Colour or Black and White?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 11 Comments

My eye is naturally drawn to seeking out moments, intimacy, patterns, shapes and colour, and this is one aspect that I have and am incorporating into my photography and vision. This is not something that I am forcing into my images or how I perceive sightings as this will only result in a very artificial image that has none of the feel and passion in it that I hold for this medium and the subjects I photograph. I am also pretty sure that all the above will reflect through the image to not only myself, but to whoever views my image.

Lake Nakuru was a wonderland for me. The colours, the magnificent and old Fever Tree’s hugging the lake’s edge, flamingoes dancing on the water’s surface as they landed, and amongst so much more – the big herds of buffalo’s that gathered here and there on the nutrient rich grass that separated the trees from the water.

Finger’s twitching, I grabbed my camera and focused on three old boys that were standing in a perfect line, staring into the distance. Why did I take the image? It is only three buffalo after all. What’s so special about that? For me, it was the beautiful swirl of colours behind them that was created by the Fever Tree’s and my choice of a wide aperture. The middle bull then lowered his head, and I took the shot.

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

The triangle created with the three heads is what mainly got my attention when I reviewed my images after the Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari wrapped up. The energy created by this shape encouraged my eye to stay in the frame while taking a closer look at the subjects and the quiet intimacy that hung between them.

Although colour is an incredibly powerful visual tool, I decided to accentuate the triangle created through the deduction of colour. This conversion can be equally powerful, if not more, than a colour image as the lack of colour doesn’t take your eye away from the subject for long. The Fever Tree colours are divine, but they weren’t a necessary part of my story or added any value to what I wanted to emphasis and capture the gaze to.

© Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photographer

But we all read images differently. We all feel them different. What might be obvious to me might be hidden to you. What I think is strong, you may find weak.

What do you see when you look at this image? Does anything ring out to you? Does one conversion pull you more than the other?

Photography can be a mysterious medium as there are so many qualities in it that can affect you in a multitude of ways.

I look forward to reading your thoughts and ‘seeing’ what you see!

Penny Robartes

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Comments 11

  1. Margaruitte Heller

    Penny, I personally prefer the black & white version of this photo. With cape buffalo already being on the darker side of the colour spectrum anyway, and as you said, with the background not really contributing in this case to the story you are wanting to tell, I feel that making the photo monochrome minimizes any background distractions while emphasizing the intensity of the textures in the horns and coats of the buffalo, they “pop” in the b&w version. 😀

    1. Penny Robartes

      I agree Margaruitte! The background is already quite busy due to the textures and colour variations of the trees, so the B&W conversion does lessen the eye wandering to it, and keeps it on the emphasised textures of the buffalo’s coats and horns and the pattern created by the positions of their heads.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Devin Lester

    I’m a huge B&W fan! Certain subjects tend to lend themselves more favourably to B&W in my opinion…including buffalo 😉 In this case, the subject is just that much more prominent without the colour.

    My wife keeps telling me to hold back on converting everything to B&W!

  3. Martha Myers

    Hi Penny:
    Initially, I was drawn more to the color image, in part because of the soft green-black buffalo contrast, and in part because I have had this enduring attraction for fever trees ever since I saw my first one in the Crater. But then, I found the black-and-white image dramatic and eye-catching, equally evocative though in a different way. So, for me, two qualitatively different but equally compelling images. I couldn’t help but wonder how long you had to wait until the middle buffalo lowered his head just so.

    1. Penny Robartes

      Hi Martha,

      I am in exactly the same boat as you! I find both conversions work for me and I am not quite sure which one I am pulled more to. Although colour isn’t a major player in the image, I find it is still important as it complements the subjects and further emphasises the environment. Like you, I also love Fever Tree’s so maybe that’s my personal connection coming through :).

      I didn’t have to wait long at all for the buffalo to lower it’s head. I actually wasn’t expecting it at all, and then nature took over and gave me my story. Sometimes it is just luck 🙂

  4. Claire

    DEFINITELY prefer the colour! How the colours of the buffalo and the trees in the background interact with each other really brings the image to life and makes it so powerful! While the black and white is beautiful, I feel that it has lost some of the life that the colour image expresses.

    A really beautiful image.

    1. Penny Robartes

      Colour is an incredibly powerful visual communication, and like you said, brings the image to life! I guess the black and white version highlights the shape the buffalo’s create. Incredibly interesting how the use of colour in an image affects how we read it.

      Thanks for your great feedback!

  5. Nancy Moon

    I like the black and white…and terrific shot!! I never thought I would get rid of the color until I saw Morkel and Marlon in the Masai Mara last week. I’ve changed my mind.

    1. Penny Robartes

      Thanks Nancy!

      Its amazing the influence and emphasis black and white conversions can have on the image and what it portrays! The trick with it is using the different tones to tell your story, while colour can be much easier at times to convey it! Im glad you have changed your mind as it will also help you look at your images with new eyes 🙂

      I hope to see some of your black and white conversions soon!

  6. Morkel Erasmus

    Hard to choose as both mediums work for this image, Penny! In the colour I am drawn to the sense of place created by the green fever tree forest (Nakuru of course), and that gets lost somewhat in the B&W since it could be any tree anywhere…but what shines in the monochrome is the contrast, shapes of the buffalo, lines of the trees…nice one.

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