Black and white photography

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.

By converting an image to black and white you have the opportunity to enhance the graphic properties of an image when the image itself can offer some suitable details – the veil of the bride is following the outline of the clouds in the sky. In the original colour version this graphic element is lost.
This is the original photo, as taken by the camera – Pentax K1.

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.

In this particular situation the colour version will be much more expressive as it reveals the warm colours of the wheat and the beautiful sunset.
A black-and-white image is not suitable for this type of scene.

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.

Black and white conversion using Channel Mixer in Adobe Photoshop and adjustment of the various channels.
The original photograph, no editing, taken with Pentax K10 and lens Hellos 58/2.
The town of Taormina in Sicily, taken with digital camera Nikon D100. The photo was converted in black and white using Channel Mixer.ат Nikon D100.

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.

Shot directly in black and white using Sony A7iii, which allowed me to see the graphic reflection of my model in the puddle clearly. I made the necessary exposure adjustments in the camera itself and with the result of producing an image which did not need further editing.
Again a photo taken directly in black and white with camera Sony A7iii. The electronic viewfinder helped me to see the light without being distracted by colours which allowed me to better assess the impact of the composition.

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.

Street photo, taken at noon in Plovdiv using ultrazoom Panasonic FZ2000 The high contrast and the position of the objects within the frame can best be appreciated in B/W.
The backlight and the high contrast enhance the artistic effect of this street photo.
The weight of this photo is carried mainly by the black and white graphic elements and lines of the exterior. The photo was taken with a Fish Eye lens from a low viewing point in order to achieve a vision which is markedly different.
This is an old street photograph taken on black and white film from a high viewing point (the balcony of the building opposite). Because this is a crop from the magnified original image, you can see the grainy structure of the film. In this case the black and white vision corresponds well with the low-spirited faces of the people waiting in line for milk by the old rusty car.

When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!
Ted Grant