Black and White Photography


Black and white photography is a subjective form of photography. Some think of it as the “poor” version of a color photograph. Some schools of thought feel as if black and white photography is limited, because you only have so many shades of gray to use. Subjectivity aside black and white photography can often look more captivating and clear than its color equivalent. This is because color can take away from the “purity” of the subject matter. It can act as a distraction in a photo, as your eye tends to focus on the entire spectrum of color instead of the subject matter. The success of black and white photography is determined largely by five key concepts:

1)      Shape and form

2)      Contrast

3)      Pattern

4)      Texture

5)      Lighting

The most important out of the five is lighting. Photography lighting in black and white photography is what makes the image, and even has  the ability to dictate shape like the subject matter. Lighting is vital to make a good black and white photograph. Lighting affects all the other four above elements – contrast, shape and form, pattern and texture. When thinking about your photography lighting, keep in mind how it will affect these other four concepts and apply a setup that will complement the subject matter in that way. Some techniques you can use in photography lighting are:

  • Side lighting

Side lighting often produces the most dramatic black and white images. Side lighting will pick out the edges of each shape and intensifies contrast by adding highlights. The shadows formed by side lighting to give attention to the scene being portrayed along with bringing out the textures and patterns.*

  • Natural lighting

Natural lighting in photography can make the best landscape images as well as outdoor shots. In order to take advantage of natural lighting, you have to consider the end result of the image. Unlike color photography, where images can be taken at any time of the day, black and white photography needs to work in the opposite way. Creating a definition of the subject matter by using natural light, the subject matter should often be taken through the middle part of the day. This will create heavier shadows and add emphasis to lines and shapes. Silhouettes can be achieved by backlighting images as well.*

  • Angle and position

When taking images of people, or portraits in general, focusing on the lines of the face and texture of their skin and hair will help give the photograph character. In order to do this, the lighting, whether artificial or natural, is from an angle that will produce shadows. This will bring more character to the portrait.

Black and white photography does bring another dimension to the way the subject matter is perceived. You are forced to confront the subject matter for what it is and not what elements make it up. The most important thing that black and white photography forces you to do as a photographer is to expand your creative horizon. *


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