Flowers in Black and White?

This is a black and white variation of a Green Spring flower Rob Paine

If you frequent this blog (and I hope you do) you know I love black and white photography. I broke my teeth on it, visually speaking. (please see more text and color version of this photo below)

During my high school years, in college and then when I started my career in photojournalism, I spent countless hours in darkrooms, cropping photos under an enlarger and watching pictures develop in trays of Dektol under amber safelights. I love digital but there was a certain romanticism about watching a photo develop right before your eyes, it was magic. I miss it.

The beauty of digital though is you can shoot a photo in color and then process it in black and white if you want to later. So the questions becomes, are you really ever shooting in black and white or are you just post processing in it?

Well, before I get too far off track and become mired in a ditch next to memory lane, lets talk about black and white flower photos.

rob paine black and white flower

A few years ago I attended a lecture by one of the top flower photographers on the East Coast. He challenged his audience to think outside the box when photographing flowers. He told us just don’t shoot the front of a flower, tried looking at a plant from it back side. He then said, flower photos do not always have to be in color!

What? Sounds crazy at first, but then you start thinking about some of the masters who shot incredible plant/flower photos in black and white, like Robert Mapplethorpe or Edward Weston and all of a sudden it makes a lot sense.

Rob Paine Photo

Both of these photos were taken with a 60mm Macro at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Va.

When looking for a good candidate for black and white treatment I think strong lighting, well defined graphic elements and a variety of tones that would translate well into shade of black, white and grey are important ingredients. In my mind, this flower was a perfect candidate. So of course you can always change a photo from color into black and white later but if your goal is to produce a monochromatic image from the start, it is good to think in these terms.s

I would love to get your opinion. Do you prefer the color or black and white photo on this post? How often do you process flower photos in black and white?

To check out some other ISBAA posts with photos from Green Spring, please click here.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog today, Rob

25 responses to “Flowers in Black and White?”

  1. both are lovely, but the B & W is my favorite, it shows the detail and is much more dramatic…someone once told me that a B & W photo eliminates distractions allowing the detail to show through…I’m a huge fan of B & W, I’ve done a few flowers in B & W.


    • I agree! If you look at the some of the work of the Great Life Magazine Photographer Eugene Smith think now distracting it would be if those photos were in color. I think color has its place but it does not have to be used all the time. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.


      • I checked out Eugene Smith’s work, very dramatic to say the least. I don’t think his photos would be appreciated as they are if they were in color…definitely distracting, but I think the drama would be lost to a certain degree as well! Thank you for mentioning him to me!


        • agreed! adding color to some of smith’s classic work would be like colorizing “Citizen Kane” It just would not be right! I am glad you like his work, his work inspired me and countless other thousands, to pursue a career in photojournalism out of college.


  2. This flower to me, makes the transition to B&W beautifully. It is a stronger photo in B&W with all those wonderful lines. I have to admit I takes lots of flower shots but never once thought about B&W, will have to look back and see if I think I have any candidates and keep my mind attuned in future.


  3. I definitely prefer the black and white photos – the colour, though beautiful, distracts from the shape/form and pattern of the flower. It’s as though the colour makes one forget everything else – I realize I have been doing that in my own recent flower photos (or should I say snaps!). I must confess, the thought of changing them to black and white never crossed my mind, but I think it is something I will try, to see what else I can see in those photos. Thanks for the idea! (Btw, am using them for design ideas.)


  4. I much prefer this particular shot in B & W.
    It looks very striking. It looks like a work of art, whereas the coloured version looks rather ordinary.


Please feel free to leave a reply. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughtful feedback, Rob

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