In short, the answer to this one is simply ‘Black and White’. Monochrome basically means black and white images. But why does this matter to me and what’s it got to do with my photography?
A huge amount of the pictures on this website are monochrome, and the reason behind that is simply that I like black and white photographs. The initial thinking from an outside perspective on why I use so many of them may well be ‘it makes your pictures look more “arty” with minimal effort’. This is not the reason I like monochrome. And to be honest it’s not even true.
Firstly let me put out the disclaimer that (at the time of writing this blog post) I currently provide a colour version of any images I produce in black and white to clients wherever possible. I do this because I understand that not everyone has the same passion for monochrome as myself, but equally I recognise that if you’ve booked me you’ve done so because you like the kinds of pictures I like to take.
So let’s get down to the real reason that the absence of colour is so important to me. Brace yourself for some light technical chatter.
Mel DiGiacomo put it perfectly in a video I saw of his where he was discussing documentary wedding photography – he believes that ‘Colour is easy, because it’s it’s own reward’ but black and white is ‘difficult’ because the subject becomes the main focus. What he’s saying, is that if you shoot colour there’s a lot to distract you from the people and the emotions.
Above is a picture that I added to my homepage a couple of weeks back. It’s monochrome and there’s good reason for this. The shot is from a wedding reception where the evening dancing was in full swing alongside the wonderful, bright, colourful disco lights. When I took this picture I didn’t want the viewer to look at it and say ‘Oh wow, look at the amazing disco light colours’, I wanted people to notice this important moment between the bride and her friend.
On a technical side note for those interested, I’ve also dragged the shutter quite a bit here too (a technique that I’ll do a separate post on in more detail) – this creates the motion blur in the background while the subjects are frozen by the flash. The reason to do this is to recreate the feeling of being on the dancefloor at that moment – the people are all moving around and by this point the day the celebrations can become a bit of a ‘blur’ for the guests!
One of the issues that plagues monochrome is that without interesting light it can start to suffer a little. The picture is entirely at the mercy of the light, the subject and the moment.
The reason that I feel the above image works is because the light creates some wonderful shadows and contrast, while the moment is a fun one to watch with the friend of the bride carrying the bottom of her dress.
The photograph works mainly in colour because the moment between the bride and groom shares equal importance with the magical surroundings, so the colour becomes as important here as the subject.
It’s common misconception to think that reportage wedding photographers shoot black and white because it makes their image look more ‘gritty and documentary-like’ and that because a large portion of the great Magnum photographers shot black and white we should too to preserve the essence of reportage. It’s all about how I/they want to convey a particular moment, and what the most important elements of an image are.