Black-and-white images help you focus on the features of a subject and bring the mood into focus. Use it to capture important, intimate moments such as the kiss and the first dance. To intensify the purity of such sacred moments, Philippe Cheng, an established New York wedding photographer, recommends that your photographer zoom in to cut out visual clutter and focus on the look in the groom’s eyes or the happy tears streaming down the bride’s cheeks, for example.
So if we are in the age of Instagram (to be fair, IG is my favorite social media) and everything is in color, what’s the value of black and white? To me, it’s the drama and simplicity of black and white that draws in the viewer so they aren’t distracted by colors. It takes a powerful and well crafted image to really make an impact when color is omitted and when successfully done, the viewer can’t help but be drawn in to become a part of the image.
Black-and-white film can help mask skin imperfections because shades of gray can’t record the blotchy red irritations that inevitably pop up on this stressful day. Put this knowledge to use and ask for black-and-white coverage as you get ready. You’ll be able to look back and remember all the great details of the day — Mom buttoning your dress, a stolen glance in the mirror, the silent sweep of a makeup brush — without remembering that red bloch on your face! Save the color for the final moment when the gown, the hair, and the makeup are all perfect.
Let me get this out of the way first: I do not suggest we photography your entire wedding or portrait session in black and white! Back in the days of film when I first started as a photographer, we had to make the choice to load black and white film or color film when we were shooting. Often, I would carry my Mamiya 645 loaded with Fujifilm color film then a 35mm body with black and white so I could shoot the bulk of an event in color and accent it with black and white. It’s certainly no secret that we now shoot everything in digital and don’t have to make that decision until post processing. However, in this age of Instagram and quality cell phone photos everywhere, it seems the ratio of color to black and white is moving in a somewhat depressing direction to this lover of black and white imagery!
Shooting for black and white is not like shooting for color images. For both, I look for the best and most interesting lighting but with color I think about how the colors in the frame will interact to create depth. But when the light gets contrasty and dramatic, I know that the image has a good chance that it will become an interesting image for a black and white conversion. When I see that situation develop, or when I set up my lighting specifically for that purpose, I tend to look for more powerful and emotional imagery that will show a greater range of tonality so that it only gains in impact rather than looses anything. For the image above, I chose to up the intensity of my light that was creating the rim effect as I knew enough would spill over on the couple’s faces but I didn’t want to increase my fill light so I could keep the dramatic outline. To me, this creates a more dynamic image and keeps a bit of background detail so it’s still an interesting scene but ups the emotion impact of the moment because of the simplicity and directness of the composition.
Plain and simple, black-and-white photography is preferred for documenting emotional moments. The fewer colors your eyes have to process, the cleaner and easier an image is to absorb when viewing. The result? The subject shines through!
Once the attendants are dressed and assembled and the reception site is unveiled, let those color photos begin! Flowers, food, favors — all of these elements you discussed endlessly and selected lovingly can only be recorded on color film. It might not seem as artistic, but trust us, you’ll want to remember exactly what color your centerpieces were 40 years from now!
No doubt you’ll want to capture the rich hues of your centerpieces, vibrant blooms between cake tiers, and the rich red of chocolate-covered strawberries on color film. But when it comes to capturing the unscripted seconds that live in your mind forever — the anxiety and joy of getting ready or the adoring glance your future husband casts your way — black-and-white film can be the way to go. In short, both color and black-and-white images are essential to document the planning that went into your day and the moments that define it.
Likewise, remember to ask for color during your formal portrait session — these are the photos for which you’ll most likely order multiple prints. Shoot as much as you can outside, too.Color film does not need to be restricted to daylight. It can work very well at night or even indoors to capture a soft, romantic mood. By placing a camera on a tripod, for example, a photographer can use a slower, better color film and no flash to shoot a beautiful, dimly lit room or centerpiece. “Color is at its best when most subtle,” affirms Cheng. Ask your photographer to look for these soft, quiet details and record them with care.
So, what should you do for your wedding? Work the advantages of black-and-white and color film: Request both to satisfy your artistic and documentary needs. An extra photographer may be required, and overall it may eat up more of the budget, but you’ll love the results. From an intimate black-and-white portrait of you and your loved ones to a vibrant, colorful shot of the bridal party, you can have your cake and eat it too!
A note about Black and White Wedding Photography…and a little bit about colour too.
Another advantage of black-and-white images is their duration. Printing black-and-white images on special archival fiber paper is more expensive than printing color but can last hundreds of years. Think of your grandparents’ wedding albums — faces of ancestors still peek out, brimming with the same joy they felt that day. These are “archival prints.” Color photos fade and degenerate faster. Film advances are being made, but the fact remains that, on average, color prints will start to fade after about 50 years.
The drama and difficulty of creating a good black and white image is very important to me as an artist. I won’t lie: for my personal work I print 99% in color. But in the nearly 20 years I’ve been a professional photographer creating good black and white imagery has kept my creativity alive and also positively effects my shooting overall as I don’t just search for pretty colors, I look for genuine experiences and tonality that work together in all mediums to create impactful images. For my clients, many love the more abstract and inherently artistic nature of black and white prints or maybe they just match their home decor better. Either way, I’m happy to continue creating images that can be enjoyed in both forms and as a service to my clients I provide both. So whether you have a preference one way or another, know that I’m creating the best images possible to relay the emotion of your wedding or portrait that you can enjoy for years to come.
All Text & Images © 2009-2017 Kevin Mullins Photography & Design Ltd.