The technical name for black-and-white photography is "monochrome" since it is all different shades of one color. Black-and-white photography is popular with journalists and artists. It presents stark contrasts and a purer image. Black and white is often used in portraits and wedding pictures to provide a classic or historic look. Photographers choosing to shoot in black and white need to understand how it is different than color photography.
Originally, all photography was black and white. Color photography was not introduced until the 1930s and not widely used for decades after that. Black-and-white was cheaper to shoot and develop. When the price of color film and processing came down, black-and-white became less popular. However, it has always maintained its place with artists and newspapers. Black-and-white is still used in today's digital world. Many digital cameras and digital photo editing programs have black-and-white settings.
Shooting black-and-white photographs is different than shooting color photographs. There is more contrast in black-and-white. Photographers must therefore light to emphasize the differences between light and dark areas. Black-and-white photography is especially effective in low contrast situations like a cloudy day. Closer attention must be paid to composition. Since there is no color to draw the eye, shapes and shades are more important. Shadows, therefore, play a must larger role in black-and-white photography.
Black-and-white photography is stark. It forces you to see the image rather than the color. A low-light image of shadows can look like nothing in a color photograph but be a powerful picture in black and white. It can also convey remarkable purity of emotion or action. This is one reason newspapers continue to print pictures in black and white. It is also commonly used for wedding photographs and portraits for its ability to convey a classic or timeless look.
Black-and-white film is still made and used, but not by many people. Most photographers shooting black-and-white pictures use digital cameras and digital editing programs. There are a few cameras that are made specifically for monochrome photography. Many more have black-and-white settings. These emphasize the dark and light areas of the picture. Many photographers prefer to shoot their pictures in color then convert them to black and white with their digital editing programs. All these methods can produce stunning black-and-white photographs.
Fantastic effects can be produced with black-and-white photography. It is important that photographers keep the special needs of monochrome photography in mind when they are shooting pictures. Black-and-white photography is all about contrast, so look for ways to bring that out. Lighting across the shot reveals texture and depth. Low light conditions often reveal subtleties not seen in color pictures. Also look for patterns, shapes and irregularities in the frame. These are what stand out in a black-and-white photo.
Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.