Colourful balloons in front of an old building
Colour,  Lens-Artists,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Gallery: what is monochrome, exactly?

Black and white photography is truly quite a ‘departure from reality’

Ansel Adams

The terms ‘black and white’ and ‘monochrome’ are often used synonymously in photography. But when you consider the meaning of the latter you quickly realise that they need not be the same thing. A black and white photo can be described as monochrome, but a monochrome image isn’t necessarily black and white. Monochrome simply means ‘one colour’, so any photo dominated by shades of a single colour can be said to be monochrome.

On the subject of colours …

Last week for the Lens Artists challenge, I shared monochrome galleries in the three primary colours. The secondary colours are those that lie between the primary ones on the colour wheel and are formed by mixing them. In terms of paints or dyes (light is different), the primary shades are blue, red and yellow. By mixing blue and red we get purple. Mixing red and yellow we get orange. And mixing yellow and blue we get green.

For this week’s challenge from Anne, to illustrate my point about the difference between the terms ‘monochrome and ‘black and white’, I’ve selected some monochrome shots in those secondary colours and edited them as black and white. Both versions can be defined as monochrome, but which do you prefer?


The colour purple symbolises leadership and strength, and also with spirituality and creativity. Its richness is associated with royalty. Purple certainly makes a statement that’s hard to ignore!

Ornate old door knocker on a purple doorOrnate old door knocker

Door detail, Cartagena, Colombia

Arched roof with criss-crossing girders illuminated in purpleArched roof with criss-crossing girders

Kings Cross station, London

Passage with zig-zag purple lightingPassage with zig-zag lighting

At the Winter Lights event in London’s Docklands

Close-up of a purple flowerBlack and white close-up of a flower

Pansy in a planter in Blloku, Tirana


Orange stands for enthusiasm and emotion. It is full of the energy of sunlight and the warmth of a fire. It is an optimistic shade, less brash than red and more vivid than yellow.

Hand-shaped door knocker on a bright orange doorHand-shaped door knocker

Door detail, Tavira, Portugal

Spotted animal fur in close-upBlack and white close-up of spotted animal fur

Cheetah fur close-up at a big cat sanctuary in Kent, England

Close-up of an orange flowerBlack and white close-up of a flower

In a planter in the 14th arrondissement, Paris

Old metal lantern hanging on a wallOld metal lantern hanging on a wall

In a riad in Marrakesh


The colour green symbolises harmony and health. It is the colour of nature, the colour that induces a sense of calm and relaxation. Unsurprisingly many of my monochrome greens come from the natural world, but not all.

Curling green leavesCurling leaves in black and white

Indian poke leaves (I think), Mount Rainier, WA

Curves of palm leavesBlack and white photo of palm leaves

Palm leaves, Cayena Beach Villas, Colombia

Close-up of bamboo stems and leavesBlack and white close-up of bamboo stems and leaves

In the Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Man passing an old house with balconiesMan passing an old house with balconies

House in Cartagena, Colombia

My featured photo is a selective colour edit of balloons on the Quayside in Newcastle. It was edited initially in Silver Efex Pro, and the colours tweaked in Color Efex Pro to match my chosen shades for this post.


Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you