5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

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5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

There are different schools of thought when it comes to black and white photography. Some believe it was a technical limitation of the past that you need to get over and move on. While others see it as a creative choice, that needs to be explored in great depths.

As camera technology gets better, with more emphasis on improved color ranges, why would you choose to shoot or process your images in black and white? In this article, we’ll look at five reasons why you might want to shoot or convert your images to black and white.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

1. B&W Helps you see differently

The old “Masters” of photography shot in black and white initially, because they had no choice. Even with the advent of Kodachrome, which introduced the world to color photography, there was still a pursuance of black and white. This was because black and white was (and still is by some people) seen as photography in its the purest form.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

When you remove color the emphasis shifts to the other compositional elements of the image. These include lines, shape and texture, contrasts and tones.

With this in mind, it is obvious that not all images will translate well to black and white. So, look at all the elements and deduce what else you have to work with, besides color.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

Many times black and white helps you develop a different perspective from what you are used to seeing, which nurtures your photographic eye.

2. B&W Eliminates distractions

You are used to seeing the world in color and there nothing is wrong with that view. Sometimes this contributes to other elements or details being lost or taken for granted. Some of the elements (highlighted before) required for a great photo include contrast, texture, lighting, shape, and form.

When you shoot for black and white, you challenge yourself to remove the distraction of color. These include color casts and differences in color temperature (ambient light sources), as well as specific colorful elements that are strong, which may reside in the background or take away from your story.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

Monochromatic imagery forces you to focus on form, shape, and texture while composing. If your emphasis is on making colors work together, these elements are sometimes overlooked. With black and white, distracting colors are now translated into shades of gray that add to your image.

3. B&W Offers creative choice

Since your world is in color, it is safe to say that color photography depicts reality and is more realistic. Thus, black and white photography is viewed as a rendition of reality – or how you interpret what you see.

When you remove color, you not only isolate the different elements, you are compelled to find how they relate to each other. This helps you explore and create different ways to tell your story.

When you take away color, you remove what your viewer is used to seeing. Now you are charged with finding the stronger elements in the scene and figuring out how to use them to convey what you want to depict.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

4. Adds emotion or mood

Something about the variance of tonal ranges, rich blacks, and deep contrasts appeal to us psychologically. It creates a connection that makes you stop and pay attention to what is being presented.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

Many photographers use black and white for storytelling in travel and street photography, as well as when portraying religious or cultural activities. Monochrome in some genres connects, enhances and strengthens emotions and mood.

5. Timelessness

Even though this is lower on the list, it is one of the more common reasons why some photographers shoot in black and white. Monochromatic photography adds what is seen as a timeless quality to your images.

Black and white photos seem to transcend reality and take you back to a time gone by. Historically there were color schemes that were specific to types of film or trends in digital photography that can date your image. The removal of color makes it tougher to figure out when the image was taken/produced.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

Bonus

You no longer have to imagine what your scene will look like in black and white, as current camera technology allows you to try this on the spot and see if it works. While some photographers prefer to shoot in black and white, others prefer to shoot in color and then process or convert their images to black and white to get a different or better tonal range.

Note: If you shoot RAW format and set your camera to its version of the monochrome setting, you will see a black and white preview on the LCD when you review your images. But you will still have all the color data available in the RAW file at the post-processing stage. This gives you the best of both worlds – a quick b/w preview and ability to convert later.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

This image was shot in black and white using the camera’s monochrome settting.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography

This image was shot in color and then converted to black and white in the processing stage.

Conclusion

While black and white photography still has an important role in photography, please note that not all subjects translate well to this mode. Even though a strong composition is not color dependent, sometimes the power of the photo is its color. This is why it is good to know when to use black and white.

5 Reasons Why You Might Want to Try Black and White Photography
If you are interested in pursuing the monochromatic, look for the other elements of composition like texture, shape, form, lines, and contrast. Experiment with shooting and processing black and white images and figure out which resonates with you more.

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Nisha Ramroop is an I.T. chick and Project Manager with a passion for photography, currently living in the beautiful Trinidad & Tobago. She’s a published writer and photographer who spends most of her free time traveling and exploring. See more of her work at Nikophotography.

  • KC

    Let’s think of “black and white” as “monochrome”, or one “tone on tone”. It’s a bit easier for people to wrap their heads around. It’s a different technique of “seeing”, of being aware of light.

    Imagine a white egg on a white background, green leaves on green grass, a white wedding gown and it’s decor, the cliche “black cat in a coal bin”, patterns and folds in a pair of denim jeans, In color you can rely on adjacent colors to separate and create a sense of contrast. In monochrome you have to rely on the light and shadows.

    The point is monochrome is a technique. If you want to get “classical” about the importance of lighting think “chiaroscuro”, an old style from oil painting days.

    In terms of “in camera”, yes we did have different “tricks” in monochrome film days. We might use colored filters to bias the spectrum. A yellow filter would make blue skies a bit darker and make the clouds stand out. Green was popular for portraits for a while. It’s a long list.

    There’s a lot of “how to” about doing this in digital that’s a little misleading. There was no one black and white film and print technique if you were doing this all by hand. Things were only really “locked down” with machine processing for film and paper processing. If we had processed film and paper, we could alter the chemistries to get different “looks”. Different films had vastly different “looks”. I prefer Ilford XP2, it’s a very long tone monochrome film, HP5 is my next choice because I can easily “alter” it when hand processing it. The choice of developer and dilutions makes a difference.

  • Niko Phôto

    Thanks for your contribution KC – very valuable.
    I only recently started delving back into film because of my photography group and it is such a vast area with so much to learn. I am looking forward to that journey and thank you for sharing a piece of yours – it is appreciated.

  • Raden Adams

    Another great and informative article, Nisha. I especially liked the comparison shots between shooting in the cameras B&W or monochrome setting and shooting in color and then converting to black and white. I could see a difference in them but liked both results. I have never used my cameras setting before and think that I will try. Take care.

  • Chad Lue Choy

    Hi Nisha, terrific article as usual. I actually changed my camera to monochrome for this carnival season at the suggestions of two photographers whose opinions I respect. I found the shift very profound and it really made me pay more attention to my other compositional elements and the lighting. It was also very interesting to see the images in colour when I started post processing. For now I am leaving me camera setup like this. If nothing else, its a great creative exercise.

  • Niko Phôto

    Thanks for the feedback Chad. That is indeed a very cool creative exercise … I might try it myself someday 🙂

  • Niko Phôto

    Thanks Raden 🙂 Looking forward to seeing what you come up with …

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