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Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

Lesson 13 of 35

Color vs Black and White Formats

David H Wells

Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

David H Wells

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Lesson Info

13. Color vs Black and White Formats

Lesson Info

Color vs Black and White Formats

I had a one of those inspirational moments yesterday, which I want to share with you and it's going to sound a little crazy, but I actually thought it was a good insight. One of the reasons I looks a lovely every day there's a woman named acoma, who does a little make up in a little hair, makes right look a little better. So we were talking yesterday and I said in a coma, nikon there's got to be some kind of thing that she could do to promote herself in a coma and icon. As I said, this story just came out of my mouth remember I said, when you're trying to think about what it is you should be doing, write everything down, just let it come out don't say anything have seen, but so I said that to call me yesterday, and she said, nobody ever said that I thought, there's, all these photographers coming through here and we're supposed to be creative people and I said to, you know, you should do something about nikon tacoma, you look so good, you'll be ready for a nikon moment or something lik...

e that, so I asked her today, apparently she's done this with over fifty photographers, and not one of them has actually just let that thing come out not that I'm so brilliant but I've discovered over the years if I just think let it come out so that's a big part of our process here all right so I looked over your proposals I looked over the proposals that were submitted online and I know you all were trying really hard right and people line we're trying really hard but sometimes it's just a process of going a little slower taking those thoughts out teasing them out that nikon tacoma thing on one level sounds a little bit silly but it's a lot about that kind of being open toe to moments of inspiration so that was just one of the things that came away today so let me pull up my click and we'll get started today and so yeah, the first thing we're gonna do is we're gonna review three of the many proposals that were submitted online and a class time permitting ideally we get tau talk about yours as well all right and if you remember when we left I gave you a sort of a list of things to put into the proposals and these aren't all of them but these are the criteria that I was most concerned about when I was looking at the proposals that were submitted online when we come back to yours later and the ones that didn't make it into the final three a lot of times it was because people didn't necessarily answer most of these questions particularly things like the historical background quotes from experts that's a big thing to move the stuff beyond me me me two for example we've been talking about your project already and this is a thing that has large residents many people are going through this experience so it moves it beyond the u u u to something that's wider and so some of the proposals that I looked at that didn't make the cut what unquote it's because they lack some of these things and so that's an important thing for you all and it's a really important thing for the audience out there because the idea is to go through what we gonna do now look at these here some of the suggestions that I make and then go back I revised it again your homework by the way tonight because after we give you this feedback if you're smart because you revise it again and ideally we need to look at the former leader informally but that's really the way to learn and then the next set of homework of course is actually going out there and photographing and that'll change it even more so a photographer by the name of gm brix sent me proposals called the farmer takes a wife which right off the top was a good title okay it's a simple is that you think you can I'm interested and one of her, we're not gonna go through the entire proposal, but I did put out a couple pieces that really caught my attention. This fast paced world of new technology education. What has changed in the life of a farmer or ranch wife? Are they still work in the farm and they moved to creating outside careers of their own? I thought that's a great question, it's a great question. It gets it a bunch of things, and this is that larger milieu question, which is so, so important if you do a project that you like that's, fine, if you do a project that everybody else connects to, then you're getting somewhere. So this one speaks a bunch of things and she's totally talking about a new technology changing roles of women, changing role of agriculture. Um, all of those things, my first thought when I was reading this was wondering how many women that she's talking about are, for example, more like partners in terms of maybe their expertise, possible training, expertise in marketing or math, and I don't even sure are there are there farm relation farmers who were farm wives who have as much training or expertise in farming say it is their husband? Is this a question that's? Geographically different by places, these are all things that I think could be teased out to move it from a story about one farm wife for a few to too many and I thought you got my attention and the next one and this is a little bit long, but here she was talking about why she could do it and right off the top I was reading this and saying, well, I'm completely stuck because I can't do this I don't have a lot of these credentials um lived most my life in rural communities are raised on a small farm my daughter's married to farmer I witnessed the lack of power women have on farms and ranches and and I like to see what changes if any have been made today I've been in a quiet in rural lifestyle photographer of ten years, so she has many contacts this's the subject close on heart mean ahs that a person to do this I feel like I'm getting to know you all well, but I don't think any three of you have this expertise, right? So she's ahead of the three of you obviously ahead of me already because of that um one of my other questions was how much of that's changed is there difference that you could find in different places? And so those are the other things that I would be teasing out in any proposal and then the last question would be the numbers how many people were talking about, um your problem from what I've read farming used to be at one point time I think farming was like forty percent of economy of this country and I think I think let me get that one I think certainly get that crate I think forty percent of the population was involved in farming in the late nineteen tension I think it may be down to three percent because farmers are more efficient, bigger scale I would think something like that would go into this go because on the one hand you're not talking about a large number of people but you are actually talking about something that affects a lot of us because we're at the end of the food chain as it were so I thought that she was onto the start of something in there you guys have anything you want to leave you and add to that jumped out at you I love the title because I like the title of honest I looked at the title and the farmer takes a wife and then I read it's not really about the farmers about the wife of the new and the whole thing about any of these do you always want to drive the person who's reading or the person is looking your photographs because we were looking your photos order to go forward you don't want to lose them. You don't want to put you in the out pile. Click to the next page. And so to me, it was a great title that immediately took me to the next. All right, so that was one. And it was nice to get that one. This one was, uh, called homegrown forms by photographer mink mingle you and it's actually a story about the romani aroma people, but also known as gypsies in central europe. And to me, I thought this was a pretty good start in terms of the some of the background. But I was actually wondering about kind of changing it around because the and sense we may even choose to love our neighbors is that's the person's point that's. Why? I was not one hundred percent convinced on the title of home grown thorns. He kind of lost me. There were completed last one. I thought they were doing a great job. Um, having said that, one of the things I would do with this is I would talk about what has been done in other media on the same subject. Because we have this idea. And the photographer being is starting to talk about the idea of, um what we see, what the stereotype in our head is, and the photographer office who wants to change that around which I'm all for, but first, you kind of need to help us really structure where where our thinking is, ideally where we want to go, and then the other question I'd be curious about, and I'm not going to be knows how many people are talking about how many places? Um, one of the things that I have heard, my wife says that she read somewhere that actually the rome originate in india. If you go far enough back, I don't know if that's really true, but all of that information makes it more specific to them. The process they're going through. Why should we care? Why should we not push them away? Because that's, what I think what the title was alluding to the idea of them is unquote thorns and same time this doctor's saying, no, we don't actually want to push that we want to connect to them, um and that's a really, really important thing in any photography project. I'm gonna take a little bit on you, cindy, when we talk about your project later, it was great to see what you were doing, but to me as interesting is what you showed us is the impact on the people and we were talking about the bridge closed the bridge opened how does it affect people's lives? How does destroy their lives? How does slow down the economy's so it's as much about the people as the actual bridge itself? And so this one I think the photographer was doing a pretty good job of getting it the people I think they kind of lost me a little bit on the title and so your best projects I'm being flippant, but because we're people we care about people, ok? And so you're best projects are mix of what is it about? Well, technically is about infrastructure but it's really something very important to us because it actually directly impacts our lives. So you have kind of that balancing act, and I mentioned that because the next project that was sent submitted online kind of had some of those similar issues reader walks into a bar with me so far it's actually about chain bookstores okay and about local bookstores and the idea is that this is a photographer submitted from arizona and though there are these chain bookstores, they're still local bookstores and the local bookstores are thriving, so I wasn't one hundred percent convinced on the title, but I'm happy to bounce around some other titles because it's actually, when I go to the next one, you'll see there's a really interesting idea is that despite chain bookstores the local bookstores are actually thriving, and this person has a particular one in mind. And one of the things that's interesting if you meet the last sentence, that bookstore opened a book bar recently, so they're adapting to the times it's cool. And you're thinking I might want to go there, right? You've been there. Okay. Raised in arizona. Rescue raising arizona. Okay, well, you could probably tell us more about it. The new location, the old one, was kind of unique. It was. It just had that that's, that old book smell, uh, you know, it was it was really need you. Yeah, I was in there for about three hours, and it was about the books about the people, about the community that it creates the whole thing because they did a lot of history on phoenix in arizona and stuff like that, they had different sections and everything that away. Those were, like, cool. You know that cindy and I worked on that for, like, half an hour before we start that's exactly leading to the next light and being sarcastic, but that's exactly what the point is. And I think this photographer missed that point, which is the photographer was saying color images of the exterior color photos, the employees working, engaging with customers what you described to me is that next thing, though that's a place I want to go to, it has a feel it has an atmosphere it's, a community institution, and I'm being sarcastic, but thank you very much, because that actually fed into what I was trying to figure out, which is, I don't think it's it's not just about the place it's about why would we go there? Because in theory, these books cost the same maura's online of the other places, so I have to make a choice, and we actually have a great local bookstore books on the square in providence, which is much like this and it's about the people who were there. So for this photographer, I would be saying, you really want to be selling what you said, frankly, they're at home writing it down because that's really the point? Because then, yeah, a reader walks into a bar now, it's starting to make sense, and then the other thing that this person needs would be the same thing. I've been talking a lot about how many bookstores as it used to be. How many other? Now there is a revival? How many are coming back? How are they surviving all that kind of stuff and again who were the people behind it to go back to what I said before so I thought those were three interesting proposals did you want to make a run at a different name or does that name working better for you? You get the privilege of making suggestions for other people now that I've heard the back more like okay would that keep you going forward that's the question you know because the farmer takes a wife captain way want to go the next page we want to read further down that's always the question with any component does it keep you going forward or does it sort of stopping what they've taken? I want to see pictures of what they've already taken okay well that would be a good question yeah right I mean that also may go to the point that may inform if and when we change the title because to me it's more about the people the atmosphere not sure I could use the word smell but I have to say I love that idea you know this the smell of old books that's probably not going to keep your attention anywhere so again to circle back for you and for the online audience the best project proposals touch on these things the title we've already talked about a lot it got you hooked in we went a little bit of deduction most people seem to be a little thin on the background, the quotes from experts and stuff like that, that thing that really keeps the reader going forward, um, the farmer takes a wife, had great justification in terms of why she should do it. We didn't talk that much about the outlets, yet we will why you're the best person again, farmer takes a wife sound like it did that, but also the a bookstore person sound like she had a passion for the bookstore. I'm getting the impression it's, a place that one could be passionate about, um, and the one thing that didn't go into that much was, are there any special technical, conceptual presentation issues in terms of you trying to do it? More narrative is a color, is it black and white is the large format, and that leads into actually today's talk a bunch of decisions that you're going to have to make about what's the format, your photo essay, color or black and white square rectangle? All of those things, and so that's going to be one of the things we're gonna do in the next hour or so actually go over that in great detail terms of photographing the actual photo essay before we do just a shout out to the online audience for those of you who have signed up. You should if you haven't already download from creative life one hundred low res jpeg four by six images, which are from the foreclosed dreams project a little four by six digital prints, and the idea will be during lunch. You three are going to actually take that stack of one hundred prints, and I'm gonna give him to me fifteen minutes to pick out the top fifteen and you will enjoy it a lot to get to beat me up. And and the online audience should be doing exactly the same thing during the lunch. They should take those hundred photos, digital photos pick out their own top fifteen, have them ready and then after lunch, I'll show you your top fifteen. I'll also show you the top fifteen from a few other groups that have done this because I'd done this about twenty times, and I keep track on the back of the prince and it's a great exercise, both in terms of the balancing act that you guys were late, we have to go through is you edit what's the narrative, trying to create what's missing and so that's part of the process of what's going to do later on, so please, oh, david, I just want to let the online audience you know that the way you can get availability. To those photographs is to r s v p for the core, so if you go to our course page on the right hand side, you'll see that blue r s v p bun one two rs vp of course you'll be logged in you will then get access to download those photos, so we encourage you, as david said, to go ahead and do that we would love to know your experience trying to call down these images, but it's it's a difficult thing, and so I'm hoping the difficult thing that I'm hoping you like the work, but it's the challenge, but it's a great exercise and the reason I mean her jewel and the online audience to do it is not your own work it's somebody else's work, and so you're freed from that. I love that picture thing and that's, what always holds us back when we were editing, we love our pictures, we love our proposals and you need an outside perspective, and so this idea of this exercise is part of that process. So right now we're going to go through a bunch of questions you want to be asking yourselves about the different decisions you have to make when you're actually doing photo essays I call this part decisions, decisions, decisions, all right, and the first decision is color versus black and white so I'm going to take you through the foreclosed dreams project simply because it's the stuff that I have handy and this's color obviously there's black, white, same image, another image in color, another image in black and white and we're gonna go through a lot of these but the point of the exercise is exactly this does that work better in color doesn't work better in black and white and this is a decision you have to make on purpose, okay for example the bridge stuff because there's something about the actual object is a thing is a beautiful thing the gears and stuff like that you could at least make an argument for black and white ok, I'm gonna pick on you, julie my argument I think you did black and white so far color has attending in my experience and thinking color has the tendency to feel more contemporary because that's today that's a particular person he has skin, he has a house, so my argument be for color not to say you should change it, but that's the argument having said that we're gonna go through a bunch of photos and you're going to probably start saying no, I really like black and white no matter what I really like color no matter what it's an important decision in terms of your own aesthetic it's also important decision in terms of what the viewer gets okay, now you did black and white from what you show me so far some of them are color causes that person in that environment requires color okay? I mean there's a there's a decision making process is well, ok, so that first that you just saw was color first okay, to really break this down of social scientists would say we don't need to do the opposite, so now we're going to do black and white first all right image again, it's all from the foreclosure project. This is in rhode island where I live same thing in color and feel free to jump in here anytime if you if you really say you know that one really only works on one of the other, I'm curious to hear it, but I also think you're going to start understanding what works for you also actually you'd island now I'm deeply prejudiced this is one of my favorites and I think it's better in color but all right, so it's kind of like the going to talk a lot about this idea you can say that you like color like black white, but again why? What does it support in terms of narrative you were saying already gwen that some of the but the environments called fire bogus the contrast or it's just for whatever reason works in color but I love black white normally if you look at a lot of projects and one of the things you're gonna be doing, I'm hoping going forward is looking a lot of other people's work and one of things you'll notice it's very hard to mix black and white and mix color because color feels more contemporary black and white has a tendency to sort of abstract and also feel from a different time and this one to some degree is a perfect example of that you're a little unclear on when that was done right? It's feels much more contemporary just because of that and so mixing them up because you're never there alongside the viewer to say this for that they get the message directly from the color or the black and white so that's a decision you gotta make foreign after shot though all in one you've got the mirror and everything with a broom right and it's kind of like they're cleaning up you know they're doing that final cleanup to get ready to hang the mirror but then you look at the outside away from the mirror and it's like okay, I've got to take it down to move okay? And the color supports that story more than the black and white all right, I have to say the color I think for the all these pictures it adds that personality of each house of who lived there the time period because different colored colors and different trends I don't know there's just a little more it's a little more intimate is too who live there to me it was that's why I used color when I chose is but this is a decision you're going to start making and at some point time in the beginning of a project you can ideally shoot both and have lots of students who literally shoot both digital's very easy but a certain point time get closer and closer all right it's starting to come together I'm going to have to make that decision so when you had something or was simply that the color brought it today which is what you're trying to dio or you may be trying to take out of today that's exactly the context and another one again picking on yours because one of them I made some notes on it on everyone's proposal talk about later but I was also thinking I wonder if his maybe a pairings thing where the bridges or black and white and if people have impacted our color again the viewer experiences that is ok this is one thing this is completely different and so if you keep repeating that motif on the viewers going to say okay now I know why they're doing this okay if not it's hard to mix the two not impossible but they tell the viewers a certain thing and so that might work for yours um are these better in black and white or these better in color this next set? Okay, we saw this guy before and you'll notice there's almost no change the basic of the red car in the back it's a little different but you got that screaming blue spring sky in again to satisfy the statistical experts were going to do it this way that was cover first. Now we're gonna go black and white first and because I did this and it's my work I'm prejudiced but actually went through and I picked out the ones to put in these these two from segments and not surprisingly, the ones like this they tend to be singular cover are the ones that work relatively well in black and white, the ones where there's many colors by definition tend to be harder. This is one for me, and I'm not thinking about strong and color because of the information that's conveyed by the words and orange. So in theory those were better in black and white where they really doesn't look like the eviction one in red, right? Right it does except now is the opposite better in color or they better in black and white and obviously I'm prejudicing you by setting it up this way we saw this one yesterday, but you can imagine already where I'm going, which is to that and if you're trying to do it I think you're trying to do a child's toy and you're trying to have that kind of over the top collar that you have in kid's toys right same thing family snapshot the color of the sea and goes away yeah so I was arguing that this section was mostly stronger and cover that was again color first that was color first now same thing but black and white first and your little prejudice because you've seen them before but to me that adds another layer of information this being probably the most extreme example and when you said a minute ago said he was exactly spot on it's not that you should be using color because you love color you should be using color I think because that red toy says kid childhood and so it adds something more of value than just liking color so the first decision you're all going to have to make and by tomorrow at the end of the day you're all gonna leave empowered you're gonna go I have strong faith in this by the way because I've done this before and it always works wednesday afternoon when we say goodbye you guys are ladies I'm pretty sure gonna be saying, yeah, I understand what I'm doing, I'm going to be moving forward and one of your first decisions is going to be this black and white or color one is not write one is not wrong we're gonna have to go back and forth a few times because you may have to make some decisions you may or may not cindy buy into my argument of the pairings it might even be worth some experimenting of maybe taking some of the images do you have color images is what well take some of the images and do some maybe bridges against people and see if they kind of created a visual conversation between them that was how I did the final for the photojournalism class was black and white and color both but together somebody had great great minds sink alike right good so that's the idea is that one of the first decision says you have to make and you want to start getting near to you have to resolve but by the end of the day tomorrow you really want to be able to say okay I'm thinking pretty strongly about this and you have a slight problem julian well the issue with minus you know in nursing home you've got all these fluorescent lighting the lightest atrocious and so and then h time I go I might be different lighting scenarios how do you blend all that well one one question would be black and white of course another question would be shooting raw files and getting really really good at controlling white balance noodling amount another thing and I would strongly encourage you think of this is that one of things that's happened in digital to complete revolution is a lot of people develop their own kind of color palettes in terms of going into light room and using presets to make an image have a slightly stylized look without going quite over the top, and I also was thinking when some point and we might want to talk about that because that's a way of making all these disparate subjects and portrait's hold together by having some kind of pre set color palette kind of a thing, so it might be nothing more than de saturating a little bit kind of putting them all together because you do want to drive the viewer's attention, too, the family, the interaction journey that everybody's going on, but you don't want to have it going off to green and blue. Yeah, hospital lights or just about the worst, please, david, I'm an easy would like to know. Does this decision need to be either black for black and white or color? Or can the narrative the best with selective color? Well, it could be best with selective color kind like we're talking about this idea of creating a separate color palette. But it becomes part of this decision, which, again, is always looking at the pictures with the idea that you're not going to be there to explain them. And so if you mix black and white and you mix color, the viewers either going to find a logic to elect, we've already established the potential for a logic with cindy's pairing the two of them. Wade established a potential for a color palette with possibly both your projects, but there has to be a logic and because you're never there to explain it, if viewers and if your viewer doesn't get it, you've lost them and that's what we're afraid of so right. And and he's, he would also like to know how often does the client dictate black and white or color? Oh, it's a that's a great question. Be aware we're in this weird situation of were talking at the moment about the project, this idea lee is going to get you the work to then go to the next stand, and then at that point I'm it's it's a real tug of war because your client may have one idea, but you should, in theory, have sort of internalized this and say to them, no, no, no, you're you're losing something by not having color. Or you're risking getting off message by using color when we should use black and white. I mean, our job is professionals is to solve their problem, to say, okay, this is this is the problem you presented me with you now know I could do it. Let me suggest we do it this way or that way, and so it's, a tug of war, but part of your job as a professional's, actually educate the client what's in their best interest, because if they're happy, they bring you back, and you do mohr, and we're all happy there.

Class Description

The most powerful way to establish your voice and distinguish yourself as a photographer is to conceptualize and shoot a photo essay. Photo essays are compelling, dynamic, vivid mission statements of your work — every photographer should have a working knowledge of this narrative art form. Join David Wells to learn how to create a captivating photo essay from start to finish.

This course shatters the myth that photo essays are only for photojournalists; you’ll learn how all photographers can use photo essays to tell the story of any subject, in any style. You’ll learn how to present your unique point of view and communicate a coherent aesthetic through a compelling photographic essay. You’ll build strategies for tackling the complex task of assembling, editing and presenting a large photo project that speaks to its viewers. You’ll also learn about the techniques that are essential for keeping yourself inspired and organized while maintaining an effective workflow.

By the end of this course, you’ll have the skills it takes to stand out in a crowded marketplace and create a compelling project that showcases your skills, communicates your style, and helps others understand your personality, passion, and talents.



First off, I was a photo assistant for a few years to a photographer who did numerous multi-day workshops. This was my first time as a student sitting in on a webinar that actually kept me interested. Sometimes I'm turned off by the pace of the teacher, his or her voice, or the manner in which they disseminate the information. But this was truly fantastic. David showed lots of his work in a way that was NOT egotistical in any sense (something that does happen quite often). I was utterly impressed by the quality of his work, the wealth of knowledge he has on the world, culture and politics, and how he shoots "on the go". All of those qualities are essential parts to creating a great photo essay/story. I came into this seminar needing inspiration and in the end I have more ideas than I know what to do with. David's work is truly magnificent; his photo stories pertain to people and their struggles, which really could be something any one of us could go through at any point, but he shows it in a way that is beautiful - either beautifully desperate or beautifully destructive - instead of in an exploitative way. On a side note, he also offered up a lot of great information having to do with funding, exposure, workflow, time efficiency, income streams, releases... you won't find this a lot with other photographers. You will find the "go find the info yourself" attitude. This has been my problem as of late with photography - we don't work together as artists, we work against each other competing for what, I'm not sure. David's seminar seemed to embrace photography as the art form it is, and shared with us the tools that we as artists need to really understand and utilize in order to get our story out there. A story it seems he really wants to see/hear. Just an amazing "Thank You"!!!!

a Creativelive Student

I have purchased a number of classes on Creative Live. This class taught by David Wells is one of the best. David is a thorough teacher, personal and connects with his students. Along with his superb and inspiring imagery David talked about his experiences in getting funding, his workflow, developing his stories and distributing his work. David is talented, generous and an excellent teacher. Highly recommended class.

Anjani Millet

Just completed the course. Fantastic, practical information on everything from grant writing, finding foundations, proposal development, even how to shake hands overseas. I am not sure where else I would have found this information for photographers. So appreciate it. One friend asked if this would be worth watching for anyone outside the US and the answer is a definitive yes. Very happy I purchased, and already starting to implement.