Black and White vs Colour

Perhaps this is not a question you often ask yourself, but what do prefer to work with? Black and white or colour?

When designing film posters, I found there are benefits and disadvantages to working with black and white compositions just as there are when working with colourful projects. Let me explain what I think of each.

Black and White

There are numerous advantages to working with black and white or grayscale pieces. The lack of colour allows for simpler compositing of disparate images as there is not much colour overlap. One of the best examples would be my Ghost Tracer Movie Poster. Using only two stock photos, I seamlessly blended them together without any evidence of hard breaking between the two.

The photo of the male subject did have more features originally, but after adjusting levels with a layer mask, I removed the space on his back and allowed the black colour fill layer to appear through. I then softened the edges of the bottom photo with a soft brush to create the easy blend effect.

Though the Ghost Tracer project was supposed to have a different composition originally, I turned it into the current piece with very little effort to my other pieces compared. Despite the ease of compositing with black and white elements, there can also be notable disadvantages.

If we look at my Le Cygne Movie Poster project, we can see that it is simple and pretty, but without colour, there is an apparent lack of depth. Because you cannot see the water or the sky surrounding their respective swan and moon subjects, it is difficult to appreciate a sense of reality. Though this is not always negative, it can be for some audiences.

In sum, black and white palettes are fantastic for easy compositing and quick projects, but there can be a lack of character with the projects as a result of not having enough colour.

Colour

In regard to the arguments made for an against black and white designs, the opposite could essentially be said for pieces with colour.

For projects that involve the use of colour, there is a great challenge when matching various elements. To see an example, look at my The House of Lannister Movie Poster project. The photos of the seven subjects were all screen captures from the show Game of Thrones. The images were captured during different episodes in different locations, so when compositing all these human elements, there is a distinct difference in shadowing and lighting from one person to the next. Black and white compositing would almost entirely eliminate the variance between the characters.

However, colour is essential to creating particular moods to a piece. In my project, Miami Winter Movie Poster, there is an obvious warmth to the image through the use of red, pink, and yellow undertones. Paired with the calm reflection and demeanor of the man and the palm tree background, the viewer can sense a stillness and cozy feeling about the setting. Were this piece desaturated, it would naturally feel colder and would diminish the value of the project.

For the last example, let us look at my Flourish Movie Poster project. This one treads the line between colour and black and white which makes for its own interesting effect, but there is something particular I wish to point out.

The subject is a red rose, and though I artificially deepened and enhanced the rich red colour, any viewer can still determine that flower is a rose. Though there are variants such as white and pink roses, would this project be the same if the rose was grey? I would say, probably not. The rich colour gives this poster the emotion that it has and without it, the effects would be lost as in the previous example.

Conclusion

There are times in which black and white compositions work well and there are times when colour pieces are preferential. If you’re unsure of which scheme to use for a project, perhaps you can work entirely in colour, and then desaturate the complete image to see if it looks better in black and white at the end.

Though I appreciate the simplicity and strength of black and white projects, I would never stop creating colour pieces as they have certain properties that cannot exist in colourless artworks.

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