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Black And White Photography

Last Updated 9th October 2012

A big chunk of photography’s history is comprised of nothing but black and white  photos. Even when colour photography started to emerge, their popularity wasn’t diminished as they still had better quality and were cheaper to develop at first. But once high quality colour film became more available, it has surpassed black and white photography as the people’s top choice. However, that is not to say that black and white photography became obsolete and moved on to vanish from the face of the earth. In fact, it’s regaining its popularity right now as photographers are beginning to rediscover and appreciate once more the power and timeless beauty black and white film is able to bring in photos.

black and white photography portraits

Why Take Black and White Photos?

With the amazing technology used by modern film and digital cameras, one might wonder why black and white should be considered when vibrant colourful photos are easily available today. Well, it actually depends on the subject the photographer is trying to capture. Black and white film can be used to create a stark and somber tone in the photo. Black and white photography’s ability to create that effect may be the reason why it has been widely used in photojournalism.

There are instances when vibrant colours can be unnecessary and can actually detract the viewer from the effect the photographer is trying to portray in the photo. Black and white photos demonstrate the subtle effects of texture and lighting, which can be overlooked in their coloured counterparts. Black and white photography has the power to add an air of romance, class, timelessness and mystery to plain and ordinary photos. There can be a huge difference between a colour photo and its black and white version. Because of the elegant effect it has on photos both wedding and gothic photography have embraced black and white photography.


Black and White Photography Tips

Being free from the distraction colour might bring certain aspects of photography through in black and white photos. Thus, careful attention to lighting, textures, and basic photography composition must be given by the photographer.

Framing With Light and Shadows

With colour out of the picture, the dynamics of light and shadows are accentuated in black and white photos. It can actually work both ways. Combined with proper lighting conditions, black and white photographs can indeed exude unmatched beauty. However, on the other end of the spectrum, wrong lighting can produce black and white photos that are too dark or washed out.

The role of light and shadow in producing effects in black and white photography cannot be emphasized more. To illustrate the point, two photos with the same subject but taken at different times of the day will look different from each other. Notice how light plays through the trees. The contrasting effects of the dark tree trunks and the light depend on what kind of day it is. Taking the shot on a sunny afternoon or a misty morning will make a difference. But either way, the powerful mood the black and white photo is able to create remains unchanged.


With the light and shadow coming forward in black and white photography, get creative in framing your pictures to create fantastic effects. Great examples include framing photos with tree branches and architectural arches.

Colour Challenges

So when do we use black and white and when do we opt for colour photography? One important consideration is the way the colours of the scene look together. Let’s say you’re doing a shoot of a loving couple hugging. Everything’s nice and sweet except that the colours of their clothing clash. To solve that problem easily, going for black and white will be a good decision as it will prevent the distracting colours from taking the attention away from the subject of the photo.


A photographer may want to emphasize texture in some photos such as those of a tree trunk, rock face, or  wrinkle lines in an elderly’s face. Colour can diminish the effects of texture, so experimenting with black and white will be ideal to capture the desired effect.

Timeless Subjects

Another special characteristic of black and white photography is its ability to provide a timeless feel to pictures just by the mere absence of colour. This is due to the simple fact that colour often dates a picture because of fading and the outdated colour schemes popular decades ago (rusty oranges and pea greens from the 1970s). With black and white photography, there’s no need to worry about those issues.

Other than not using colours that are bound to be unfashionable in the future, there are other things you can avoid if you want to give a timeless feel to a landscape or architectural photo. Examples are cars, posters, and telephone poles. Head portraits are good to do since full-figure photos can suggest a certain period through the clothes the subjects are wearing. Black and white photos are also good to use for wedding photos since wedding dresses and tuxedos aren’t suggestive of a specific time frame when colour isn’t an issue.


Black and White Photos Go Digital

Black and white photos defined photography’s past. Photography’s future, on the other hand, seems to be in the hands of digital cameras. You might wonder if those two will be able to blend together and create a bridge in photography’s history. Well, they most definitely can. The advantages of black and white photography we are enjoying right now can be partly attributed to the enhancements digital photography has made possible.

A lot of digital cameras nowadays have black and white settings. Though you have to keep in mind that the quality of the camera is a huge factor in determining how effective those settings are. If you’re not satisfied with the quality produced by the black and white setting of your camera, you may opt to take it using the normal setting, then just edit it using a computer program later on. Through the functions of the software, you will be able to adjust the contrast and  brightness in order to produce black and white photos with the quality you are aiming for.

After all that discussion, I don’t think there’s a need to explain further why a photographer must be equipped with basic knowledge regarding black and white photography.  Fads come and go and things go out of style, but black and white photographs will never get old and will stand the test of time just like how it always had.


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