in the colour version.

  6. I really don’t know…I love all of these in both colour and B&W!!! What a fabulous and interesting way to portray and appreciate all of these beautiful flowers. Before now I would always have said B&W works best for me but having seen the two together I think they both have much to offer. Thank you so much for sharing these delights with us all ❤

    1. My pleasure. Photographers who often use b&w say they can learn to see how it will turn out, but I can’t, so it was interesting to play around a little.

  7. This is a head-scratcher. I am a big fan of B&W, but the examples you have here make it much harder to have a preference. Except for that last rose, of course, all Gothic and dismal. But the others have a grace in B&W, at least to my eye. A very nice conundrum to start my day. Thank you!

    1. About the only thing that would save the last one is if it was 3D – made of metal, perhaps. I like the idea of it being Gothic. It does not have a perfect form and so exemplifies just how much a crimson rose can get away with.

    1. Never had a lobster, so I will translate the image to jacket potato and butter. Plus a good bit of Wensleydale mashed in. Where were we?

  8. I always think that flowers should be photographed in colour, but having said that sometimes removing colour helps the viewer focus on the shape and form. Your first two roses illustrate that and I actually find the yellow rose too sharp. The final rose shows why there needs to be good contrasts when using B&W photography. Thanks for these images and your analysis.

    1. I never liked the colour of ‘Golden Cel’. The photo, I mean – the actual rose has a glorious colour. I just checked and I haven’t sharpened it. It must have been a very still morning.

  9. Love the large sturdy rose in B & W (and colour), but prefer the others in colour. I think you need strong contrast of light and shadows to make flower shots B & W.

    I can almost smell The Bishop rose. It looks like one of those old-fashioned roses that has a rich perfume which I like.

    1. It has a classic old rose fragrance so you imagined that well. It hasn’t been one of the recommended ones for many years, but as always, now and again you do see it looking good.

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