The Magic Frame: B&W or not to B&W?


I took a picture of this young boy in the Turkman Gate area of Delhi.

Some of you may know that I shoot in digital, and often convert my photos into black and white. There are times when I still do shoot in film, and when I do so, I shoot only in black and white. I love film, but it can get expensive. So, until I can afford to set up my own studio, I shall be restricted in my film shooting.

Anyway, this is not about me and my studio. Look at the three pictures above. They are, I repeat, a photo in different versions, of a young boy in the Turkman Gate of Delhi.

Whenever I shoot people, be it in the studio, or on the street, my intent is always to be able to capture something of their personality. The look in the eye, the turn of the head, the way the lips curve in a smile or a frown, all go into shooting a person.

What I dislike, is when a person gets a passport shot taken, and then uses this as a profile shot, because they think a cheap shot expresses who they are.

I have done no processing of the above colour version of the picture. I was horsing around with the young kid, when he challenged me to take his photo. There is a bit of mischief in his eyes, which comes through in the colour version.

There is a bit of that, in the monochrome version on the extreme right, but it still does not express his character fully. However, the one in the centre is a bit of a horror version of the kid, and does him an injustice.

Colour is about shades of colour, whereas B&W is about shades of black, white and grey. The way you approach a B&W shot is very different from the way that you approach a colour shot.

Sometimes, there is a bit of reverse snobbishness, in that people sometimes assume that a black and white shot is better than a colour one. Not true.

B&W can, at times, fail completely, as you can see in the centre version.

I have no idea about how to insert a poll into WP, but here is my question – which version do you like?

As an aside – I have scheduled this post, and if I do wake up on time on the 17th, I shall be off photographing in Vrindavan…


  1. I am a layman and a “snapper” so I know nothing about good or bad photography save for how it makes me feel when I see the result. I feel ill equipped to comment save to say that although I do think B & W photographs are more atmospheric and you can sink right into them.. maybe more depth, on this occasion I love the coloured one. You can see what type of shirt he is wearing, the untidiness of his hair and his cheeky smile. So , for me, colour this time!

  2. The B&W is definitely the one for me. The boy’s cheekiness comes through the eyes much more than in the colour version. I think it’s because of the sharpness of his expression and the white of his eyes which seem dulled in the colour one. Interesting!

      1. That little boy is very cute but I think that you’re on familiar territory with monochrome, as film is your first love. Have a great weekend. xo

  3. It’s a difficult choice. The picture is good and comes out well in both colour and B&W. That said, I prefer the contrasts from the B&W version; The patterns in the trunk of the tree are more visible and I have the impression the face stands out more from the background.

  4. The color photo shows the boy’s innocence (?). The dark B&W shows his playfulness (sneakyness?), the last B&W shows the boy as he actually is (like the 1st one). So, I’d have to say I like the color photo best. I tend to usually prefer color, anyway.

  5. I agree with you. It is not good to use black and white just because it is the in thing if color works better. Black and white may not work if there are too many conflicting patterns or if the colors produce low contrasting shades of gray. I agree with some of the commenters, the B&W one on the far right seems more expressive and the eyes and face stand out more.

  6. I would usually go for the B&W, but for once I think I prefer the colour picture. I do wonder what the Right hand B&W shot would look like with a little highlighting, however.

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