Columns » A Photo Life

Photography's color problem

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pueblo_chili_festival072.jpg
At the very beginning, photography was black and white — or a variation of. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that color was easily reproduced and somewhat accurate to the scenes being photographed.

If you look back at black and white images of old there is a simplicity there that color photographs don’t have.

Take Timothy O’Sullivan’s images of the West, for instance. This classic picture of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison comes to mind. It's a wonderful illustration of the power of black and white photography.

Today, color photography is ubiquitous. But color creates a major problem for photographers, too — often it's a distraction not an enhancement.

By removing color from your images, you can improve them. It’s also a nice way to see if the image you made is really any good. Take color away from a picture and take a second look.

In the past week, I’ve photographed three events; the Colorado Springs Air Show, the Pueblo Chili Festival and the Landsharks Cross Country meet.  All of them I documented in dark, rainy and overcast conditions, the kinds of situations where color photography really falls short.

Here are some of the images I made. I’m presenting each image in color and in black and white. See if you can tell the difference.


Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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