What flavor do you like your photos?

Kiyomizu Temple
mbfitzmahan. 2013. Kyoto, Japan. Incense. Kiyomizu Temple

I  make my photos in black and white.

I’ll admit it, I do sometimes take photos in color.  But, I don’t think of those photos as real photography.  You know, art photography. 


Rewind.  Let me backtrack.  Color photos of family.   Babies, grandparents, the latest vacations.  Those are wonderful photos. They are snapshots of our lives.  Of our times together.  I love looking at them.  I liked sharing them on my iPhone.  I like to sit with my girls, laughing and talking about the adventures in those photos.

mbfitzmahan. 2015. California. MagnaTiles.

But, for me, fine photography is different.  It is much more.  It is a philosophy, it is a history, it is aesthetics.  It is emotions.  It is love.

Black and white is the hue of the master photographers.  Initially, great masters took photos in black and white because they were limited to the technology they were given.  Later, when colored film became easier to get, a few photographers shifted to color. 

But, most did not.  They stuck with the black and white image.  Was that because black and white is a better medium for art photography?  Or was it what they were used to?  Or something else. 

mbfitzmahan. 2015. Berkeley, CA. Angel of Peet’s

Elliot Erwitt said, “Color is descriptive.  Black and white is interpretive.” 

Robert Frank said, “Black and white are the colors of photography.  To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected...There is one thing the photography must contain, the humanity of the moment.”

I’ve been taking photos for a long time.  In my teens, I took photos on film for color slides.  We had boxes and boxes of slides.  After getting my slides back from the drugstore, I would take out my slide viewer and excitedly look at my photos.  Then I lovingly packed them in a shoebox, labeled the box, “Trip to Yosemite,” and carefully pack my slides away with the others in the closet.  Colored photos were the photos you never look at again.

mbfitzmahan. 2015. Berkeley, CA. Rhythm.

When I went from taking snapshots on vacations, and started taking photos because I loved photography, I wanted to take my photos in black and white.  I bought a Nikon camera and a zoom lens and used only black and white film just like Henri Cartier-Bresson.  

My photos didn’t look like the French master of the 1930s, but I wanted them to.  This wasn’t a hobby for me.  I was serious.  I wanted to make great photos.  I was willing to learn to be good at this. I felt that the only way my photography would be good enough was if I learned to develop my own photos.   See my blog post, “My first darkroom image.” 

In the last 25 years, I’ve learned to take black and white photos.  I’ve read a lot of books.  Took classes.  Studied a lot of great photos.  Developed images in both film and digital.  I’ve practiced a lot.  Taking a good black and white photo takes some discipline. 

Today, I get help by using digital technology.  Better digital cameras will allow you to take a good photo in color and then later convert your image to beautiful black and white.  My new Fujifilm X-T1 lets me take pictures in color, yet lets me see them in black and white on my camera.   I even have a choice to make my black and white photo in different black and white styles.  Very cool. 

Native Pottery
mbfitzmahan. 2015. Berkeley, CA. Native Pottery.

Post production, i.e. editing after you take the photo, is also a good time to convert your color photos into black and white.  If you are an Apple user, iPhoto (newer: Photo) is a good place to go.  You can even use your good iPhone photos and convert your color photos with a number of free editing apps on iPhone or iPad.

On my beautiful iMac (I love my new computer),  I use Lightroom (I find Photoshop difficult to use) and Silver Efex Pro (part of the Nik Collection – which are now free at Nik Collection, thanks to Google).  You can get Lightroom and Snapseed (Nik Collection on mobile devices) on your mobile devices.

I recommend that you take a side trip and experiment with black and white.   

Portugal- Evora-shop.jpg
mbfitzmahan.  2008. Evora, Portugal. Waitress taking a break.

Avoid going back and forth between color and black and white.  If you’d like to try black and white, stick to it for awhile.  Then, take some time to learn black and white photography.

Try giving yourself some assignments, and go out and take photos.   Of family, of your neighborhood.  Of your best friend (cats included).   Of your next trip.  Here is an excellent blog post from Eric Kim, “How to Shoot Black and White Street Photography.”

Look for light, textures, forms.  Look at the photos of the great masters.

If you need help making black and white photos, send me some questions.  I would be happy to help you.  


6 thoughts on “What flavor do you like your photos?

  1. To me your photos are a work of art. I love the shades and subtleties that appear in each photo. you are truly talented and sensitive to the aura around you.

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