Photojournalism in Colour

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There’s a sombre mood to black and white photography that is so attractive to new photographers and preventing even seasoned photographers from progressing towards what we actually do see – colours. In an interview of renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1971, Sheila Turner-Seed asked what he thought about colour photography, and his reply: “It’s disgusting.”. He chose to stick with photographing in black and white because the thought of having multiple people dictating the different colouring processes (limitation of colour photography in the past) seems to complicate the simplicity of photography. But that bold pledge of allegiance to black and white photography continues to guide the digital world of photographers today, from fine art to landscape, and especially photojournalism.

 

Photojournalism
A Hindu devotee prays at the Changu Narayan Temple on Saturday during the month-long Swasthani Brata Katha festival.
Photojournalism
Black and White

Now that we have the chance to document life accurately and easily as what we have seen in colour, something which Henri Cartier-Bresson didn’t get to do because of the many complicated processes, many photographers still choose to hit the black and white conversion button in the digital darkroom. Is that really how we see the world? Are black and white photos accurate documentations in photojournalism or are we leaning towards photos that simply look much sadder than they actually are? Should the whole debate over how much processing is considered altering the truth and integrity of the image include black and white conversions? What can we condone being converted to black and white? Photos of blood? War? The elderly? A funeral?

Photojournalism
A woman carries her child on her back while looking out to the protest rally called by the UCPN(Maoist) party at Khulla Munch in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Photojournalism
Black and White

The truth is black and white photos are extremely extremely (not a typo) beautiful. They take away all the distractions of colour and focuses on the the subject of your photograph. I do not like the colour green especially when it fills up most of the frame – It looks like a dirty greenish colour to me because, unfortunately, I do suffer from partial colour blindness.

Photojournalism
A Sadhu smokes a chillum at the Pashupatinath Temple during the Maha Shivaratri Festival in Nepal.
Photojournalism
Black and White

So black and white photos look really pleasing to my eyes, and it is tempting to convert all our photos into black and white right after importing it into our computers. You are not alone.

But the question I’ve been asking myself these few years is not about why black and white photos look so beautiful, but whether we photojournalists are documenting what we see, or are we merely artists splashing our photos with a bucket of desaturation paint – far worse than how people in the past added colours meticulously. Do we really see a world stripped of colours? We should be ambassadors of colour photography, embracing developments in this field that better help us depict reality, and not continue cheating our viewers and ourselves.

Photojournalism
A Hindu devotee prays before the holy bath at the Changu Narayan Temple on Saturday during the month-long Swasthani Brata Katha festival.
Photojournalism
Black and White

Colours provide identity in times of conflict, for party flags and to differentiate authorities from participants, as well as to show unity in group demonstrations.

Take away that and you lose the sense of how the members of the political parties are united by their flag’s colours.

Photojournalism
A protester from the Madhesi party performs a traditional dance at Khulla Munch during a mass rally called by the 30-party alliance in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Photojournalism
Black and White

Colours reveal the beauty of culture, especially in asian countries where festivals and religion are usually associated with bright vibrant colours.

The temptation to have black and white photos is valid and also very reasonable, but I knew that was not what I saw. And so I challenge myself to photograph in colour, by being much more observant to the things around me on top of just the emotions of the people that I photograph. There’s geometry in composition, something which Henri Cartier-Bresson certainly excelled in, but there’s also colour which is equally fighting for the viewer’s attention.

Photojournalism
An old man sits by himself during an activity facilitated by the training nurses at Social Welfare Centre Briddhashram in Pashupatinath, Nepal.
Photojournalism
Black and White

How do you balance that wrestle between the elements that are probably absent in a black and white photo? You keep your eyes wide open, you notice things at the corner of your frame that could make or ruin your shot. People can relate to it better because it’s how they see the world, where there are consistently distractions everywhere we look, and that is where photojournalists and photographers take a step further and find the frames that others don’t notice.

Photojournalism
A protester shouts slogans from the crowd during a protest rally called by the UCPN(Maoist) on Saturday at Khulla Munch in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Photojournalism
Black and White

It is certainly not easy, which makes it a lot more fun as it keeps you on your toes all the time, but most importantly it is more accurate of the scene. I believe that is what all photojournalists should strive to preserve — the integrity of the image — processing and sticking to a coloured, realistic visual communication.