Black and White Photography

We see millions upon billions of colors; it’s difficult to distinguish them from the next shade of a specific color. The possibilities for discovering different colors are infinite. However, that can be overwhelming when viewing photos especially in the digital art age where there are many opportunities for anyone to take photos and play with the saturation/contrast slider in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or with the already customized presets installed in the Instagram apps. The colors can also distract from the details within the picture.

Black and white photography began in the early 1800s with a device named the Camera Obscura. When color photographs was invented by a man named James Clerk-Maxwell, black and white photographs still remained popular because of the value it carried with each photograph. To this day, black and white photography still holds its ground against many genres of photography because of what it offers: nostalgia, attention to detail and versatility.

Nostalgia is a fantastic thing to experience and in the age of Information, we are absolutely stubborn when it comes to keeping in touch with the latest fads in technology or anything relevant to our interests. Digital photos are uploaded to the Internet every day and therefore lose any meaning the owner intended to get across to the viewer. With black and white photos, especially those done properly will cause the viewer to immediately relate to the photograph with a memory similar to the image.

ImageCandy Cigarette – Sally Mann

The image above immediately takes me back to the time when my brother was a young and rebellious 7-year old. I found him outside with his friend, “smoking” cigarette butts! Being the good older brother I was, I scolded him. His response: “so?” This picture brought a specific memory back almost immediately. Sally did her job as a photographer well.

As stated above, color sometimes takes away from the incredible quality and detail within a photo. Being an aspiring minimalist, I often am sensitive to the range of color used in photos. If the colors are too contrasted, I become turned off and move onto the next picture. With black and white photos, I seem to study each one of them for the details captured with a decent lens. I have noticed that the elderly are especially great objects to use for black and white photos. With such monotonous colors, the details effortlessly reveal themselves as can be seen below:

ImageSanta? – RaVN11

The mind-blowing details can be observed in the intricate but messy facial hair, the clogged pores on his nose and cheeks. His overall facial expression is obvious. I interpret this picture as a man in deep thought suddenly interrupted by an obnoxious photographer. It is a fascinating portrait regardless.

Black and white photography does not have to apply to only people, though. It can be applied to nature, architecture, sports, or even action photography. Black and white colors can make the lone pier seem to extend to infinity, a skyscraper more tall and intimidating, or it can cause an athlete to seem more dramatic or heroic during an intense moment in a match. This blog will end with some excellent examples:

ImageUntitled – Georg Sedlmeir

ImageChrysler Building – Dave


Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston – Neil Leifer

Blink with meaning,

Ceasar Jones


One response to “Black and White Photography

  1. Hello Sir.

    My name is Nhlakanipho Mkhize, a self taught Portrait Sketch artist and Painter, and I was looking at your blog which i found through google images. I was searching for a picture i could use as a reference for a art competition held here in South Africa. I found the picture of the old man with wrinkled face interesting and suitable for the type of emotion i require in my style of hype-realism art. I am required to produce a letter from the photographer granting permission for me to use their image as reference of my artwork piece. I am reachable through my email as follows :
    Thank you.

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