What is it about black and white photographs? They seem to touch us more, to hold more resonance and to be somehow ‘truer’ to their subject than colour images. Even though the first colour photographs appeared in the middle of the 19th century, our enduring romance with black and white continues to this day. In a digital age where we can manipulate images to create literally any picture we want, we still hark back to photography’s first incarnation – and black and white pictures are often seen as being artier and more creative. Logically, of course, there’s no reason to think this way – colour shots can be equally artistic. So what’s the secret of monochrome appeal?
Let me count the reasons…
• Its timeless – by transporting us to a place that transcends the here and now, black and white pictures can convey more universal themes. They are, quite literally, able to speak across the generations.
• Its versatile – every type of photography, from portraits to landscapes to still lives, is suited to black and white. Furthermore, you can achieve stunning results in any conditions and environment – you don’t need to wait for the sun to come out!
• Its distraction free – busy, colour saturated pictures can confuse the eye—sometimes there’s simply too much going on. Black and white images on the other hand can seem refreshingly simple and it’s often easier to see and interpret the main focus of the picture.
• It can be subtle – dialing down the contrast a little on black and white images can result in beautifully subtle compositions in soft shades of grey. Experimenting with this in post-production can completely change the tone or the mood of a picture in a way that wouldn’t work for a colour image.
• Black and white photography is clearer – by this I mean that a good black and white image can enhance a subject’s features and create a clearer picture of what they look like. It seems counter-intuitive but when you compare colour and black and white versions of the same image, you’ll see that it’s true.
• Black and white photography makes a statement – in a colourful world, a black and white image can stand out from the crowd. And the more colourful the background, the more one’s eye is drawn to the focused calm of a black and white picture.
• Black and white photography is simple – beautiful and minimal images in black and white can have amazing impact for their simplicity. Think of a single white flower on a black background or the bare branches of a tree silhouetted against the sky. This simplicity would be lost if the image was in full colour.
• Black and white photography can evoke a mood – from nostalgia to sadness to yearning, black and white pictures somehow convey emotion in a way that colour images simply can’t.
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