Who Needs Color, Anyway?

When we think of flowers, the first thing that comes to mind are the colors that give each of them their distinct character, beauty, and mood.

But are colors really necessary to make a flower beautiful?

Deep in the heart of North Carolina there exists a place that at one time could have been featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  Within this monument to ego and opulence, the grounds contain flower gardens and an excellent conservatory.

We’ll reveal the name of this mystery mansion and explore its grandeur in a later post.  For now, a vignette: a black and white exploration in floral textures that I discovered on the grounds.

(Click on any picture for a larger view)

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When we look upon the world and see colors, we think little beyond that; that’s red, that’s pink, that’s orange.  But there’s more.

Water Lilies

Red, pink, orange, and all the other colors of the rainbow are simply hues. There are also two other components: saturation and luminosity (brightness).


Saturation is the intensity of a hue.  A lemon has a deeply saturated yellow, but if it were only lightly saturated it would appear greyish white, with a tinge of yellow.

Luminosity, or brightness, is how much light an object reflects.  For black and white photography, this is where the rubber meets the road. Luminosity is related to saturation, but there are confusing differences.

Water Lily

You might think yellow is a bright color and blue is a dark color.  But would you believe the middle of the water lily above is yellow?

It’s not that yellow is really a dark color under the covers.  I cheated a bit on editing the picture: I increased the saturation of yellow to make it even more intense (which darkened it a little), then I lowered the brightness of the yellow.  In black and white, a dark, saturated yellow comes out as almost black. I could as easily (within limits) make a blue flower look almost white.

Black and white photography is all about contrast, shades of grey, shapes, and textures.


So what is it that defines beauty?  Is there beauty here, where there are no colors to distract the eye? I would argue, yes.


Shapes and textures add definition to the world.  Black and white doesn’t contain the range of mood-altering colors that a color photograph will, but it has a mood.


Does this mean we should forego color?  Is color just window dressing for the shapes and textures that seem to underlie beauty?

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Of course not.

Colors bring flavor and feeling to the world.  Colors can add contrast in their own way, and a greater range of moods.  And not all pictures suit themselves to conversion to black and white; sometimes it’s the colors that tell the story.

I’ll tell that story with color photos of flowers from the mystery site a couple posts from now.

But next up, the mystery mansion…


Author: Dave Ply

See https://daveplyadventures.wordpress.com/about/

33 thoughts on “Who Needs Color, Anyway?”

  1. In a sense, fading and dried flowers and seedheads make your case. Quite often, it’s the gray or sepia tones of the most brilliant flowers at the end of their lives that reveals the pleasing shapes that we don’t notice: not only because they’re covered by petals and such, but also because we’re focused on their color.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, Dave, you’ve really built more suspense in this post, wondering about the mansion.
    These are terrific photos. I think looking at things in B&W maybe slows down the viewer, because if it was a deep red rose, you’d just admire the color and move on the next jolt of color. It’s nice to click the pause button, and look at the shapes, shadows, and textures.
    I don’t know what that flower is in the third photo, that’s my favorite of these – – the spots on the leaves and in the background, make it look almost like a snow globe, very cool effect.


    1. I don’t know what the flower in the third photo is either. The leaves are a dark green, the white spots are white, as are the petals, but I took creative license on the little flower clusters; they’re actually bright yellow. I thought it looked cooler than the default grey. So, in this post I went two different directions with yellow, almost pure white for the third shot, and almost black on the water lilies.

      We’re not in the old black and white darkrooms anymore. (Although that was fun too).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read a fair bit about composition, and there’s a whole set of components that are said to draw the eye; brighter colors and lighter shades being in the forefront. But it’s the shapes and lines that move the eyes around once your attention has been grabbed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Feel like I just completed a brief tutorial on imaging. “Saturation” and “luminosity”: knew the words; just not the definitions w/ regards to photography. Thanks Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those terms aren’t all that important to take pictures, but definitely are if you want to do digital editing. Luminosity in particular is how I turned yellow to black in one picture, and to white in another.


    1. If you’re interested, YouTube is full of guys teaching the basics of photo editing.
      The challenge on the mystery mansion will be how many pictures to show. I’ve got a couple posts worth, but I’m not sure I want to do a couple posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A well exposed black and white image of a flower is a thing of beauty altogether removed from a color shot. One really has to consider the shape more in this case. These are all very nice depictions of the flower shapes and textures.

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  5. I don’t think it’s a case of either or. But what you want to the photo to convey. Grey tones can be beautiful as can colours. You images in this post, shows the former. These images definitely don’t need ant colours. On the contrary. Simply beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s rare that I’m actually thinking black and white when I take a photo, I just shoot what looks good to me at the moment. That thought usually comes in post – what can I do to give this image a little more pizzazz, or make it more unique? I suppose what is important, more than the choice of color or black and white, is to have the thought process in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

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