When Black & White Is Your Best Choice
Two Dimensions

Nearly a month has passed since the largest Japanese Classic Car Show in America took place. But when I took another look through my JCCS photos I realized that, somehow, six articles still didn’t quite tell the whole story.

You can never expect to get to everything, but I realized I passed up on a lot of photos of cars and scenes that I genuinely liked, mostly due to the poor lighting conditions during the hot, sunny, Southern California summer day.

While I’ve never been too big on black and white photos due to the fact that you’re abandoning an important element in a frame that only consists of two dimensions, there are occasions where it’s the right choice. There’s something about a monochrome image that forces the viewer to imagine the rest of the story; sometimes this can be good, and sometimes this can be bad. Beyond this, you can also push your settings when post-processing your black and white images. While I often start my editing process by turning off the color in my image to aid in balancing exposure and cropping, you can bump around your exposure and contrast sliders much more in grayscale than you can in color.

So, while this write-up might be a bit more photography-centric than usual, there still are a couple cars tucked away here that are definitely worth a closer look.


From the long line into the show, to the kei cars and Hakosukas strewn around Marina Green Park, there was so much to see on this particular afternoon. While removing the color from these shots forces your eye to wander around the frame, it also removes a lot of the context. The small but distinct Long Beach skyline is entirely changed without the pastel hues that would normally accompany these images.


Other times, without any color to distract you, the focus of an image is more easily directed to a single point. Walking around the show everyone always sees things a bit differently through their own eyes, and it’s safe to say that car culture is not without a sense of humor.

Of course, this manifests itself in different ways. Take the rotary power plant for example, which could be found in this 510 wagon as well as where it belongs in this 787.


I find, in the normal course of things, the images I convert to black and white the most are ones of people. Especially when you’re shooting in mixed light, skin has a way of turning out a distractingly off color. Monochrome photos of people can tend to be a bit more flattering as well, and while you can always brush someone up this isn’t really my forte.

I rarely find myself working in black and white more than I have to. I know some shooters who prefer to preview their images in monochrome by changing their ‘Picture Style,’ or if you’re on Nikon, ‘Picture Control,’ to help identify issues with composition and exposure on the fly.

I prefer to see everything my sensor is capturing should I go looking through the last few images I’ve taken, but that’s just me. Sometimes it’s the color composition, or simply the color of your subject, that makes a photo more interesting than anything else.

Cars Without Color

Unless you were always shooting with the sun to your back at JCCS, you probably went home with a lot of really high contrast images. Coupled with the green of the grass reflecting off the shiny paint of the JDM classics parked up, monochrome was the only real choice in some cases.


One such car was this old school Celica. With the glossy paint reflecting every detail in the patchy yellow-green grass, I initially passed on these photos.

But with those huge drag radials paired with JZ power hiding behind a homemade, fully CNC’d billet grille, this isn’t a car you just pass up on.


I’ve actually been trying to track down the Celica’s owner for a while now, and finally was able to get his contact info. Expect a full feature on this thing sometime over the winter after FD Irwindale, ZCON Atlanta, and the SEMA Show all iron themselves out…


Long before golden hour, the lot unfortunately had to be vacated. My one wish would be that this show could run into the evening, but I understand the logistics for that don’t make too much sense. Driving an older car any distance is always an experience, and nighttime is not when you want to be surprised by something going awry.


Like I said, I don’t really mess with black and white images that much; I almost always feel like something’s simply missing (probably because it is) when I process my images this way. But there was once a time when color film was a luxury and the world was remembered in sepia tones alone.

Similarly to true black and white film — favorites include Kodak Portra, Ilford HP5 Plus, or whatever’s cheap and expired — processing your images this way will force you into a different editing style and require you to choose more creative compositions.

Give it a shot.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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That tubbed (I'm assuming) Celica looks downright mean and just right.


What are the side-piped exhausts that come up the entire side of the car and stick up called? I've only recently seen them and can't figure out what they are called.

Quinlyn Bernstein

Bosuzoku style my dude.


Takeyari (竹槍) -- Bamboo spear


I think they're called takeyari pipes not sure though :/

Ivor The Engine Driver

When is B&W the right choice? Well, Trevor, when you're doing the processing, never. I recommend you find some examples of prints from Tri-X from back in the day and go from there.


I am a B&W film shooter and do not see that much wrong with them. What are you seeing? You do not get the transition in greyscale from digital like you do with film so these are contrasty but you can develop film differently to get contrasty results. What are your issues?


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Bandar Sakong


Hey! Thanks for including a shot of my Mark II wagon and my buddy's Carina! I actually think black and white or greyscale works particularly well on the boxy 80s cars, keep it up!


Wooooaaaahh a gallo 24. That's rare!