In an age oversaturated with gaudy images, black-and-white photography maintains its integrity
In the age of Instagram filters and hyper-saturated, computer-generated advertising images, there is one type of photography that has managed to maintain its integrity: black-and-white.
Whether you are shooting with the highest-end digital camera or simply a mobile phone, black-and-white (B&W) is always an included option and, in principal, is all you will need to shoot some stylish images.
LESS IS MORE
If you thumb through a history of photography, from Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s first image created in 1827, through to modern art photography, you will see a large proportion of work is presented in monochrome. Photographic artists often eschew the use of colour in their images for many aesthetic reasons – from the tonal range that B&W can produce, through the reduction of a composition to a purer form, to the removal of ‘distracting’ colour from a scene – there is certainly far more to it than simply creating a ‘nostalgic’ look.
The English pastoral photographer, James Ravilious, when interviewed by the BBC, said: “England is a very green country, and ‘greenness’ creates a mono-tonal view and one that it’s difficult to achieve much contrast or colour gradation in. Transposing to black-and-white allows you a richer tone palette, and to draw attention to the subject more subtly. Black-and-white contains a bright silver to deep black tone range in landscape images and thus turns a green, flat image into a wonderful tonal picture.”
Likewise, the famed Landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, said he could produce, “a far greater sense of ‘colour’ through a well-planned and executed black-and-white image than [he had] ever achieved with colour photography.” The Magnum photographer, Elliott Erwitt, proclaimed: “Colour is descriptive, black-and-white is interpretative.”
Bearing these wise words in mind, let us look at some situations where choosing monochrome will work particularly well.
Whilst any image could work in B&W, there are certain situations that naturally lend themselves to monochrome:
» Mono-tonal subjects such as concrete architecture or a very green/yellow/grey landscape
» Subjects where colour is distracting, for instance, a portrait where there is a very strong background colour
» Days with overcast sun with little contrast or colour in the landscape
» Conversely, landscapes with extreme lighting conditions or weather
» Images where the main reason for the shot is the specific composition