Behind the Lens: Technology makes color choice easier than ever

When I started at the Journal-World, our color use was limited to a single lead image on a section front, mainly because of the length of time required to create color separations for the press. I remember laying out photo packages where I could use only one color image and the rest were black and white.

Because this was before digital cameras or digital film scanners that could covert color to black and white, I had to shoot subjects with both types of film. If I were lucky, my best shot and the lead image would be something I had managed to capture in color.

Until the early ’90s, when we covered KU basketball in NCAA tournament games, the only way to get good color in dark gyms was to use strobe lights.

At road games, we had to rent time on a strobe system from national publications like USA Today. But because the time on the lights was shared with other photographers, we could only use the lights for 10 minutes of one half or so, and then only when KU was at our end of the floor.

As soon as players crossed half-court, you stopped shooting so a photographer at the other end could use the lights. If nothing very interesting happened, or you missed a shot at your end of the court during your time on the strobes, you were just out of luck.

Today, multiple color photographs on a single page are commonplace and we photograph everything in color, digitally converting to black and white when needed.

Even in the art world, color photography is now more prevalent and highly regarded, where black and white is now sometimes regarded as a throwback implying nostalgia and times past.

But monochrome imagery remains popular. Phone apps like Hipstamatic, Instagram and Hueless feature settings to create images of a variety of shades of grey.

The German company Leica, one of the first producers of a 35mm film camera, recently added the M Monochrom camera to its line, a digital model that lacks color filters and only captures monochrome information.

If you want to experiment with black and white, using conversion software is cheaper than the $8,000 Leica M Monochrom. Your current camera may offer a black-and-white or sepia setting, but unless you have RAW image capture capability, I would not recommend using these in-camera settings.

Your best option is to shoot everything in color and then use image software like Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture to covert color files to gray scale. This enables you to maintain your original color file, create a second file in black and white and provide the opportunity to make comparisons between the two.

Send your favorite black-and-white images to me at and I’ll post them in a photo gallery for my next column on Oct. 21. Please include a caption, and camera and contact information.


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