clark thomas photographs / nashville

c o l o r  F r e e
To my core I am a black & white photographer
I shoot mostly color, but that’s not how I see

Black & White photographs “as a trend” are almost passé again in this era of ever higher-tech media. But Black & White continues to stand on its own, demonstrating clear advantages over color in many circumstances. So I am doing my part to ‘sing the praises’ of Black & White, as I adopt the freeing new unCola term ‘colorFree’ as my playful way to inject some trendiness back into this classic medium. (click to continue at bottom of page)

Hurry Back Market & Exit/In, April 1973

Hurry Back Market & Exit/In

April 1973

Posted a color image of this former Elliston Place market on the Old&Fun page yesterday, which generated some great email discussion about days gone by, and the Exit/In next door. And comparing the two images created some fun heat in the Color VS colorFREE debate too. I argued that this image feels and *reads* like a color image. Feels *real* in the sense of “it takes me back” to 1973. Love the color image too though... [7/19] -C.

colorFree vs. color...

Billy’s friends in B&W

Billy’s friends, colorFree

April 9

This photo offers an interesting comparison. Son Billy was having a birthday sleepover party, so I had some free subjects to test the new red backdrop. ’Freed the top one of its color then added a little red and yellow to the color balance to warm it up. Partially desaturated the lower one and shifted the balance, to the point that I almost like them equally, but I’d still prefer a more neutral tone to the backdrop.

A useful question I ask, “If you had this image over your desk for a year, which version would you get more tired of looking at day after day? The answer is easy for me to say, but not everyone sees the same way. I like seeing the colors of the clothes & bracelets, but after awhile, the color feels distracting and adds more weight than value. -C.

Billy’s friends in color

Billy’s friends, color

April 9

colorFree vs. color...

Here’s another real world example about making the choice between Black & White and Color...

Stein family photo w/dogs

The Steins

June 2009

This photo began life in color. Choosing to remove the color can require a certain boldness and clarity of vision. It can feel like an act of defiance, to throw out perfectly good color.

And beyond simply removing the color, many individual tonal adjustments contribute to transforming a mere colorless black & white, into *wonderful* black & white. Or shall we say, a wonderful ColorFree image.

Perhaps a third of my images end up as Black & White. Each image deserves this consideration: full color, muted color, Black & White, or maybe B&W with a slightly warm (reddish) tone? That’s where this image ended up for the final print. Some say the color version is always a better choice, because it seems more real, or because more information is always better than less. But others say, both the client and the photographer in this case, that less is more. That colorFree beats color. -C.

(continued from top of page)
And not that Black & White is any BETTER than color. It’s just a different animal. Years ago I heard a well known photographer say, “Color is about Reality, and black & white is about Symbolism.” which sounded profound at the time so I adopted that perspective. But today I’m not so sure it’s the ultimate answer. It still has a ring of truth, so I hang on to it, but my usual way of expressing the distinction is more simply... “what color adds to a photograph, can hide or detract from the main strength of the image, and weaken the image.” As, when someone is wearing a brightly colored sweater, but the sweater color has nothing to do with what the image is about, and yet the color attracts attention and dominates the image. If the image is really not about the color, the color can actually be harmful.

I will post some interesting examples in the coming weeks, some with identical images presented both ways. I’ve adopted the word ‘colorFREE’ as my new anti-old-fashioned phrase for expressing the essence of black & white with a more ‘positive’ spin. If you like this new word, I hope you will adopt it, and please let me know! -C.

Pictures can capture more information than we realize. A sense of ‘presence in the moment’ and sheer vitality can carry more “meat” than the mere ‘what we look like’ aspects of a photo. It’s the difference between capturing *who and how we are* as a presence, versus merely showing what we look like as physical objects.

We do not see things as things as they are.
We see things as we are. - Morrie Camhi