It’s interesting how sometimes older technologies or art forms take on an even greater value when they are made obsolete by the new and modern. This is certainly true of black and white photography. When color photography came on the scene, it seemed the days of black and white in both video and photography were over forever.
But that was certainly not the case. Over the years we have seen black and white take on a new artistic value in both genres. In fact, it is not at all unusual any more to see a very modern movie filmed entirely in black and white. It is also common to visit a fine art museum and find a photographic art display that uses black and white extensively. Black and white has some artistic and emotional qualities that are just not possible to achieve in color photography.
Probably the strongest quality that grabs the viewer with a black and white photo is its emotional power. Even if the photo is just of an old barn or an antique car, there is an emotional appeal that is difficult to analyze in words but universal to all of us as we look at a black and white shot. That is why black and white photos almost instantly take on an artistic look. So if you are evolving your artistic photography style and portfolio, including some experimentation with black and white will do a lot to improve your work.
Black and white also focuses the eye on the emotional center of the piece. Probably the best subject for black and white photography is the human face. In even a tranquil expression, the viewer can see such a vast range of expression in the eyes, the tilt of the head, the subtle wrinkles or peculiarities of the face and the focus of the gaze.
Black and white almost always invites the viewer to want to know about the story behind the picture. If it’s a landscape, “What happened here?” is the question that often springs to the mind of the viewer and the longer they gaze at the photo, the more their imagination fills in the details. If you are viewing the face of a serene or melancholy girl, it is almost impossible not to wonder what she is dreaming about or what of life’s issues is weighing on her mind.
Along with the emotional power and the way black and white compels the viewer to search for meaning, black and white carries with it a tremendous romantic power that touches the heart in a powerful way. That romance can easily translate over to the sensual or even the erotic without having to become pornographic to achieve that effect. Shots that are trying to evoke the power of sensuality and romance do well when they involve moisture or a water scene such as the beach. Despite the lack of color, these colors appeal to the five senses in ways that color can never hope to achieve.
You can experiment with black and white and gather the responses of friends and family to learn how to utilize the subtle but powerful artistic nuances that seem to come with black and white photography almost unconsciously. The digital camera has ushered in a whole new era of black and white photography. You see the form used even in otherwise non artistic settings like wedding portfolios or anniversary pictures. That is because of that emotional and romantic power that black and white conveys.
If you have not started to experiment with black and white shots, it’s worth the time to learn how to capture the powerful images this type of photography can make possible. Along with the creative use of light and framing, black and white gives itself well to editing that you can do with Photoshop to bring out the emotional center of each shot. Before long, you may actually find your self seeing black and white shots in a color world. Your awareness of what will make a great moment in this format will become acute and you will be ready to capture those moments spontaneously, which is always the best kind of photography.