Colour Complicates Things

Morkel Erasmus Morkel 2 Comments

…sometimes, at least.

Those of you who follow my work will know I have a love affair with the monochrome medium. I love the power that a well conceived monochrome photo has to really impact me as a viewer/consumer of photography, and want some of my work to have that same impact on others. The journey into this medium, is fraught with a steep learning curve though – much like the learning curve of first taking up photography.

You go from the euphoria of discovery, to the absolute belief that you are breaking new ground in the medium, to the utter despair of knowing that what you are doing totally sucks, back up a slow curve of really critically assessing the images you produce and slowly but surely finding a groove that works for you and figuring out what you did wrong in the beginning. This all takes time, though…and I’ve found it necessary to be a bit more self-critical on this journey than on others – perhaps because of the artistic intent of the medium.

In going through my notes and presentation preparations for the upcoming Wildlife Photography Seminar at Sabi Sabi, I came to this notion: that colour sometimes complicates things

When you start to view wildlife photography as a medium that aims to tell compelling stories and weave a web of context around the subject you are photographing, there are times when the colours of the scene really do get in the way of the moment you are capturing. The trick then is to be able to make the image work without the colour – as not every image that is befuddled by the presence of colour will automatically result in an effective “colourless” photo…

Take this photo of a male cheetah scent-marking against a camelthorn acacia in the Kalahari desert…

The light was decent, the viewing angle as well, but the cheetah just gets lost in the midst of it all.



Converting the image to black and white, carefully teasing out tonal contrast, resulted in this…





This lioness was stalking a moving herd of wildebeest right next to our vehicle early one afternoon during last year’s Great Migration photo safaris. I just loved the pose and the point-of-view here as she moved into position to eventually make a kill right in front of all our guests. There’s nothing really wrong with the colour version, but it just doesn’t convey the moment I was witnessing as poignantly…




However, converting the image to a high key black and white transformed it for me…





I used different approaches to how the image would come out in monochrome – there’s no one recipe fits all, that’s for sure.

Remember to look for the moments that speak to you in the field – whether the scene seems cluttered and less than ideal is a secondary matter. Capture the moments, and if you can learn to visualise the scenes stripped of colour, you could perhaps end up with an image worth keeping despite the initial drawbacks.

Just don’t expect monochrome to be a magic crutch that can “rescue” all mediocre photos. It’s a fine line I know!


What do you think?


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About the Author

Morkel Erasmus

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Just a regular guy, camera in hand, overcome by the beauty of the African continent, and passionate about sharing this beauty with others!


Comments 2

  1. Mark Booysen

    Hi Morkel, thanks for another great article – I like it when we push the boundaries of “normal”!
    What post processing program did you use to convert to black and white as well as the final “tweaks” ?
    thanks Mark

  2. Pingback: Colour or Monochrome - Wild Eye

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