We live in a world full of color, and its spectrum of shades and hues can be easily captured by modern cameras. Yet, black and white photography is still popular and sometimes even preferred over color photography.
A Brief History of Black and White Photography
The history of photography can be traced back to the ancient times when the Romans invented the camera obscura, a box with a tiny hole at one end that could reproduce images. Since then, cameras and the process of photography evolved by leaps and bounds. A pivotal point in its history was when black and white photography was made available to the general public in 1888, when George Eastman mass manufactured the Kodak box camera. Commercial color film would not be invented until 1907. Even after it had become available for public consumption, black and white film was still preferred because it usually produced better quality results at a less expensive price.
Black and White by 85mm.ch
In the latter part of the 20th century, color photography became simpler and cheaper, increasing its popularity with the regular consumers who wanted to record all kinds of family events. Interest in black and white photography waned as vibrant and colorful photos became the standard choice. Yet, the black and white technique still had a strong following, especially among street photographers, photojournalists, and artists. They preferred it precisely for its lack of color, which could distract the viewer from appreciating lines, textures, shapes, tonal contrast, and subtleties of the scene. Black and white photography was seen as a more ‘artistic’ style of capturing images.
Black and White photos by Jim Donnelly
Learning from the Masters
Many people are renowned for their black and white photography; probably the most famous is Ansel Adams. He was an American photographer and environmentalist whose landscape shots were iconic for their clarity, depth, quality of light, and ability to evoke emotion.
Black and White photos by Ansel Adams
The black and white photography techniques of Ansel Adams are still being used as inspiration by those who want to improve their photo skills.
Black and White photos by Alaskan Dude
Other photographers who have mastered the art and craft of black and white photography include Annie Leibovitz, Nick Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Diane Arbus. Take note that some of them used or use only film while others use the digital format. Yet, their photographs are always breathtaking and captivating.
Black and White Photography in the Digital Age
Although digital technology has made it very convenient for people to take loads of color pictures without having to worry about the cost of developing or film, black and white photography is still often practiced and is even flourishing. Digital photos are deliberately converted from colored to black and white in post processing.
One reason for the timeless appeal of black and white photography is that it is still considered a pure way of capturing the details of a subject or scene without the distraction of color. Another reason is that black and white photos stand out in a world where color photos have oversaturated the public consciousness.
Photo by Gianni Dominici
Judging from all the black and white photos that can be found in genres such as fashion, landscape, fine art, and portrait photography, as well as its profusion in photo sharing sites, black and white photography has been and will always be a classic technique that will never lose its charm.