There is a saying that you don’t realise what you have until it is gone. Today’s article that I found reminds me so much of my time studying photography at Natal Technikon (now Durban University of Technology). Our entire first year was spent photographing in black and white only, and whilst it seemed like such a chore, I am 100% sure that I am better off because of it.
I go through a couple of the points made in the article – a lot of good points are made by the author, Mike Jett. Make sure you click on the link at the bottom of this post to read the PetaPixel article in full.
I’m not sure on what day I realized that my street photography work had become overly homogeneous, and sometimes asinine. “Oh look, a red car and a red shirt. click.” I’d been in love with the look of Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome (based off of Kodak Kodachrome) and had begun […]
I’m not sure on what day I realized that my street photography work had become overly homogeneous, and sometimes asinine. “Oh look, a red car and a red shirt. click.” I’d been in love with the look of Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome (based off of Kodak Kodachrome) and had begun to shoot a lot of color for color’s sake.
But even if visually interesting at a glance, those types of photos weren’t saying what I wanted to say. They weren’t really saying anything at all.
There’s no shortage of reasons photographers choose to shoot black and white photographs.
1. It’s a way to visually isolate your subject, along with their gestures, expressions, and shape.
2. Leading lines become more obvious to the viewer. As a newer photographer, I found my compositions tightening up and getting cleaner.
3. It’s a fantastic way to eliminate loud and distracting backgrounds, like advertisements, on the street.
And, above all else, shooting in black and white reduces the image to its very essence. The tension between light and dark:
Shooting in black and white only is a great way to really come to grips with the craft of photography. For the reasons listed in the article (quoted above), it helps you to not only ‘see’ better, but it also forces you to become a better photographer. Often in colour photography, we can get away with simple errors because it is colour. The viewer’s attention is held by the juxtaposition of two colours or a single bold/bright colour, but when we stand back and analyse the image it can often be found wanting in other areas. I have always found in black and white photography that the content or subject really needs to stand on its own. Also, the lighting and contrast play an enormous role in telling the story. Again, in colour photography, you can get away more with flat/boring lighting. This isn’t to say flat lighting is always bad, but often it is.
These are things that I have come to realise over the years and which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time of studying photography. Like many, I was in such a rush to move on to larger formats and colour film – if only I had slowed down a little. I have come to see black and white photography as photography distilled. After years in various darkrooms, I came to appreciate how difficult yet beautiful black and white photography can be if done right and that is why I get irritated by photographers who don’t get it.
I studied and became good friends with a guy who gets it – actually, I think he sees in black and white! Check out his work on Instagram
But for me? If I’m being honest? I just wanted to snap out of “red car red shirt” mode.
Often we are able to tell immediately who photographed a photo by the look of the colour pallet used in the photo. Contrast this to photographers whose work you can pick out a mile away because of the subject/content – Elliott Erwitt comes to mind. This has become even more a bugbear of mine since the move towards editing presets. I have seen photographers dozens of times cycling through presets to find ‘the one’ that makes the image pop – The image should really pop all on its own.
I should clear up a small detail that might be bugging some of you. I’m a digital photographer, and I shoot RAW. This means that each image file saved on my camera (a RAW image) is the entirety of the light and data captured by its sensor during an exposure. This, of course, includes color.
So how can I say that I shot “nothing but black and white” this year?
It really came down to mindset, and a simple camera setting (live previews —> Monochrome). Looking through the optical viewfinder (I shoot with a digital rangefinder now) means I see what the world looks like as if I were looking through a pair of eyeglasses. I’m still “viewing” color – just choosing not to “see” it.
+1 for mirrorless cameras. 😜
About the author: Mike Jett is a visual storyteller based in Washington, D.C. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.
There really is some great advice in this article for those not only starting out but also for those who are looking for a change. I really love black and white photography but I also love colour photography – both have their place. The use of black and white photography to improve your colour photography, as highlighted in the original article, is a sound idea and more people should give it a go.
Perhaps it is time for a black and white image a day to put the idea into practice. Perhaps February, traditionally the month of red because of Valentine’s day, can become the month of black and white. Who is with me?