catherine saunders | mixing color with black + white


Hi there, I’m Catherine.  I wrote a guest post here in 2013 and I’m so happy to be regularly contributing this year as a member of the Paislee Press creative team.

I like to keep my Project Life layouts pretty simple, but when I take a lot of random photos in a month, the 12×12 pages can start to look a little too busy for me. I’ve found that a great way to tone down the “busy-ness” and make some photos pop is to mix color photos with black and white.


This week, I’m sharing a layout from December. This is a baby album after all, so I’m perpetually playing catch-up! Here’s a closer look at the left side.


And here’s the right side.


It’s not always easy to figure out which photos to convert to black and white, which to keep in color and how to put it all together. So I thought I’d share a few tips based on how I do this for Project Life.


Tip no. 1 / Balance differences in lighting

If you have two photos you know will be on the same page, but they have really different lighting, consider making one of them black and white. In the Christmas tree photos above, the ones in black and white were shot at night. They’re pretty, but they were a lot warmer in tone than everything else on the page. I chose to make them black and white so they wouldn’t clash with everything else.


Tip no. 2 / Keep your eye moving over similar photos

When you’re photographing people, taking many shots in a series is a great way to document nuances in facial expressions and interactions. And let’s be honest: sometimes there are just too many great photos from a sequence that it’s impossible to narrow it down. I like to mix color with black and white in a series like this to make the photos pop a bit more. If they’re all the same color scheme, they can tend to blend together and cause your eye to stop and view the series as one image. But mixing it up will keep your eye moving around the page.


Tip no. 3 / Use black and white when it improves a photo

Some photos just look great in black and white, and since black, white and grey are neutral colors, they’ll go with anything. So my advice is to make a photo black and white when it makes the photo better. Portraits are a great way to incorporate black and white. I love this picture of my husband Nick, but he was pretty washed out in the original. I converted it to black and white and boom – it makes the photo one of my faves. Same goes for the picture of Ben on the beach. In the color version, his silhouette didn’t stand out nearly as much. In black and white, it pops.


Tip no. 4 / Mix it up when you lay it out

When I put together a Project Life layout, I like to nestle color and black and white photos right next to each other. I think the mix keeps your eye moving around the page, which is particularly important when working with 12×12. It also breaks up color photos that may clash a bit because of lighting or exposure differences.


Tip no. 5 / Keep journaling simple

So many Project Lifers out there are really skilled at keeping a layout clean and beautiful while also including a lot of color in their cards and embellishments. I am not one of those people! I have to rely heavily on white cardstock, neutral patterned cards and word art to keep my layouts simple and focused on the photos. Lately, I’m loving the days-of-the-week templates from the minimalist series as a way to add white space and journaling to photos.


I hope these tips will be helpful as you decide how to mix it up in your own pocket page albums or even in photobooks. You can see more of my work here and on my blog or check out what’s inspiring me these days on Pinterest. I’m a big fan of Instagram, so please pop over and say hi!

 xo, Catherine

Products used: word art from pictures + words no. 16 and no. 18 / photo templates from the minimalist series / patterned papers from let’s go and december you are a fave no. 3 / Project Life is a memory-keeping system designed by Becky Higgins

Blog Comments

Catherine, these are great tips! My favourite is the 3×4 photo (your hubby) beside the photo + words (Friday). I am definitely going to try this combo!

Thanks, Cindy! I love that one too.

Beautiful photos and spread! The mix of black and white and color photos is perfect.

Thanks, Michelle 🙂 I’m so glad you liked it!

Really great tips. Love this layout of yours. So excited to see you on the pp blog!

Thanks, friend! So glad you liked the post. xo

Love these tips Catherine! Can’t wait to incorporate more black and white photos into my spreads now (:

Yay! So glad you liked it, Amelia. xo

Great tips and inspiration. I’m working on my kids baby albums and some months… oh my goodness, such clashing colours etc, so b&w is helping my sanity!!

Hi Donna! I totally hear you on the older albums! The b+w definitely helps pull those layouts together. Good luck with them!

Great tips – love, love, love your pages!

Thank you, Kerrianne!

Thanks a lot for all these tips, they will be very useful as I always struggle to mix all the pictures in my PL layouts.

I’m so glad, Marie! Thanks for reading!

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