Since the invention of color photography in the early 1900s, black and white photography has never gone out of style. In fact, with its artistic essence, black and white photography still remains one of the most popular niches even today. As photographers, we often face the choice between using black and white photography or color for our photos. Though it ultimately depends on personal preferences, here are two helpful aspects to consider.
Firstly, we need to understand what makes a good black and white photo. Without the presence of color, contrast remains the only attraction of black and white pictures. Thus, generally, more contrast makes black and white photos more appealing. A photo with only plain shades of grey lacks points of interest such as black shadows and white highlights. Though contrast can be increased in editing, it can easily look unnatural. Therefore, the best way to find contrast is to capture it in camera. For example, hard light is the most common lighting situations to create contrast. Coming from a source relatively small compared to the subject, hard light naturally casts harsh shadows and brightens the highlights. As shown in the left portrait blow, the hard light accentuated the texture of the man’s skin with contrast. Another lighting that creates large contrast is backlighting, like this silhouette to the right. With the light source behind the subject, the background often becomes highlight, creating high contrast with the subject that’s perfect for black and white photography. Thus, the first step to decide between black and white or color photo is to look at the contrast.
Secondly, the colors in the original picture can also factor into the decision. Colors in photos can sometimes be distracting or boring, and black and white photography can help avoid these problems. For example, this cityscape originally had a dull blue tint dotted with bits of yellow. The colors only act as distractions, so changing the photo to black and white blocks them out. As a result, the finished product highlights the most appealing parts of this image, the patterns in the clouds and the buildings in the distance.
This picture of Taipei 101 from last month’s article is another example. The multicolored memorial wall, the sky, and the building mix together a chaotic combination of purple, blue, green, and magenta. The colors are not only distracting but also ruin the mood of the picture. Therefore, if colors are jeopardizing a photo, black and white coloring offers a great solution.
In conclusion, black and white colors simplify photos. It rids the image of complicated colors and focuses only on contrast. However, it can be a double-edged sword. While sometimes colors can distract and bore viewers, other times, they are the essence of a photo. For example, between these two versions of the bridge, I prefer the colored version. Though the black and white version does offer high contrast, the colored version captured the essence of the sunset, for the simple yet spectacular colors of the sky and water were the core of the image. Despite all that, it all comes to personal preference; many people may choose differently than me. Each photographer sees beauty differently in their own eyes, and I hope these tips can help you capture the essence of your perfect photo.
Photo Credits: Charlie Su
Photo of the Month: Color Theory
Here are a few of the amazing submissions from last week’s Photo of the Month.
Praying Mantis by Rachel Beth H
Color Scheme: Triad
by Sophia Twitchell
Color Scheme: Triad
Love in Orange by Micah Gebert
Color Scheme: Analogous
A Storm is Brewing by Aaron Shapiro
Color Scheme: Complimentary
by Talia Poortenga
Next week’s theme is: Black and White Photography
Please submit your photos with this Google Form: https://forms.gle/QKRNCx9ATwZg8tU67
The submission deadline is November 23rd. If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section.