Strange as it may seem, although colour photography has been around since the end of the 1920s, black and white photography has not lost its appeal to this very day. Quite the opposite, black and white photography is experiencing a true revival in the digital era. Even the menus of most amateur digital cameras have the option to shoot directly in black and white mode.
In many cases a black and white photo is more effective than its colour analogue. It is because we are used to seeing the world in colour and the black and white vision has a strong appeal. Also, black and white photography does not have to deal with the unpleasant effects which bright, mismatching colours can sometimes have. With this type of photography we can enjoy the shape, the contrast and the scene without having our attention distracted by the reality of colours.
Professional photographers are particularly in favour of black and white photography. Some, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, even firmly reject colour photography and go as far as to say that colour photos have a place only in the family album. The great Charlie Chaplin said that he did not like colour film, because he was worried that the audience might be distracted by the colours. He never shot a film in colour, although he had this opportunity towards the end of his career. Generally, we shoot portraits in black and white, but sometimes it can also be used as a technique in landscape photography as well. Another famous photographer and landscape artist who rejected colour photography was the legendary Ansel Adams. What is characteristic of his incredible landscapes is that they are exceptionally graphic with plenty of nuanced detail in the transitions between black and white. In some cases, however, shooting in colour is a must. For example, if you want to show the unique character of an exotic animal or bird, the wonderful warm colours of the sunrise or sunset and the colours of nature in autumn.
A long time ago, when I used to shoot with film, I was often faced with the dilemma what type of film to load into my camera – colour or black and white. I even had to carry around two cameras, one loaded with colour film and the other with black and white. Armed with a good digital camera, you do not need to worry whether to shoot in colour or not. Always shoot in colour. Later, when you are looking at the photos with your computer editor of preference, you can see what the picture will look like in black and white and decide which option you prefer. The opposite is impossible. In order to have more control over your black and white image, you can use Channel Mixer in Photoshop or Silver efex in Nik. With the help of these tools you can edit the grey scale tones generated for each colour based on your preferences and thus successfully imitate the popular filters used in black and white photography. To create a dramatic sky with sharply defined clouds, place a red or orange filter in from of your lens. It does not let in the light in the blue spectre and the sky becomes dark with contrasting clouds. The same effect can be achieved if you enhance the red channel in the editing programme. When you take the portrait of an elderly man and you want to accentuate on his age, place a green filter (or imitate later in the photo editing programme) – his face will have greater contrast and the spots and wrinkles on the face will be more pronounced.
Sometimes it is interesting to shoot directly in B/W mode. The digital camera allows us to change our point of view and observe the scene we want to shoot in black and white through the LCD display and decide what adjustments we need to make to the camera settings in order to enhance the desired effect of the image. In this case you must shoot in RAW format, because in this way you will also have the colour version.
Black and white photography is particularly effective in street and reportage photography – genres where it is important to have the viewer focus on the captured moment without any unnecessary distractions.
When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!