When to convert an image to black and white

There are some photos that BEG to be converted to Black and White and others that really pop in color.  How do you know when a photo WANTS to be a Black and White image?  There are some key things that I look for.  Most people love color for family photos and pictures of kids because that’s how we see them in daily life.  I have noticed that many people will convert to black and white on an image they probably don’t love in color in an attempt to make it better.  This usually doesn’t work. It was blah in color and it’s now blah in black and white.

My biggest criteria for deciding to convert and image to Black and White is contrast.  Imagine a greyscale spectrum…on one end you have pure white, on the other end you have pure black and in the middle you have a range on grey tones from very light to very dark.  A high contrast image will have some parts that are black, some parts that are white and some grey.  Conversely, a low contrast image will be almost entirely in the greys with few or no true black or true white.  So which kind of image would look best in Black and White? (Hint: It’s not called a Greyscale, it’s called Black and White)…It’s the HIGH contrast image.


In these example, you can see there are lots of pure black areas, and lots of pure white areas even in the color version, making this a high contrast image…These images are almost like a yin yang symbol when converted to black and white because there are light/white areas overlapping the vast black area, balanced out by the opposite above with the dark sunglasses and bow breaking up the vast white space.