In each of the following I will start by presenting the 3 versions of the image, the raw unmodified file, then the Black and White processed image, and finally the Colour processed image. This is not quite true, the one modification to the starting image I have permitted is to crop it if needed.
Snow is an ideal subject for high key lighting. The raw file is flat and needs some oomph. A high key treatment was obvious due to the existing tonal structure, however, I was able to push the process far harder with the B/W version. With the colour image the wooden bench started to take on a very unatural hue as I pushed the exposure and contrast upwards. As the image was already very monochrome it has significantly benefited from the removal of what colour was present.
Moving from the cold of Europe to tropical Indonesia, I have taken this dusk image and tried to create a more moody view suggestive of night rather than evening. Doing the same with the colour image created a very unnatural colour cast preventing me from going much darker, it simply no longer looked like real lighting.
Changing subject to a portrait session I completed just before Christmas, this photograph was taken using artificial strobe light against a black cloth. In the B/W version I have significantly darkened the shadows at the expense of losing some facial detail creating a deeply shadowed image. This is quite extreme and perhaps taken too far. With the colour image, I could only change it slightly without the skin tones become far too dark.
Once again the B/W image was easier to process allowing far more latitude in modification before becoming unconvincing. The colour photograph started to look like a bad HDR conversion and no longer a believable scene.
My final shot was taken in a shopping mall in Singapore and rejected as being too confusing. The B/W conversion has reduced but not eliminated that confusion. The contrast changes allowed far more play, in the colour version the pink shirt and green banister became overwhelming.
In all of these cases I have been able to make far more aggressive processing choices with the B/W image than I have with the colour one. With the colour images the hues became unrealistic very quickly, whilst with the B/W images similar adjustments simply added to the visual texture of the photograph. I am starting to see some of the advantages of B/W as an art form, it permits far greater manipulation by the artist freeing up a number of creative options that are simply not available in colour. With B/W the eye looks at shape and form, extreme contrast is accepted as part of the very concept of B/W.
One question that immediately comes to mind is whether our tolerance for extreme B/W is a cultural outcome of historical exposure to large amounts of B/W imagery in the press? Do the younger generation brought up almost exclusively with colour imagery see B/W images with the same eyes that older people do?