Travel Photo Thursday: To Be or Not to Be (Shooting Color)?

Travel Photo Thursday: To Be or Not to Be (Shooting Color)?

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“To be or not to be shooting color”?

Kodachrome BoxThat’s the question Hamlet would have asked if he had been a real person and not merely a character in a Shakespeare play, and if he would have lived in the Age of Photography.

Famed photographer Ansel Adams is noted for his stunning black and white landscape photos taken in places like Yosemite National Park. But he, too, shot in color, although he apparently never decided if that medium ought to transcend black and white.

Twenty or more years ago, we amateur photographers normally owned by a single camera,Kodak B and W Film and had to decide whether to load it with either color or black and white film. But today, nearly all of us tote digital cameras along with us when we go on vacation and can have the best of both worlds of photography.

So we don’t face the same dilemma that Adams or—hypothetically—Hamlet would have confronted. But we must determine whether a photo would be a more compelling image in black and white rather than color.

Here are six photos, each in both a color and black and white version. Decide which you like best, and then leave your comments at the end of this post.

Dramatic Landscapes

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

If was a gray, almost colorless day when I took this photo of Margerie Glacier calving into Southeast Alaska’s Glacier Bay. In fact, I had to enhance the shot using Adobe Photoshop Elements in order to make the color of the blue ice “pop,” and to create enough contrast so that water, ice, rock and cloud separated from each other rather than blending into one, lifeless blob.

But supposed I had pretended to be Ansel Adams, and had set my digital camera to shoot the same scene in black and white? Would the resulting photo have been more dramatic than its color cousin?

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

But what about this photo below taken of the Excelsior Pool in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park?

The essence of this photo is its colors, from the orange-red of the foreground, to the greenish mist rising above the pool in the middle of the shot, to the dark blue-gray menacing clouds hanging over this vision of Hell. The black and white version does nothing all all for me.

Excelsior Pool, Yellowstone National Park Excelsior Pool, Yellowstone National Park

People in Places

You’ve no doubt seen many portraits of famous people shot in black and white. But when you find a photogenic person or two walking down the street, would they be best rendered in color or black and white?

I encountered this happy couple on their way to or from their wedding on an overcast day in Prague. The red roses stand out against the bride’s white dress, and there is a bit of red or pink on passersby in the background. But man and wife are just as charming in black and white.

Wedding, Prague, Czech Republic Wedding, Prague, Czech Republic


On the other hand, these two young woman clowning around in Dresden’s Altmarkt are outstanding in color, but dull as dishwater in black and white.

Altmarkt Clowns, Dresden Altmarkt Clowns, Dresden

Resting in Peace

Thousands of American and German soldiers died during World War II. Many are buried in Normandy, France near the site of the D-Day Invasion.

This phalanx of simple crosses marking the graves of fallen Americans is eye-catching.

U.S. Military Cemetery, Normandy

But to me, black and white lends more emphasis to the pattern of the crosses.

U.S. Military Cemetery, Normandy

The black stone markers of the German Military Cemetery near Pointe du Hoc contrast sharply with the green grass. While color photo is fine, its more austere black and white counterpart is better at conveying the solemn mood of the place.

German Military Cemetery Near Pointe du Hoc, Normandy German Military Cemetery Near Pointe du Hoc, Normandy

Decisions, Decisions

In the pre-digital camera era, choosing the wrong film for a shot could be a fatal error. Professional photographers could dodge the problem by carrying two cameras, or one set of lenses and two identical camera bodies, one loaded with color film, the other with black and white. Today, a single, digital camera will suffice.

You may get slightly better results if you take two shots of the same scene, one with your digital camera set to record in color, and other with it set to shoot in black and white. But that might not be possible when photographing people, whose expressions and postures might change between shots, even if they are posing for you, and not moving about.

But not to fear, even if you did as most of us do when we travel, and shot all of your photos in color. A photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements can make a black and white copy of a color photo, as is the case with each of these six photos.

(Click on an image to enlarge to full-size. Visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more of this week’s Travel Photo Thursday shots. Purchasing Adobe Photoshop Elements from through links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you “Travel Photo Thursday” and a wide range of travel related stories.)

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10 Replies to “Travel Photo Thursday: To Be or Not to Be (Shooting Color)?”

  1. The differences in the photos are really striking. So much depends on your intent & what you want to say. In the case of the women at Dresden’s Altmarkt, fun and color is the whole point. But with the others, a case could be made for either one. Interesting to get your perspective.

  2. I agree — it’s much easier for us now not having to choose.
    B&W’s definitely the better choice for some shots — you’ve given us some great examples here – while color is much better for others.

  3. I think that it must depend on the scene and the theme which one the artist should prefer. And it must be the individual decision of the photographer. Some artists are addicted and experts of the bw photography, some of them make beautiful color photos as well. I only like beautiful pictures, it doesn’t depend on the colors.

  4. I usually play around with a photo editing software to see how pictures would look in sepia or B/W. I agree many things are way better in color but the crosses are much more compelling in B/W. I’ve found that the CA Missions make for some great B/W shots. Great post!

  5. They are all great shots. I think deciding between color and B&W is like deciding to manipulate or not manipulate. Some photographers think its BAD :). Me, I think it’s perfectly OKAY to do whatever you want with them. It’s an important part of the creative process.

  6. That picture of the box of film reminded me of how I used to tear off part of the box and tape it to my camera so I’d remember what was loaded inside. Wow, things have changed. That glacier photo looks so much better in color to me. Something about that blue cast captures the scene better than in B&W. I agree with your analysis on the rest of your pics, too. I’m learning a lot from your posts!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Michele.

      One of my film cameras had a little square holder on the back where you can put the end of the film box as a reminder of which film you were using. But that didn’t insure that I wouldn’t, on occasion, shoot a “whole roll” of photos with no film loaded in the camera!

  7. I think I prefer the colour shots, generally. Except for the cemetery. Somehow that’s more evocative in b/w. (Especially since it’s a cemetery from the b/w era.)

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