B&W vs color 1I have a lot of black and white food photos—some are because Michael's book Ratio was printed in B&W, but there are times when food photos look better in B&W—as in this one of Michael kneading dough. The important information here is the texture of the dough and the flour on the cutting board. In the color photo there is little contrast between the colors, they are not important to the image nor do they compliment each other.BW vs color 2 Here, the black & white looks OK because there is a lot of texture and a full range of white to black tones, but the color—Wow. The purple compliments the green perfectly and the color becomes very important. The most important thing to know about converting your color digital files to B&W is you must adjust the contrast and exposure settings until you have a true black and a bright white. I almost always increase the contrast as well as adjust the tonal levels. Just pushing the convert to B&W button will leave you with a flat gray muddy photo. Blah.


10 Wonderful responses to “Why Black & White Food Photography?”

  • mattatouille

    i agree that sometimes b&w photography looks great with food photos. great examples you have there. if there are vibrant colors to be reveals, it’s best left in color! the best is b&w food photography on film!

  • Natalie Sztern

    I have just gotten a copy of photoshop and of course the camera of intended useage broke a day later…To me, a great photograph is shot in black and white with depth of hues. But no matter how great one is at using the camera – if the ‘eye’ is not there the pic will have no oomth.
    I know I don’t have the eye cause I have already shot ‘in the olden days with black and white only.’

  • dennis

    Just my 2c, you can take it or leave it… I found that much of the photography in ratio, while it was rich in information in terms of contrast, was unappetizing.

    I don’t know what the intention of the photos was, but I found something overly alien and clinical about the photography in the book.

  • Melinda Khan

    I really adore black and white photography. And you have some amazing shots here.

    However, for me the black and white is better in this sense for Fine Art.

    Food to me is more appealing in color. It depends if you are communcating Art or Selling the food product.

  • ntsc

    I’ve always prefered B&W, but this is probably because I was trained that way and could not have afforded to shoot color in the 50s when I was trained.

    I still have that camera, twin lens reflex using 120 film.

  • Donna

    Donna said:
    I totally agree–Color is better for photographying food 99.9% of the time. Food is sensual—sight being so important —you need that color—unless you don’t. As you can see, I am a big fan of B&W and it has everything to do with my 80’s editorial background in photography when we printed our own B&W prints for the newspaper everyday. I never had the urge to print my own color–too many variables in the chemistry to do small batches. I’ll let professional color printers do that work—on our next book in fact, which will definitely have color this time.

  • Jenn Sutherland

    Donna – thanks so much for taking the time to share your tips and techniques with us here – I’ve always converted my color to BW in Photoshop, and adjusted levels, but didn’t know to look for a true black and crisp white – I’m going to try this next time I’m editing in BW!

  • applehome

    I’m with ntsc. My darkroom for so many years was just trays and all I could afford was bulk tri-x, plus-x and panatomic-x and lots of Agfa paper. But I did eventually buy a Durst M35 with a dichroic color head (no more filters, yay) and even a motor for that color paper tank (no more rolling by hand – even more yay). With years of working with contrast in b&w, I found color to be harder to control and had a difficult time getting exactly what I wanted – even with the dichroic color head. Photoshop cures all that.

    Hey ntsc – I have lots of of Jacques Loussier Trio on CD and MP3. ITunes has lots (mostly his albums from the 90’s – but he released the Brandenburgs in 2006). He also transcribed the Beatles and other classical – including Debussy, Chopin, etc. for Jazz Trio. I agree – good stuff to have in the background for writing. Especially – no lyrics!

    With movies, b&w is retro – creates a certain look and feeling, like noir. But with photos, it’s all about bringing out certain details – details of texture, contrast, sharpness. Some things feel even more real in b&w than color – that’s when it’s used best.

  • Mike

    One thing to note is that in most image editors (i.e. Photoshop, The GIMP, Lightroom, etc), the “Black & White” or “Greyscale” button doesn’t make it a ‘Black & White’ photo. All it does is desaturate and remove the colours, which is very different from using black & white film vs. colour film.

    That’s why you still need to alter the contrast and tones/curves to emulate black & white film.