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Why are mono portraits better than colour ones?


ade_mcfade 16 15.2k 216 England
28 Oct 2009 10:45AM
....or are they better?

Most of the great portraits that spring to mind seem to be mono, and certainly the portraits that I've done look better once converted to mono.

So first off, do you agree that mono is a more effective medium for portraiture, and secondly, what factors affect this?
JamesBurns 12 1.3k 7
28 Oct 2009 11:02AM

Quote:...first off, do you agree that mono is a more effective medium for portraiture

Not really. I can call to mind a good number of outstanding colour portraits. Do you not think it's easier to appreciate something more in the style that you prefer perhaps? If you're a mono portrait shooter, then you're possibly more likely to emphasise with a powerful mono portrait?

Some of Jill Greenberg's work, for example, wouldn't have suited mono. Annie L's Disney portraits just wouldn't have worked either, particularly in view of the client.


Quote:...and secondly, what factors affect this?

Any number of things, really. What kind of portrait are we thinking of? A B&W head shot might well be (subjectively) better than a colour environmental portrait, but ultimately it's a creative choice that is, in turn, impacted on by any number of other factors. It's no different to how you place your lights (if you're using lights), to how you pose your subject, to the focal length of the lens that you choose to use. I think that it's a factor of many variables, coming together as a complete whole that determine the final output.

To answer more subjetively, if we ignore all the other elements in the image, I suppose it's might be because B&W strips an image bare. The lack of colour means that there are fewer things competing for our attention (depending on the setting). I think, that as photographers, a B&W image makes it easier for us to judge the technical aspect of an image, rather than the emotional.
Overread 12 4.1k 19 England
28 Oct 2009 11:03AM
I know little of the portait world of humans and mono work but two things come to my mind:

1) The "great masters" of yester year all worked in mono colours, colour was just not around or very expensive to perform with limited results. Now how does this matter? Well most people aspire to be like their peers - so it can be that both the photographer and the subject want to have images that stand up to those past works of art. I suspect this is partly why the mono wedding photos are a popular product - its trying to achive that level of old style grandur.

2) I recall reading/hearing that its actually more relaxing for our eyes to view a mono image than it is to view colour. I seem to recall that this was in the context of viewing television at the time, but I suspect that it equally translates to the internet and also (possibly in a slightly lesser way since there is no glare) to the real world. So this relaxing feeling (from the eyes) might be part of the attraction to mono images.
Coleslaw 15 13.4k 28 Wales
28 Oct 2009 11:04AM

Quote:So first off, do you agree that mono is a more effective medium for portraiture

Not really.
HPalin 12 30 Finland
28 Oct 2009 11:08AM
Often colour is only distracting element in the bw image.
User_Removed 17 455 13 United Kingdom
28 Oct 2009 11:18AM

Quote:I think, that as photographers, a B&W image makes it easier for us to judge the technical aspect of an image, rather than the emotional.


Some interesting points made - but this one I'm not sure about - surely portraiture particularly demands an emotional response and I would have thought if anything there is an additional emotional response to Black & White.

In fact, for those of us of a certain age it maybe carries emotional baggage that makes it harder to judge objectively.

Monochrome is a choice, and done well it can produce as strong a portrait as colour - but it depends what you do with it. I don't think either is inherently better.
ade_mcfade 16 15.2k 216 England
28 Oct 2009 11:19AM

Quote:Quote:So first off, do you agree that mono is a more effective medium for portraitureNot really.


C'mon Cole - I'm trying to start a 1/2 decent discussion thread in what has become a very tedious forum, surely you can do better than that?

Smile
miptog 15 3.6k 65 United Kingdom
28 Oct 2009 11:27AM
Is it possibly that Mono generally has greater contrast and structure, hence is easier for the eye to detect shape, form, texture without being distracted from colour combinations, hence its possible to focus on the main character in the portrait?
Coleslaw 15 13.4k 28 Wales
28 Oct 2009 11:28AM
OK...Smile
I really think it depends on what you want to achieve.
Mono works better if you want to convey feeling, emotions and textures, as there is no distraction of color.
Color works better in other aspects.
fauxtography 15 6.6k 36
28 Oct 2009 11:33AM
I think B&W does strip distractions, such as colour, i also find it can be good for removing the impact of the photographer in the image, leaving the sitter as the central subject and giving you a stronger connection with the sitter. So much so that Hiroshi Watanabe can make you forget the bizarreness of his portrait subjects

Photographers like Platon, or Greenberg have a very distinct style that you can spot (partly to the use of colour), but that does not make their portraits bad, just more obvious who shot them. Steve McCurry's shot of the Afghan Girl is one colour shot that just would not have had the same impact in B&W
JamesBurns 12 1.3k 7
28 Oct 2009 11:34AM

Quote:Some interesting points made - but this one I'm not sure about - surely portraiture particularly demands an emotional response and I would have thought if anything there is an additional emotional response to Black & White.

I knew that someone would pull me up on that! Wink

I didn't say that B&W made a portrait more or less emotional and I also, admittedly, didn't explain myself very well. What I meant was that by taking colour out of the equation I feel (and maybe it's just me) that it's easier to judge an images technical merits as well.

I think a part of the issue as photographers, is that we all become a little too obsessed with the making of the image, rather than the end result that is produced. We might well see an image and think, "wow!", but then our next instinct is "how did they do that?" and we attempt to crawl backwards down the lens and into the photographer's head.

In a way, I think mono portraiture is probably not better, just easier. Colour cries out for attention, creates conflicts, pulls our eyes all over the place. B&W is just about light and shadow, is easier to interpret and easier on the eye. It's not about "better" as such, it's just that it requires more skill to create the balance in a colour portrait that is required in a great image.
riprap007 16 1.6k 37 England
28 Oct 2009 11:38AM
working with tonality is, I'd argue, more straightforward than working with the complexities of chromatic adaptation, therefore producing a pleasing mono tends to be quicker. The amount of unresolved discussions I've seen on 'skin tones' (when what was actually meant was skin hue) is astounding. Far easier to bypass the subjectivity of such subtleties by working in mono!
uggyy 15 2.1k 9 Scotland
28 Oct 2009 11:43AM
mono better, uses less ink Smile
riprap007 16 1.6k 37 England
28 Oct 2009 11:45AM

Quote:Mono better, uses less ink


LOL, depends on the ink system!
ade_mcfade 16 15.2k 216 England
28 Oct 2009 11:48AM
I'd probably say that as animals, we seem to "like" colour - bees fly to flower, bulls charge at red rags etc. so to make a shot that "pleases" us using colour is probably easier, as 1/2 the battle is won.

The use of colour can mask flaws in a shot, also if we are attracted to some striking complimenraty colours, we may "miss" the intention of the photo as we're busy thinking "that red's lovely"

For head shots, or reasonably close shots, i always prefer to convert mono - it just seems to have more character, takes away things like a red face, or a pale complexion and leaves you with a more bare bones shot. You see the real person; looking into the person more than you with a colour shot.

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