A short conversation on black and white
Is black and white photography still relevant in the digital world? The genre persisted in part because colour film didn’t quite replicate the colours we saw with our eyes. A lot of the masters didn’t want to work in colour, not liking the way it looked.
But with new technology this is no longer the case. So is there a case for continuing to convert digital photos to black and white?
First it’s important to note that while most cameras offer a black and white mode it is simply a desaturated image and won’t give you the same look as black and white film (with a filter as well perhaps). For better black and white from digital have a look at the many options in your photo editing tool and there’s plenty of tutorials online to master the techniques.
Back on the aesthetic side black and white can look very elegant, it can highlight key aspects (without the distraction of colour) or show up more of the geometry of the composition than the subject(s). Photos look best in black and white when they have great contrast, an interesting geometry and shouldn’t be used simply to cover up poor photography.
What this means is that black and white is a choice photographers make for a reason. In times past, when many of the greatest photographs were taken, black and white was the only option. Back then they had to photograph a certain way, had to understand how the light touched objects and how the shadow defined a scene. Thinking in this way today can certainly improve your photography.
On the other hand photography has evolved and is continuing to evolve, this means photographers must also evolve if they want to push the limits of photography as art. Which is not to mean we should leave black and white behind.
Black and white will always have its place in photography but needs to be used for a reason. Why convert a particular shot to black and white, what are you trying to achieve. These are the questions that should be asked before converting an image. Digital photography may have massively changed how we take photos but has not had such a big impact on what makes a great photo. We are fortunate to live in a time with so much choice in photography and I embrace all forms. One of my favourite black and white photographers is Daido Moriyama, especially his tights series. Check out his work and let me know what you think. Who is your favourite black and white photographer?