Photography is an impactful and important art form, as well as being one of the most accessible and widely used mediums for creative expression around.
Most people have a mobile phone with a built-in camera that’s capable of capturing crystal clear, intricately detailed images in dazzling colors, even if ambient light levels are not ideal.
However, there’s a lot to be said for the potency of old school black and white photography, so if you’ve never dabbled in this area, here’s why you should consider it, and what you can do to get the best results.
It frees you up to focus on other skills
With color photography, it’s easy to get obsessed with the role that color plays in defining the composition of each snap you take. This can lead you to neglect other essential skills you need to improve as a photographer.
Conversely, by switching to black and white, you are freed from the tyranny of color being the dominant element, and instead have the opportunity to home in on everything from the framing of different objects to the pure interactions of light with different surfaces.
These are useful skills in other contexts as well; for example, when learning how to add color to a black and white photo, it helps to have an understanding of the other fundamentals of photography so you can extrapolate the right outcomes from this as you work on your latest colorization project.
It unlocks ambiguity
Shooting in black and white is arguably more creative than relying on color, because it automatically presents us with a vision of the world that’s not realistic; or at least not realistic from the viewpoint of the average human with color vision.
If you want to mix things up, tear up the rule book, twist your perspective and plumb the depths of your creativity, black and white photography is the way to go.
It sets a specific mood
There’s no doubt that black and white photography can look bleak in comparison with full color images. But then sometimes that’s exactly the vibe you need to add meaning, mood and grandiosity to what might otherwise be a fairly bland scene.
Indeed there are some scenarios that are only able to have their full emotion evoked through a monochromatic snap. Just knowing this could give you the incentive to explore different subjects in your photographs, rather than sticking to your comfort zone.
It isn’t tethered to one moment in time
When it comes to color photos, it’s pretty easy to look at them and work out from a few clues roughly when they were taken. This is all down to the underlying technology, and it can cause color images to seem dated very quickly.
Black and white photographs don’t suffer the same issue, and indeed they could even be argued to be effectively timeless, up to a certain point.
Sure, they have an innately historic aspect to them even if they were captured yesterday. But they’ll still look just as good in decades or even centuries, without giving away their exact origin in the same way.
Tips to try yourself
There are a few things to think about when approaching black and white photography for the first time, so pause for breath before you dive in.
Contrast is your friend
The best black and white photographs involve subjects with plenty of contrast between the lightest and the darkest elements of the frame. Light and shade rule the roost, so keep this in mind when choosing your shots.
Texture should take center stage
Textured surfaces and contrasting angles help to deliver the aforementioned contrast you are looking for, which is why you’ll see a lot of images of the natural world captured in black and white. Man-made subjects can also work well in this context, but don’t need to take priority.
Aperture size & ISO settings need tweaking
As a rule of thumb, black and white photos look their best when captured using a combination of a low ISO setting and a small aperture. This delivers excellent crispness and, in the case of digital photography, reduces the noisiness of the output.
Whether you’ve got a whole heap of camera kit at your disposal, or just your smartphone, experimenting with black and white photography is advisable. You never know what creative doors this might open for you.