Ansel Adams is one of the most famous and best-known, best-loved photographers who ever lived. Ask anyone if they have ever heard of him, and most have. Ansel achieved success as a landscape photographer, photographing most, if not all, of the United States national parks. He did so in black and white. That was his medium. He felt that one could best depict natural settings in black and white because of the different tones of gray found in black and white photography. These different tones he believed (and many other landscape/nature photographers) would allow a wider range of personal interpretation of the subject. All one has to do is look at his work to see the brilliant control and eye and method he employed in every image – all done in those different tones of gray. However, there IS another way…

When I first decided to pick up a camera, my motivation was nature. As mentioned in a previous post in this blog, I was only 9 when I took a memorable trip to the gorgeous Canadian Rockies and British Columbia with my family. The beauty my youthful brown eyes saw was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. It took my breath away. It moved me to the point that I kept having to refill my film in my little Kodak Instamatic, having only 10 exposures in the roll! Good grief! Only 10! I have to laugh and shake my head at that today. But, yes, that’s how it used to be way before the age of digital. With only 10 shots, I had to be frugal, but seeing all that beauty everywhere I looked was quite difficult! I remember buying the film and having a choice of color or black and white. Well, in my 9-year-old mind, color was the only choice for me. How, on God’s GREEN earth, could I even THINK of choosing to photograph the stunning colors I was seeing in British Columbia in black and white?? So, color film it was, and I never looked back! Color photography is what motivates me. I do enjoy black and white, but for me, COLOR exemplifies nature best, no disrespect to Mr. Adams. And, I’m not alone!

Fast forward a decade or so and one of my first jobs out of college working at an art gallery in the Chicago area, I was first introduced to the man who would influence me the most in my photography – Eliot Porter. If you don’t know who he is, you really should. Eliot Porter is the Ansel Adams of color photography. Please take the time to google him and learn about his magnificence. One of his most famous prints was for sale at this art gallery I was working in at the time – it’s my favorite of Mr. Porter’s works and it’s titled “Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, April 17, 1968”. It hangs in several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.

Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, April 17, 1968 © Eliot Porter

Gorgeous. Seeing his beautiful photograph was instant validation for this photographer. I read up on Eliot Porter’s philosophy and found my artistic soulmate! Truth! I discovered his views on color photography were the same exact views as mine. It was uncanny! He felt that color photography more clearly illustrated the complexity of the relationships in nature that drew his attention. As he wrote, “The first objects that attracted me, as might be expected, were the most colorful ones. Of the birds they were those with the brightest plumage, while among other subjects they were the flowers, lichens, and autumn leaves…I made pictures of the same subject in both color and black and white, it was usually the color photograph that carried the message because it contained the information that attracted my attention in the first place.”, (Eliot Porter, Epilogue, 1987) Indeed, sir!

“Sweet Encounter”, © 2019 Kerry Joy McGehee Photography

I cannot tell you how many times I started to edit one of my photos in black and white and always changed it to color! Please don’t misunderstand me! Black and White photography is gorgeous and stunning and necessary for many different images. But, when it comes to photographing nature – for me – 9 times out of 10, I choose color. For example, take my featured photo in this post…I could have made this into black and white, but it would have lost everything! That pink poppy just screams to be seen in its natural state, and while the hummingbird isn’t seen in it’s best colorful light, seeing that shiny green tone on its feathers adds a glorious contrast to the poppy and makes that bird pop more than if it were seen in only gray tones. Nature, for me, NEEDS to be seen in color. To not represent it’s natural and most glorious hues is a tremendous disservice and rather insulting to nature, I might add! This colorful image says, “look at me! look how beautiful I am!”. Well, it does to me, anyway, lol. If I weren’t allowed to photograph in color, I couldn’t photograph anymore. It would take all the fun, excitement, and passion out of it. I’m incredibly indebted to Eliot Porter for bringing color photography in nature to the forefront of photography as an art form. May he rest in eternal and colorful peace.



What do you think? Do you agree with Eliot Porter (and me)? Do you think color photography best displays nature? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. It’s a particularly passionate subject for me. Please scroll down to the bottom of this screen to leave me your feedback and to also subscribe to my blog, if you haven’t already done so. Thank you so much! I sure love hearing from you!

6 Comments

  1. I love both, black and white and color . . . I agree with you on color though. I feel that when you look at a color photograph, you get the full story . . . the details and the truth about the subject. I lean toward black and white photos of my ancestors but for landscape and nature, color is best no doubt. You take the most amazing photographs . . . you too are one of the “Ansel Adams” of color photography. I am not being partial, it’s the bottom line truth ~ Your photographs are stunning, majestic and beautiful. I so appreciate your gift.

    1. Well, my goodness! Thank you very much, Gini! I adore you for feeling and saying that! Of course, I can only dream of reaching the heights of the master Ansel Adams! I agree with you regarding vintage photos…they look amazing in their black and white tones, or SEPIA. Altho’, I must admit, when they are colorized, I find the images take on more of a ‘present day’ look, does that make sense? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I agree with you, color is best. Especially since so many of the colors are so spectacular! Plus it allows the viewer of the photo to see details, including color, that you may not have discerned otherwise.

    1. So true, Robin! It just communicates to us every lovely subject nature provides for viewing. It energizes, it creates excitement and passion and it also soothes! Gotta celebrate it! Thank you!

  3. Colour is the better way to record and express what nature has to offer in my opinion. The vibrancy nature can provide, often against stark backgrounds, can raise the impact of many an image for us all to witness and enjoy.
    I do not know of a better place that offers such a wide ranging colour palette as nature and it is free. to tap into.

    On more inanimate subjects, when the light is playing ball, mono can achieve some great effects, more so on still life work or structures.

    1. Excellent offering and viewpoint, Philip! I quite agree! Nature’s palette needs to be seen in all its colorful glory! So good to hear from you! Thank you 😊🙏🏻

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *