Thursday, September 22, 2011

A creative condundrum

Yesterday I posted a request for feedback on Facebook, to help me choose 3-4 of my favorite photos to produce as samples both for client demonstration and a couple of events I am attending.

What came back was a bit of a surprise. Despite me being a big fan of color and really wanting to define myself as a "colorful photographer", the most popular images were black and white. One friend even went as far as to say that I should choose just black and white images to help me stand-apart.


I'll be honest... my heart sank. I don't want to be identified by my black-and-white images, or as the "black-and-white" photographer. Granted, these are just opinions and I am the ultimate decision-maker in how I define my work but it was a little jarring to realize that people connect more with my black and whites. Since I create images for other people, I cannot completely ignore what this is telling me.

There could be some logical reasons for this, of course.

First, I will readily admit that some images have a particular emotional pull for me and that, in many of these cases, I choose to edit those images as black and white because the color can distract from the emotion. So, maybe what people are reacting to is this relationship my black-and-white choices have to the emotionality of the images?

Secondly, maybe people, in general, prefer black and white images. Maybe I am alone in loving the beauty of color.

Lastly, of course, it could be that the way I process color images is not appealing. 

Hmmmm. Again.

Although I want to personally define how I creatively process images, I am interested in hearing YOUR constructive opinions here. 

What do you think is behind this? Is there something about my color images that is lacking for you? If so what? Or am I totally overanalyzing this?

If you need some reference point, I invite you to visit my website: and click on Portfolio, or visit my Flickr Stream at

What think you?



Mala said...

I have to agree with your first point. For me your black & whites are more about capturing the emotion and the mood. I LOVE your colors as well - they are usually very vibrant and I love it. But when I pick photos that I like - I go more for the interesting angles and emotions irrespective of color or b&w.

Joe Bennett said...

OK, here's my comment, but keep in mind they may not fit into the common thread of how people think of color images vs. B&W....

I have always personally been more drawn to images (and video) that have a subdued color palette, are black and white, or use the color palette to draw a particular mood.

In film/video, one key example would be the mini-series "Band of Brothers". This used a very subdued palette - nothing was bright or vibrant. Whether it was the browns, greens, blues, etc. everything was kind of grayed out. Gave the impression of the dirtiness/grittiness of war. The Matrix is another example, where "the real world" had a blue tint, and "the Matrix world" had a green ting. A final example would be the movie Traffic, which used a very bright yellow/orange palette for the shots in Mexico (making things feel "hot" and "alive", and a subdued blu-ish palette for the scenes in Washington DC, etc ("dead" or "corporate" or "formal").

And with photos, that tends to draw me more to B&W, or Sepia, or again, a duller palette.

I'm just weird that way, I guess. My vision has always been very bad (glasses since the 2nd grade), so maybe my perception of color is skewed since everyday colors are only seen after passing through lenses that were forged in the depths of Mount Doom.

Your color photos are very vibrant. It really shows through. And I think that gives them a very lively quality, but in some ways, that almost makes them "hyper-real" to me. It isn't how I *think* I see the world, and thus I can't put any of my own feelings into the picture. They are beautiful, for sure, but just not what I think I'm used to seeing.

I hope this perspective is useful. :-)

Joe Bennett said...

I had yet another thought about this, which may not hold up, but here goes.

In music, "kids today" actually prefer music that sounds a little bit "tinny" or has over-done bass, because they grew up listening to poorly encoded MP3s on iPod headphones. When they here an old LP, with its richer and more full sound, they think it sounds wrong.

I wonder if this analogy can apply to photography. Even though digital cameras (and lately, phones) are getting better and better cameras, for a long time we've been using cheap, low megapixel cameras, and thus we've gotten used to images that don't have the best color definition, don't give good perspective due to inaccurate focus, or are the slightest bit blurry on object edges, and we've gotten used to thinking that is "normal".

When a really solid photographer comes along with great equipment and who takes the time to process images, our brains no longer know how to deal with it. But, if we look at a B&W image, especially one that was given, say, a soft focus, our brains can easily inject our recent perception of photographic reality onto it, so it seems like a "better" image than a well done color image.

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