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Holger Pooten

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Home > Why Photograph in Black and White?

Students ask us from time to time –

Why Photograph in Black and White?

It is an interesting question as their argument is that if we don’t see life in black and white, why is it interesting? There has been experiments to see if the brain decodes black and white images, and if we actually see them in colour. “This result shows that higher-level prior knowledge – in this case of object-colours – is projected onto the earliest stages of visual processing,” according to Andreas Bartels. If you wish to read more on this topic please look at this reference.

Journal Reference:
Michael M. Bannert, Andreas Bartels.
Decoding the Yellow of a Gray Banana.
Current Biology, 2013.

So what does this all mean and what is the relevance.

  • Simply Black and White can be more emotional. You don’t have to search for interesting colours. If the light isn’t very good a black and white image will make it look superior.
  • It is easier to post produce and print so therefore you spend less time in post production. You can also set your camera to monochrome in the picture profiles and this allows you to see how it will look if you are photographing in Jpeg. Don’t forget if you are shooting in RAW your image will turn back to colour once opened in Lightroom.
  • Use a flash to make your images more interesting.
  • Play around with under and overexposing on your light meter.
  • Use your metering system – Spot (Partial) Metering allows you to read 1-5 % reflecting of your subject so you can create powerful images by deciding where you take your light reading from.
  • Increase the contrast – meaning have your blacks black and whites white. You can do this in post production by sliding the black up and down and white slider.
  • Exactly because we see in colour with our eyes, black and white helps emphasize emotion. One less distraction (colour) you can then connect on a different level with the subject.
  • There is a timeless quality from black and white: Think of the masters Daidō Moriyama, Sebastio Salgado, Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, Sally Mann, Richard Avedon
  • It highlights shape, form and pattern in the image where some elements might be distracting if in colour.
  • Understanding Light – Lastly you will see light differently. You will see the quantity and quality of the light around you and learn to read and play with it. Once you have mastered that you are well on your way for being a good photographer.
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