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Black and White Photography: A Dying Art

Updated on March 11, 2014

Black and White Photography: A Dying Art

Black and White Photographs hold a certain mystery and timelessness about them. They have the ability to be able to touch the soul of those viewing them. Of course, there are many people who will say that the same could be said for color photographs.

However, color photographs do not seem to hold the same 'timeless' feeling one gets when viewing black and white pictures. Indeed, black and white photographs can transport the viewer back to the past, more readily than any color photograph could. Read the following article and see if you agree or not.

Black and White Photography

A Dying Art

Black and white photography is a dying art. For that matter, it could already be dead in its truest form. In the time of digital cameras - in which gone now is the need for a darkroom to develop negatives and prints - the traditional way of photography has been lost. Of course there are many people who still refuse to change their mechanical cameras for the more lightweight, compact digital models. These people prefer photography the way it has always been done.

And there are many black and white enthusiasts among them too - myself included. It really does seem that b/w photography has become a dying art form now. And, like everything else, it has fallen victim to the progression of the computer and digital age - in which instant pictures are the 'norm' and not the 'exception'.

One can still produce black and white photographs with digital cameras and mobile devices, with no problem whatsoever. However, it has to be said, that there is something missing when shooting with a digital camera. And, in fact, something has been lost forever.

Although pix-elated images of black and white photographs can be beautiful, they are still no match for 35 mm b/w film. However, black and white film - to my mind - still produces imagery that is crisp, sharp and defined. Indeed, the final image is beautiful. Of course one has to have some understanding about the way light and shadows work in certain conditions. Furthermore, one has to have a basic knowledge of shutter speeds and aperture openings too.

And I can certainly tell you that when I first began taking up photography as a hobby, I struggled with aperture and shutter speed settings constantly. I just couldn't figure out what the relation was between the aperture and shutter speed in order to get correctly-exposed negatives time and again. My prints were either coming out too bright [over-exposure with a chronic lack of detail] or under-exposed - with hardly any light at all.

But knowing the basics of taking photographs - which I do now - the final image will always be one of beauty. However, shooting pictures using black and white film can also enhance not just the beauty of a face in portrait photography, but the harshness of a face too.

Portraits of the homeless, fishermen, farmers, miners, railway workers, seamen, old grandmothers and grandfathers - whose craggy lines within their faces are accentuated by black and white film - all tell a story in themselves. Black and white photography, more than any other genre of photography I feel, has this ability to be able to do this - to be able to enhance every feature within a face. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, well this is more so with black and white film photography.

Furthermore, that the image itself was produced in the way that it has always been done over the years, the traditional way - within a darkroom, with an enlarger. Traditionalists of photography - and the black and white genre [which is what I am, a 'traditionalist] will never take to digital cameras, even though they can produce near film- quality black and white prints.

Digital cameras, as good as they are, have still got someway to go yet before they will be able to capture that essence within a black and white image. This is the essence that one gets while using a mechanical film camera loaded with 35 mm black and white film. Everything comes together, the camera itself, the film, the darkroom, developing fluids and the fixer.

All this, if you are a skilled photographer, produces imagery that has stood the test of time - and will continue to do so. Black and white photography may have died a death in the progression of photographic technology in the 21st century, but there are still enthusiasts and lovers of black and white film photography - myself included - who will refuse to let go.

Indeed, when one is working with black and white film inside their camera, there is no other feeling like it for a photographer. Because when taking photographs with black and white film - usually 35 mm which is the most common type of film a photographer can get - you are then working with the best in film quality. The cost-effectiveness of the film, is something that makes it worth working with as well.

However, if you are one of those people who just want a point and shoot camera, without the intricacies of having to work out shutter speeds and aperture settings, then that is fine. It is each to their own. But if you fancy delving a little more into photography, you may well be surprised that it is not all about point and shoot. There is a depth to the subject, that can really 'hook' you, if you have a love for cameras, for taking pictures - and especially for black and white photographs - then this genre is definitely for you..

Photography is an art form, it is all about painting with light. Indeed, the very word 'photography' actually means, 'painting with light'. This article is meant for those who love the traditional way of taking pictures, who love black and white photographs and who love using and shooting with mechanically-driven cameras.

As I have stated, it is also meant for lovers of the black and white genre who long to take and develop photographs the way they have always been done in the past - within a darkroom, with developer, fixer and water. This process, in itself, is an art form, from shooting the film to developing it.

There are many people who believe that black and white film is not available anymore, but they couldn't be more wrong. You can still purchase black and white film on the Internet, for your own use - along with the developing fluid, fixer and developing paper too. If you, yourself want to take pictures using 35 mm film, then check out the many photographic Internet sites that still sell black and white film..

Furthermore, if you fancy purchasing a quality, second hand single lens reflex film camera - or a twin lens reflex camera - then this is truly the traditional way of taking pictures. This will be without the mod-cons of computer and digitally-driven cameras. You will be going back to the 'traditional' way of taking photographs. Having to work out your own shutter speed and aperture settings to gain the effect you want - rather than letting a computerized, digital camera do it for you.

You will also be keeping the art form alive, for traditionalists of photography - and especially for black and white photographic enthusiasts everywhere, if you then use black and white film to perfect your art. Whatever it takes to keep the art of black and white alive, then it must be done.

he plethora of digital cameras nowadays, far exceed that of film cameras now. I think that although I can take great black and white photographs with digital cameras, it's just not the same. There is something 'missing' . I believe it is three major things here: the film itself the heaviness of the cameras and the 'quality' of the cameras.

I don't like the 'feel' of 'today's' cameras. They feel 'cheap' and I don't like that at all. They are too light, and too much plastic goes into the making of them. Of course, no one wants to be carrying around, these days, heavy lumps of lead within their camera bag.

Not when they can pick up the latest and lightest design in camera technology. But traditional lovers of photography, like me, believe that this is all a part of what makes photography great. I and many other 'traditionalists' like carrying a heavy film camera around. This is all part of feeling like a 'photographer' [ if that makes any sense}? I feel like I'm really on an assignment, when I go out with my film camera. I 'feel' like a 'photographer' and I AM a 'photographer'.

The film cameras of the past have stood the test of time again and again. They very rarely break down if ever. They are consistent, and their performance levels, as far as I'm concerned, never drop. 35 mm single lens - and twin lens film cameras [for many countless film lovers] know the quality of those cameras far exceed those of digital. They are strong, sturdy workhorses, that for me, enhance the genre of black and white film photography.

Black and White Photography - A Dying Art

Black and white photography truly is a dying art form - if it has not already died. Yet, there are still enthusiasts out there keeping it alive. These are the 'traditionalist' who want nothing to do with the digital age of photography. They want to be able to take their pictures using the traditional methods.

The 'traditional methods' being that of mechanical SLR [Single Lens Reflex} or TLR [Twin Lens Reflex] cameras. Black and white photographic imagery, using 35 mm film, is simply stunning. This article focuses on black and white photography and the traditionalist who are trying to keep the art form alive for future generations to come.

Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual Third Revised Edition
Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual Third Revised Edition

The book of 'Black and White Photography' by professional photographer Henry Horenstein, is for all enthusiasts of the b/w genre.

The book contains all the information you need about taking beautiful black and white pictures time and again.

From the beginner to the intermediate and professional photographer, this book should take pride of place in any photographer's collection.

The author includes everything you need to know about composition, film speed, shutter speeds and aperture settings.

There is even a section about how to develop your own black and white prints which is a wonderful skill to learn.

Furthermore, the author covers everything, in reference to black and white photography, which many people see as a dying art.

Who needs a camera manual, when everything the budding photographer needs is within this book?

 

Painting with Light

Use Light Intelligently

Painting with light is what every photographer has to do - especially when it comes to the black and white film genre. Take advantage of every light condition you come across. Don't be put off by bad weather.

There was a time when people would only take photographs when the sun was out. There are many people still like that today. Don't be one of them. If you love black and white, and you love your photography, get out there and shoot pictures.

Capitalize on any given situation, whether indoors or out. Experiment with shutter speeds and aperture settings to produce stunning pieces of black and white artwork. When shooting with black and white film, then light, shadow and textures become even more important. And these should be enhanced, time and again to make your black and white shots stand out from the crowd.

Light and Shadow

Capitilize on Light and Shadow

Light and shadow are the biggest factors within black and white photography. Remember that. Because the creative use of light and shadows can transform your photography from the 'ordinary' to a winner.

Look and take note of every single light condition - whether indoors or out. In photography especially you, the photographer, should always be ready for the very fast light changes during the day virtually instantly.

Four seasons in one day, as the song goes, and that is certainly true when it comes to the weather - especially in England. However, don't confine yourself to daytime shots. Go out at night and shoot too. If not, you will be missing out on some great photographic opportunities.

As a photographer you should be used to the changes in the weather. So be prepared and cut your cloth accordingly. Should you go one stop up? Or half a stop down? Should you use a 'fast film' or a 'slow film'?

Should you use a fast shutter speed or a slow one? These factors are what you have to work out, constantly, when working with manual mechanical film cameras. Figuring out what shooter speed and apertures to use for shadows and light are extremely important within black and white, I would say even more so than in color.

This is because with black and white film you are working with blacks, whites and greys [grey which is neutral]. So, these HAVE to stand out within any form of black and white shot. Speaking about 'exposures'. Exposures are not so critical when shooting with color film, but they become absolutely crucial when shooting with b/w film.

Capturing Time

Nothing captures 'time' quite like black and white photography.

Atmosphere

Give your black white photographs 'atmosphere'. Make people stop and look again at your photographic work.

Sunset - In Black and White

Again, time is captured in this wonderful shot of the setting sun over the sea. Black and white film photography captures light and darkness like no other medium can.

Black and White Photography: A Dying Art

The most important thing when shooting with black and white film is to always try to be creative. Make your photographs catch the viewer's eye. Do not be put off by weather conditions that, ordinarily, would stop you from going out.

Use the different weather conditions to your advantage. This will then enable you to take some great shots.Shooting black and white in the snow, rain, wind, or misty conditions can give you wonderful creative prints.

Black and White Photography - A Dying Art

Black and white photographs are special and timeless. And as long as people love the black and white genre, then the medium will never die out. Taking black and white shots, you the photographer has to approach the subject in a manner you may not do when taking color shots.

In fact, you have to take into account the complete lack of color. This may be a problem for some, but for others with a creative mind, it is an opportunity to take some great shots. You will be working with different shades of light, dark and greys. So when color is absent then it has to be replaced by something else...creativity.

Black and White Photography: A Dying Art

The feeling of isolation is enhanced within shots of alleyways, or shots of the sea. Black and white is wonderful for this. By clever use of every available light condition - indoors or out, at night or during daylight - you, too, can create feelings of isolation and emptiness.

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    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 2 years ago from USA

      Howdy Wayne (wleon63 on HubPages) -

      Enjoyed reading your article here. Thanks.

      Many a B&W photo has gotten its beginning from the push of my right index finger on the camera's trigger. What I enjoyed "back in the day" was the ability to make photo exposures in light that was so dim that you did not bother to try framing the scene by looking through the viewfinder or at the view plate (as on my old Speed Graphic). I made a whole series of pix of a candlelight church service on night using 400 speed film and, another time I shot some pix out doors using that kind of "Tri-X" film and some sort of developer (I have long ago forgotten its name) that chemically cooked the film's rating up to over 4,000. You could do some interesting things with that sort of film - way back there in the "dark" ages of B&W photography.

      Regards,

      Gus :-)))

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 2 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Black and White photos are my favorite to look at because they arouse your imagination and there's something mystical about them. I often turn my own photos to B&W.

    • wleon63 profile image
      Author

      wleon63 4 years ago

      @marktplaatsshop: You are very welcome. And, of course, you are right. B/W photographs have something about them that colour simply does not have. Thank you for liking my lens too.

    • marktplaatsshop profile image

      marktplaatsshop 4 years ago

      Black and white photos have something special I can not say what it is but I always find them very special, a super nice lens, I enjoyed it very much, thanks for sharing

    • wleon63 profile image
      Author

      wleon63 4 years ago

      @SteveKaye: Thank you for reading and commenting my friend. I began taking black and white pictures in college, back in 1979. This is what gave me my love for everything to do with black and white film photography. Thank you also for 'liking' my lens. Truly appreciated.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful article. First, to calibrate my comments, I've been taking photos since 1965 and at one time I processed B&W photos in my darkroom.

      B&W photography can be more challenging than color or digital because the photographer has to tell an effective story using only shades of gray. This requires a great deal of artistic creativity as well as sensitivity to the subject.

      Many photo classes begin with B&W photography because this pushes the students to pay attention to the basic photographic process.