“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Ted Grant

Black and white photography is the art of using different tones of gray, ranging from white to dark, to create compelling images. This genre has a long history, perhaps as long as the invention of photography itself. Throughout the 19th century, most photography was black and white. The art of black and white photography is deceptively difficult and tough to master.

Black and white (B&W) and monochrome is usually used interchangeably. However, they are not identical! Black and White means “of a single colour” and hence, monochrome photos can have a colour tint. Actual black and white photographs have no colour at all. They are completely black, gray, and white.

There are seven essential elements when it comes to creating excellent black and white photographs: shadows- the treatment of shadows in black and white photography affects every other aspect of how the photo appears; contrast- contrast matters in black and white photography because of the message it sends, a photo with high contrast, conveys a sense of dynamic intensity and low contrast photos don’t attract as much attention, but their softer, muted quality work equally well; tones (dark and light)- tones are the foundation of every black and white image as they can send a powerful message about a photo’s mood; shapes- people are automatically drawn to shapes in a black and white photograph since there is no colour given to the objects. Shapes anchor and simplify a black and white photograph; texture- the textures captured in a black and white photo have the power to affect its mood and emotions; composition- it brings structure and order to an image and lastly, emotion- is the most important part of photography. Emotion is not a separate variable that one needs to get right in order to capture good black and white photos. Instead, it is the culmination of all the tools used to capture good photographs.

Black and white photography varies when it comes to using it for portrait, landscape and street photography. Because of its easy accessibility, portrait photography is one of the best ways to start taking black and white pictures. One can use careful lighting to sculpt the shape of a person’s face and draw attention to certain features, such as the look in their eyes or their expressions. Black and white can be used as a way to distill their emotions. While shoot colour portraits, any clothing in the photo can draw more attention than it should, taking away from the actual message. Black and White helps focus on facial expressions and gestures of your model.

Black and white landscape pictures have a sense of rawness that helps them draw attention. They rely on the fundamental characteristics of the scene like the light and land that tell a story. It is common for landscapes with countless colours to become unruly, distracting the viewers from the message that is being conveyed. Which is why, black and white is the best solution.

Street photography is perhaps the only genre of photography where people are more likely to shoot in black and white than in colour. It comes down to the history of street photography when artists like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier captured street life exclusively in black and white. At a deeper level, colour can distract from street scenes.

India is a land of diversity with a rich culture and colourful anecdotes. However, there are multiple photographers who have captured all the beauty in black and white, truly projecting the emotions. Indian photographer Prashant Godbole, loves to capture everyday India in monochrome. Other amazing photographers are Swapnil Jedhe, Prashant Godbole, Swarat Ghosh and Vinod Munna who capture the daily street scenes in the country.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *