Back when I first started in photography I shot on black and white film. It was cheaper, and easier for me to develop and print myself (which allowed me to correct a large number of the mistakes I made when I took the shot!).
To this day I still like black and white photography, however with the move away from film and the advent of cheap digital cameras it seems few people take black and white shots nowadays. In this post I’m hoping to talk a bit about the difference between colour and black and white photography and encourage some of you to try seeing the world in monochrome.
When shooting in colour your primary focus is the colours in the scene. Are they complimentary or do they clash? Saturated or muted? Is there something in the image who’s colour will attract (or distract) the viewer?
When you switch to black and white the composition simplifies to contrast, light and texture.
However, although it might seem strange, if you camera has a black and white mode I would not recommend using it. Shoot in colour and switch to black and white during post-processing. The reason for this is although you might have a good idea in your mind how the scene you are about to shoot will look in black and white, taking the shot in colour gives you greater flexibility to tweak the contrast (via manipulation of individual colours in the conversion process) in your final image.
Light in black and white photography is perhaps more important than in colour. An evenly lit subject will often look flat in black and white and contrast is usually needed to bring out key details and shapes and to separate your subject from the background. Black and white can also be more forgiving. Skies on a bright overcast day can often be a disappointment in colour shots, but are more easily ignored/overlooked in black and white, where the focus is more on form and texture.
If you’re shooting portraits, think about what your subjects will wear. Patterned clothing does not always suit black and white photography and solid block colours can produce a far stronger final image.
Landscapes lend themselves especially well to black and white. You only have to think of the greats – Ansel Adams, Bill Bandt, Ralph Gibson – to see this.
So next time you’re out shooting, why not deliberately try to take some shots for final black and white output. If you can ignore the colour of a scene in front of you it helps train the mind to the composition and various textures in the scene which ultimately (in my opinion) creates better all round photography. As inspiration, here’s a collection of some great black and white images.