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Breaking the MMA Lens: Black & White vs Color

If you’ve seen my photographs, you know that I love black & white.

Of course, I take both black & white and color photos at every fight. The Canon is set to color and the Fuji is set for black & white. I end up with about half and half in terms of usable photos from each camera.

The color photos look great, like you’re actually in the ring. You can feel it. It’s dynamic and colorful.

You get the ambiance of the arena, the crowd, the fighters. The lights are colorful, the fighters and their clothing are vibrant and the blood is red.

It really tells a story.

Now this could be just me, but the black & white does something to me on a gut level. With black & white I don’t get distracted by the colors. I can just look at the essence of the photo – what’s really there. The faces, the eyes, the agony or triumph. None of that is now secondary to color.

You see only what’s really there, so if there is nothing really there well, the photo just doesn’t work. If I had to put it into one word it would be “emotion.” The photo either has it or it doesn’t and with black & white it’s just more obvious to me if it’s there or not.

I am also forced to look at the composition. Dark versus light, back and forth. You’re looking for contrast. What really stands out and why. I can’t hide behind anything colorful. No visual tricks.

I don’t take a colored photo and then change it to black & white. I have the camera set to only take it in black & white. I can’t go back to color once the photo is taken even if I wanted to.

Why the hell would he do that? Why not just have the camera take the photo in color and change it to black and white if it fits?

In fact, I used to do that. Then I discovered the truth. It’s all about commitment. I do it because if I have the camera set up to black & white, when I lift that camera to my eye, I am committed to black & white.

Breaking the MMA Lens

Luckily, the Fuji has an electronic viewfinder. So I am pretty much seeing in the eyepiece what the actual finished photo will look like (or a close approximation). So if I have the camera set for black & white, what I see in the viewfinder is in black & white.

I now have to adjust my lighting, composition and contrast to black & white. What looks good in color may not look good in black & white and vice-versa. So mentally, it’s different. You’re shooting style may be one way in color and another in black & white.

I get it if you’re more interested in color and think the black & white is bland or plain. In fact, many of my best photos are in color.

However, I will say this.

I’ve taken color photos and wished they were in black & white, but I have never taken a black & white photo and wished it was in color.

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Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco writes the photography column Breaking the MMA Lens for MMA Crossfire. New columns on the 1st and 15th of each month.

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