At our Phoenix Boudoir Studios, we are often asked, what are some of the differences between black and white photographs and color photographs, and are either of these is particularly well suited for boudoir photography?

Right out of the gate, some of us have clear general preferences either for Black and White or for Color photographs.

While many of us have these preferences, many factors go into these preferences, for example age.  Those who are older among us have grown up in a world of black and white television sets and predominantly black and white photographs, with the occasional color TV or splash of color in some high end glossy publications or images from our youth.

Others of us who are younger have seen black and white only rarely, having been born into a world of large flat screen color televisions, color monitors and even color screens on our phones.

Photography is an art form which continues to evolve.

First let us have some background on what is a black and white or color photo and how they are created.

Do cameras shoot in black and white or in color?

Almost every digital camera today takes images in color layers.  That is, every photo taken digitally, is a color photo of a sort.  The black and white photographs we see today are rendered by processing the color information and converting it into black and white, after the image is taken in color first.

Any color photo can in fact be converted into black and white, after the fact.

In days of old, there were color films and black and white films.  The black and white film to convert to color required a painting process, and people have indeed painted color onto black and white… In the late 70’s and early 80’s I too played with painting onto black and white prints…It as kind of fun and had a distinct feel.  Turner Classic Movies converted many black and white movies to color, by painting, either by hand or software onto black and white images patches of color.  This was done to expand the audience for the movies for audiences used to seeing movies in color.

Now practically all digital cameras shoot color images, usually in three primary color layers, and use software filters to convert the images into black and white.

What is black and white photography?

boudoir photographer phoenix

This art boudoir black and white was created using several black and white filter layers to enhance textures and form.  It is well balanced compositionally has a pleasing mirroring of sensuous curving forms of both woman and snake, shows clear separation of contrasting textures of snake skin and smooth lady flesh.  Clearly an improvement over the starting point color image below.

Black and white photography takes the usually 3 color layers in an image and converts each color layer into grey shades.

Many people feel there is only one black and white rendering for an image… this is inherently a false conception.

There are in fact infinite ways to render a black and white image from a color image.

This is because each color layer can be given different weight in the final black and white rendering.

For example, the red can be filtered out, or filtered in, or converted with partial weighting.   This can be done for the other two color layers as well.  The combination on blending these three layers together can create an infinite variety of black and white looks from one image.

There are further enhancements that can be applied to one area of the photo or many areas, or the whole of the image.

What are some black and white photo enhancements that apply to boudoir photography?

  • Give different weights to each color layer
  • Only apply an effect to part of the image
  • Apply more or less contrast/softness
  • Apply an overall whitening or blackening
  • Apply a tint, like sepia, duo tone etc

What is a duo tone?

Black and white photography uses two basic tones, black and white.

Sepia uses sepia and white.

Black and white photographs are actually duo tones using only black and white tones to portray an image.

Any two tones can be used, for example, black and yellow.  Green and white.  Green and yellow…where the green is the dark part and yellow is the light part.

The combinations become endless.

Let us focus on duo tones with either white or black as one of the primary tones for the rest of this discussion.

So, what is better about black and white or color for boudoir photography?

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The original color boudoir image before processing, kind of lacks any real punch, yet provides a strong starting point for our black and white conversion process

Largely, this is a matter of taste.

However, there are some definite differences between the feel of black and white and color that are key to which works better for boudoir photography specifically.

Black and white is about textures and forms.  Removing the color information from an image allows the eye to focus on contrasts, forms textures and composition without getting distracted by color.

Black and white, also is a classic.

These factors make black and white boudoir photography more suited generally to a classier feel and for fine art boudoir photography.

Color boudoir portraits can be fine art.  Though it often takes a much more complex set and wardrobe selection to pull this off.  For example, skin tones in red desert rocks can be a fine blend.  Color is how we see the world.  Color is great for boudoir portraits with a more realistic feel.  In a color portrait, you can see the red hair is red, as opposed to it being some shade of grey.

Color boudoir is great to show a bit more of what the subject actually looks like and can be fine art boudoir with the right styling, model and setting.

Black and white boudoir is more versatile and more readily has that art feel.  Because of the myriad ways black and white is created, it is much more possible for a fine artist to create a fine art boudoir piece using black and white photography.

On the other hand, because black and white eliminates color information, composition is much more key in black and white.  Any compositional weakness will undermine a black and white portrait, boudoir or otherwise.

Color images can be easier to compose as the colors can be used to balance the composition… another discussion, as composition is worthy of a book or several books of discussion.

Suffice it to say, some images look better in black and white, some in color.

Black and white has a generally classier feel and is well suited to fine art boudoir.

Color has a more natural feel, or can grab attention by virtue of strong colors, like red hair.

Each photographic image unique and can with the aid of a photographic artist, perhaps seem best as color or black and white.

The more important question is, do you desire a pretty boudoir picture of yourself, or do you wish to create art?

Then, let your artist portray you in your best light, be it black and white or color.

If you’ve an interest in further details on the creation on the black and white boudoir portrait example here, like the conversion processes used on the color image to make the black and white final image, the types of filters used, lighting diagrams and exposure settings, see also pages 122 and 123 of ‘Alternative Nudes, Creative Lighting and Posing for Photographers’.

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