Even though there's enough tonal contrast and graphic design to entertain the eye in this photo (scanned from color transparency film, by the way), compare it with the version below to see how it looks in color.
Back when I first got into photography I shot almost exclusively in black and white. Although color film was available (I'm not that old!), developing it was beyond my abilities or interests. Black and white film was relatively cheap, easy to develop and print, archival, and "artsy," so I stuck with it.
Among other things, that meant learning how to see in black and white; or, more accurately, how to interpret how a scene in color would translate into shades of gray. I quickly discovered that just because something had contrasting colors--red against green for example--didn't mean it would have contrasting tones when shot in black and white. In fact, reds and greens of similar reflectivity would often reproduce as the same shade of gray. That's why skilled B&W shooters carried color filters. A red filter would darken blues and greens while lightening reds and yellows. A green filter would do the opposite.
Filters aside, being successful at black and white photography requires developing an eye for the fundamentals of an image--its lines, forms, contrast, and gradations between highlight and shadow. Are these elements strong and dynamic, soft and flowing, or perhaps a combination between the two? Where do the lines and brighter areas lead the eye? Does it lead where you want it to? Does it create a sense of tension or resolution?
As cool as it is to see a pink Cadillac, I don't think this photo would be nearly as interesting without the contrast between the curves of the car and the straight lines of the concrete and metal structure. But that's just me. What do you think?
When you're visualizing in this way colors become secondary or in some cases superfluous. This can be a good thing if you're too often seduced by scenes simply because they're colorful. If you've got an image that's strong even without color, then color can become a bonus; that little bit extra that changes the comments you get from "Not bad," to "Wow!"
As for the actual how-to in all of this, here are three concrete suggestions:
- Shoot black and white film. The lack of a review image might seem daunting at first, but you'll be surprised at how quickly you learn to pre-visualize in B&W when you don't have any choice.
- Shoot JPEGs with your camera set to monochrome mode. Most DSLRs let you add color contrast filtration such as red, yellow, green, etc. Experiment to your heart's content, take note of the effect, and learn.
- Shoot raw and temporarily convert your images to grayscale when sorting and reviewing them. You may find that the ones that stand out when rendered in shades of gray are just as strong if not stronger in color.
Choose whatever you find most attractive and disgregard the rest. But do try one of them. At the very least it will open your mind to new possibilities--and who knows? You might even discover that your images look better in black and white than in color.