Of course the black and white vs color debate is a very personal one. For every person I ask who loves shooting mono there are others who much prefer the vibrancy of color photography.
“In Defense of Black and White Photography”, by Joel Tjintjelaar, in “B&W Minimalism” magazine
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.
Both great images. There’s really no good argument for preferring monochrome over color generically—it’s a matter of the individual image.
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.
But I know what you mean. And I think it’s because in black and white photos the colors never “unmatch” and are never off or could be considered “wrong”.
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.
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“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity” Alberto Giacometti.
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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.”
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.
You can read more articles about B&W Photography on my blog: “Inspirations”
Read this article on the web. It was commented by an artist ‘Sneye’ . It goes like this: I once tried to illustrate the “emotional gamut” of monochrome. Having allocated one axis to brightness and the other to contrast and then describing the “feel” of different areas of the field obtained, I was impressed with the richness of expression allowed by this seemingly primitive medium.
It goes from murky and industrial (low tone, low contrast) to airy and dreamy (high tone, low contrast), to mention only two “moods” (I got to about a dozen). Adding tint and graininess as variables would widen the creative space even further.
The possibilities are almost endless. My point is, some colour photographers tend to regard black and white as a monolithic modus operandi. However, being surrealistic to start with monochrome is a vast field of expression.
Unlike colour, it can’t really go “wrong.”So, in short,according to me B&W photographs have an appeal because of following reasons:1. It might serve a purpose to approach something that is irredeemably intimate, already there, in there with us, now, behind the eyes? Ourselves, as present to ourselves as the things we see before us, in color; but what of our memories, and our visions for the future? Faded, translucent in comparison.
Lacking in color; like a black and white photograph.2. They can also serve a way of recalling the past. With its lack of presence (as compared to colour, with our perception of the present). B&W photographs immediately remind us that they were taken in the past.
Their presence to us is in part a lack or presence, a semi-presence.3. B&W images also have a classic appeal. They have earned their place in the history of the popular imagination.
“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
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.”
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.”
I hope you’ll find useful the following article from my blog”
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You just have one source of error less than in color photos (or three, considering all three color channels).
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.
If the big response to the assignment is anything to go by readers of this blog LOVE black and white photography too (I’ve used a few of the images submitted in the assignment on this post to whet your appetite).
But some scenes do look better in color than B&W but feel free to experiment.
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Traditional monochrome art photography involves manipulation at every stage of the process, from the choice of aperture and exposure on the negative through the development of the negative and the creation of the print. Kodachrome had to be processed by Kodak; the first color negative film came in 1941, and developing and printing color is far more complex than monochrome processing. Also—and this is a subtle point—color photography is different than black and white, in the way one visualizes the images and what one emphasizes. Ansel Adams did some work in color, and it’s not in the same class as his black and white work.
Which do you prefer – Black and White or Color?What do you like about your preference? Have you experimented much with Black and White digital photography? Interested to hear your thoughts in comments below.
Subtlety of Tones“I love the subtlety of tones that black and white images can have. In a world that often boasts about how many millions of colors a TV or monitor is able to produce – I love that in ‘Mono’ there is such a variety of what can be achieved in a photo. Black and White sounds so boring – but the fact is that there are so many shades in between – I love the challenge of bringing them all out in an image!” – Jim
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?
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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.
“… the value of art lies at least largely in the value of its expression of emotion.” (Alex Neill, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics).
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.
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?
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.
I wouldn’t say that they generally have a higher aesthetic appeal.
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.
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.
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.
As I said yesterday in the post announcing our Black and White Assignment it seems as though Black and White images are making something of a comeback of late as digital camera owners rediscover the beauty of mono images.
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.
No Distractions“I find that colors can be terribly distracting in some images and can take the focus away from your subject. I do portrait work and find that taking the color out of an image lets the subject speak for themselves. Its raw, it’s stripped back, it’s honest and it allows you to show the true person.” – Shane
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.
Black and White Landscapes: Weekly Photogrpahy Challenge 6 years ago
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The theory of color film goes back to an 1855 paper by the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and there were a wide range of experiments in color film over the next 80 years. (The Technicolor process for movies—two strip, then three strip—actually involved shooting black and white with filters.) The first color film for practical use was Kodachrome, introduced for 35mm cameras in 1936 and in larger sizes (medium format and sheet) in 1938. There was already a strong tradition in monochrome art photography with figures like Atget, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams, which effectively defined what art photography was.
I have a few friends who are into Black and White photography and I asked them what it was that attracted them to it. Here are a few of their reasons for getting a little obsessed with Black and White:
4. Reducing photography to its essentials – shape, form and pattern
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.
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.
Today’s photographers work in both monochrome and color. A photographer can create great images in either. Take two great photographs, one, by Eliot Porter, in color:
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.
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.
Variety“I find the creative process with black and white images is so… artistic. It’s like molding clay – you can shape it into a myriad of shapes. Black and White images can be strong, high contrast and powerful – or they can be so soft, gentle and subtle.” – Belle
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.
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.
Versatility“I love that it’s a format that suits almost any type of photography. Portraits, landscapes, urban landscapes, architecture. Not only that, it’s a medium that adapts really well to all lighting situations. Whereas color photography often works best on sunny days or in brightly lit studios – low light just makes a black and white image moody.’ – Sol
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.
UPDATE: Learn more about Black and White Photography with our new Essential Guide to Black and White Photography.
One of the questions I’m being asked about more and more lately is about Black and White Digital Photography.
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.