How do different colours and cloth design patterns affect black and white photographs?

Which patterns and colours should be preferred for clothes while shooting in black and white?

  • 1
    Surely that depends on what you're trying to achieve with the photos?
    – connersz
    Oct 21, 2014 at 15:44
  • This would be for photos with the person as the main subject. Oct 21, 2014 at 15:49
  • I have taken portraits in both light and dark clothing and they both produce different results. That decision was led by the emphasis of the shot but I will try and give an answer below.
    – connersz
    Oct 21, 2014 at 15:57
  • 1
    The mapping from color picture to black and white is in principle arbitrary (you don't have to stick to the standard conversion), so you have a lot of room to adjust the results. If the contrast between two parts becomes too small because the luminance is mapped to approximately the same value, you are free to redefine luminance to alleviate this problem. Oct 22, 2014 at 16:04
  • That's exactly why I recommend using channels- it gives you the freedom to get the luminance that you want.
    – JenSCDC
    Oct 23, 2014 at 15:31

4 Answers 4


About the colors - It doesn't really matter, it all depends on your color to black and white conversion.

I guess green or blue cloths will be easiest to manipulate (see below) because those colors have their own slider and they don't appear in skin tones.

About the patterns - I don't know.

Your camera's sensor only records color images, conversion to black and white is always a pot-processing action (even when it happens in camera), most image editors have lots and lots of options when converting to B&W and give you a lot of creative freedom.

Basically, as long as the colors in the image are distinct you can make them whatever you want in relation to each other.

For example, I downloaded this image from flicker (image by Nick Della Mora, license CC BY-NC, link to original image)


I loaded it into photoshop, added a channel mixer layer and moved the blue slider left (darker) and red slider right (brighter) to make the plane look white on a dark background:

White on black

Than I revered the sliders and now the plane is black on light background:

enter image description here

  • Distinct color = saturated color.
    – JenSCDC
    Oct 24, 2014 at 17:16

One way you might use clothing colours is to place emphasis on certain parts of the photo. For example if you were taking a portrait shot, a shirt of a slightly darker colour to their skin tone could help to pronounce the face.

I can't say much for patterns, I have always preferred a more plain look in portraits as I think otherwise they can provide a lot of distractions.


Excellent question. But I think you are taking the stick by the other side. First of all you need to know how to work with White Balance. The understanding of (informal called) "grey17" and how it works with light working is needed to archieve this, because you don't have to think in colours, instead tones. Red and blue are equal. Or not, if you change the light, or the white balance.

I suggest a book about working in analog with black and white.

  • 1
    I don't understand how that answers the question. It's true that he may wish to remove any colour casts to ensure that the conversion into black and white takes into account the true tones but the question was with regards to clothing and what impact colours/patterns may have on the overall result. The only way I can think that you answer may be reworded is if say brighter colours were creating a colour cast from metering.
    – connersz
    Oct 22, 2014 at 14:52
  • Is that I'm talking about, the thing to resolve is not the colour/pattern. There is not response for this question. Oct 22, 2014 at 14:56

I think that saturated would work best if you're willing to work with channels (blends, curves) and not just leave it to PS's tool. Why? if you're working with channels, saturated colors will maximize the difference between red, green, and blue, as well as maximizing contrast within each channel. This gives you much more freedom and ability to manipulate the image's contrast and tonal values. For portraits, faces are obviously important, and using the green channel is practically a must for faces.

(Hmm... I wonder if I've been influenced by Dan Margulis;) )

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