As Robert Adams wrote “Form is beautiful … because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life maybe chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.”
It is quite easy, via framing and composition, to create an image which has the fibonacci geometry. If we take a picture of just one flower or just one plant or maybe even a collection of plants from the same native geographic area, we may even hit the natural palette in colour. Chances are that most colour pictures we take will not have the natural palette.
Robert Adams wrote: “Art like philosophy it abstracts. Art simplifies. It is never exactly equal to life. In the visual arts, this careful sorting out in favor of order is called composition, and most artists know its primacy. Art takes liberties, then, to reveal shape.”
“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity” Alberto Giacometti.
Black and White helps to show off the compositional elements without the distraction of color. The elements of the frame and their interrelation pop up and occupy the position they deserve.
Additionally, b&w is subconsciously associated with certain moods like melancholy, loneliness, fear, sadness, isolation etc, while the ability to push the tones to absolutely black or white helps create atmosphere and drama.
Unlike painting, classic photography was born and grew in Black and White. The days of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other masters of photography that we admire today, are associated with black and white images and quality photography.
Maybe this is the first time in history, when despite the invention of a new technology more than a century ago, people insist on doing things the old way, at least in artistic photography. If you google “Fine art photography” you’ll find that more than 50% of the images displayed are Monochromatic. Why?
“Colour is everything – Black and White is More”, by Yvette Depaepe, on 1x – Curated photography, presenting a video and some beautiful Black and White images
“In Defense of Black and White Photography”, by Joel Tjintjelaar, in “B&W Minimalism” magazine
In a black and white image we may miss the color information of a beautiful sunset, but on the other hand we can enjoy light better. Light and shadows are accentuated by the lack of color. Think about the strong impression of the long intense shadows or the strong silhouette of a backlit subject, greatly highlighted in monochrome images.
When the color component of an image has been removed, the viewer can undistractedly observe the elements in the frame, the relation between them and the effect of the compositional elements – lines, shapes and forms, but also the lighting and the tones.There is a whole new world to explore – a world of forms and interconnections.
Indeed, certain scenes may look better in sepia, cyanotype, selenium or other toning than B&W since it may be closer to the expected color palette of the majority of the scene. Where earth tones are expected, such as a desert scene, may look better in sepia than B&W and may even look odd in cyanotype. On the other hand, where sky tones are expected, such as a waterway, cyanotype may improve a B&W image but sepia may possibly ruin it.
Intense colors have their one dynamic, creating emotions, contrast and visual intensity that are extraneous to the essence of our object. Distancing ourselves from the colors, we remove such distractions and concentrate on the substance, allowing us to “see” and understand what we’re shooting. We start considering things like contrasting light, negative space, lines and shapes – the essential ingredients of photography.
Looking at a person’s face and especially the eyes, without the distraction of the color, the viewer can connect easier with the emotional status of that person.
4. Reducing photography to its essentials – shape, form and pattern
I’ll start with a quote by Ted Grant: “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.” Removing the color from a portrait, allows the viewer to concentrate on the facial features and decode the person’s emotions. This quote introduces our first argument.
You can read more articles about B&W Photography on my blog: “Inspirations”
Sometimes color detracts from an image. If it has a lot of texture or shadows or a lot of busy, colorful patterns, a B&W version of that image might make the subject stand out more prominently.
As Bresson wrote about color photography: “I am half afraid that this complex new element may tend to prejudice the achievement of the life and movement which is often caught by black and white.”
With the term negative space we mean the areas in the frame that lack recognizable objects, ensuring there are no distractions to deflect our attention from the main object. Black and White highlights these areas, a property that can be further emphasized with the use of strong contrast.
In other words, B&W conversion gives a timeless quality to the images and,for reasons connected to the roots and traditions of classic photography, offers a greater visual delight.
But some scenes do look better in color than B&W but feel free to experiment.
B&W images are actually grey scale images. So, Jesse is correct in some situations; when the contrast adds interest to the image or you want to emphasize negative space. There are other situations where the gradation, shadows and other features add more interest than color.
Multicolor areas become interesting patterns without color.You have to set your mind to thinking in B&W and look for shots where the scene has features that take advantage of B&W. It takes practice to shift your thinking and seeing the opportunities.
Have you ever wondered why black and white photography still exists? People, fascinated with the advances in technology and the will to present the world as we see it, have started experimenting with color photography back in the 19th century. The first commercially successful color process, the Lumière autochrome invented by the French Lumière brothers, reached the market in 1907. So why are there photographers presenting their images in Black and White, when color photography is so widely available?
Photography, in order to be successful, must reduce the scene to its essentials, discarding part of the information. This can be done with the frame selection, the composition, but also, and to a significant extent, in my opinion, by the way of removing the color information.
Light is the essence of photography, thus every tool that stresses it and his opposite – shadows – helps to make a better image.
As a minimalist photographer, I use every tool that promotes my pursuit. There is no doubt that the absence of color alone gives the work a more minimalist feel. But there is another feature that moves the B&W image to the same direction and this is the accentuation of the negative space.
Finally, there is another strong reason for choosing black and white and this is the opportunity to increase the viewer’s experience. We are used to see in color and presenting the world in B&W pushes spectators to pause and explore the essential ingredients of the image – composition, forms, texture and the main object, without the bias that the color vision adds to the perception of the world.
Maybe because of the influence of classic (film) black and white photography we tend to react emotionally more when we see an image in black and white. Even the chromatic noise in black and white contribute to the creation of a mood.
If such a picture is rendered in B&W (or any monotone), the discord of color disappears and we judge the image on geometry alone thus improving the image. For this reason, an image of just one flower almost always looks better in color due to the matching natural palette, (as our brains and instincts expect it to), but a picture of mixed items in an unnatural arrangement, such as random items on a desk, (except for Martha Stewart’s desk 😉 ), may look better in monotone due to the likelihood that each item has a color palette which is in discord with the other items.
This is the thing which makes certain scenes/sounds appealing. It derives from what we now see/hear in nature or is buried deep within our primal instincts through DNA. Regarding shapes, it is things such as the arrangement of petals in a flower, leaves on a branch, branches on a tree, seeds in a sunflower, chambers on the nautilus, the pine cone, etc. In short, the Fibonacci series and the golden mean.
“… the value of art lies at least largely in the value of its expression of emotion.” (Alex Neill, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics).
I hope you’ll find useful the following article from my blog”
A wide range of tones is essential for a successful photograph and Black and White allows for a tonality that ranges from absolute black to pure white. The same cannot be achieved in color photography, due to the resulting oversaturation and color burning.
We see the world in color and thus reality is connected with the presence of color. Consequently, a black and white image tends to distance us from the accurate depiction of reality and transfer the viewer to a kingdom of abstraction, reducing the image to pure tones, lines and forms.
Regarding colour, it is what we see on the orchid, the hibiscus, the gladiolus, the leaves of the croton, the mango, etc. These are “normal” colour palettes for us or natural palettes. When taking pictures, if the image does not fit the golden mean or the natural palettes, it does not appear aesthetically pleasing.