My last article entitled, “Wandering City Streets with my Camera” included both colour and black and white images and elicited the following remark from reader, Timothy Schultz, who said, “I don’t usually like black and white photos, but they were used very effectively here.”
Black and white photography has always been a favorite of mine, and I am pleased that some readers agree that sometimes the use of black and white is effective.
During my years of involvement with photography I have seen changes in the kind of photography people are doing. When I first started making pictures as a child it was all about economics – B&W prints were cheaper than colour prints. After that one-hour photo labs appeared in shopping center parking lots, department stores, and finally in malls, and colour prints became inexpensive and the mainstay for photographers.
I have always liked black and white and much of the time prefer the mood it evokes. Since the introduction of digital image making and programs like PhotoShop and NIK software’s Silver Efex the need to carry a dedicated camera and to commit space for a custom-built lab has disappeared. Now all that is necessary is learning how to effectively use the correct program.
Colour is reality, and black and white seems a bit “arty”, or as I wrote, “mood evoking”. I have never produced an album of wedding photographs without including some black and white prints and when I ask the couple if they are OK with that, I always hear, “Oh, we love black and white. Yes, please”.
People comment that a black and white portrait speaks about a person’s personality. I am not sure about that, but I do like, and sometimes prefer, black and white, depending on whether the subject is a person, an animal, or a building, and what I am trying to illustrate with the photograph. And, I “previsualize” how those colours are going to work as shades of gray while I am composing the photograph.
I’ll mention here that famous photographer Ansel Adams introduced the idea of, and the word, previsualization. It is a term he used to describe the importance of imagining, in one’s mind’s eye, what the final print reveals about a subject.
We see everything in colour, and in the modern world of digital photographic technology that’s what is captured. Then, we visualize and translate those images into black and white images using post-production technology. I really do like B&W pictures and sometimes miss those singular times in my darkened room, where I would produce my B&W photos by hand in open trays of chemicals. However, technology has changed and there are many options that now allow photographers to produce higher quality B&Ws.
I read an on-line discussion entitled, “Why Black and White Photography” by Robert Bruce Duncan. In it he wrote, “black and white has an inherent dignity”. His opinion is thought provoking. Perhaps we do see and interpret more in a B&W photograph. Duncan goes on to say that he thinks few colour landscape photographers have matched the black and white work of photography greats like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Margaret Bourke-White, and Imogene Cunningham, for example. And on portraiture he says, “it’s more than arguable that black and white is at it’s best for people photography…From early portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, and later, Steiglitz and Steichen….(and) the photographers who documented America during the depression, to a whole slew of great Hollywood glamour photographers…and all the masters that made Life magazine perhaps the best periodical of its era.”
I am intrigued with Duncan’s words, I could mention some famous colour landscape photographers, but I’ll leave them to readers to search out. I believe both colour and B&W has its place. As I wrote, sometimes I prefer black and white depending on the person, animal, or building, and what I am trying to say with the photograph. I pick and choose what image I think will work best in black and white and that depends upon the subject, the circumstance, the light, and, of course, the colour.
My website is at www.enmanscamera.com