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The Beauty of Black and White Photography

Updated on July 30, 2013

The Beauty of Black and White Photography

This article looks at the beauty of black and white photography. It shows how black and white film has stood the test of time throughout the age of photography. Comparing color prints to black and white prints, one is struck by the beauty within the tones and shades of black and white photography.

Whereas color photographs tend to always look 'busy', with too many colors clashing taking the eyes away from the subject matter, this is not so with black and white photographs. Because black and white prints only deal with blacks, whites and greys, the photographs are more focused, so-to-speak, on the subject matter at hand. Furthermore, exposure times do not have to be so strict when shooting with black and white film - as they do with color film.

The sheer simplicity of black and white prints have a uniqueness about them that is not just outwardly beautiful, but inwardly so too. Black and white photographs retain an almost deep, ethereal spirituality about them. I truly feel that this cannot be found within color photographs.

The Beauty of Black and White Photography

There is a beauty and a mystery within black and white pictures that cannot be explained so easily. Why do they stir the imagination in such a way that makes us long for the past? What is it about black and white photographs - even more so than color - that defines 'time' in such a way?

You can gaze upon a color photograph and admire the beauty of it. But color photographs, for me, can never capture 'time' the way a black and white print can. There are, of course, many people reading this article who would disagree with that statement. However, I have always found that there is a mystery, and an ethereal quality to the genre of black and white, that defines itself to the subject.

When shooting with a mechanical SLR camera, loaded with 35mm black and white film, I am immediately captured by the depth to which I can go too. The depth and versatility of black and white 35mm film is the reason why I love working with this genre.

When shooting with black and white film, you have to pay particular attention to composition [within your viewfinder] and lighting textures. This is simply because of the lack of color. Light and shadow play an enormous role in black and white photography - again, this is because of the lack of color. But, like anything, it takes practice to take beautiful black and white shots using the correct lighting.

Taking shots using the wrong type of lighting can make your photographs look 'washed out' or very dark indeed. So take heed about this when shooting indoors or outdoors. Also, taking shots of the same scene, using black and white film, can produce a different effect/atmosphere, depending on the time of day.

Always try to 'frame' your shots. That is to say that you can use the branches of trees, or the archways of architecture, in order to make your shot stand out. The end product can be very beautiful indeed when shooting with black and white film.

Texture also plays its part within black and white photography, and you may want to emphasize this. The lines within an old man or woman's face. Or objects such as the bark of trees, glass or rocks, when shot with black and white film can look stunning.

When talking about 'versatility' this is something that lovers of the black and white genre are keen to stress upon. Because 35mm black and white film is so versatile, it can be used in virtually any light conditions.This, of course, gives the opportunity to take some wonderful shots, no matter what the weather is like.

Taking shots with an SLR {Single Lens Reflex Camera} or TLR, [Twin Lens Reflex Camera} loaded with black and white film can be one of the most rewarding aspects of photography for me. Having attended college in 1979 as a young man aged 16 - in which I not only learned about the basics of black and white photography, but learned the processes of developing my own black and white prints within a darkroom - my admiration and love for the genre quickly grew.

I learned just why the word, 'photography' is called 'painting with light'. Because, when shooting with manual, mechanical cameras you are, quite literally, using every available light source you can to produce an image of quality. I find that the potential to be creative - when shooting with black and white film - can be used to great effect when you understand how light works.

This means having a basic knowledge of how light works in different conditions - indoors as well as outdoors. It also means you having a little knowledge of shutter speeds and aperture settings. This is important because by combining and experimenting with the two, you can then produce stunning pieces of photographic artwork.

When working with black and white film I feel that photographs are taken to an extra level - much more so than with color. Of course, there are many people who love color photographs, and will only shoot in color.

And that is perfectly fine because it really is each to their own when it comes to photography. But if you are one of those people who has not tried shooting with black and white, then give it a go. You may be pleasantly-surprised at the results you will obtain.

The beauty of black and white photography is the simplicity of the subject. Simplicity is the key that makes a successful black and white image. Black and white is a genre that is versatile and can work in any kind of light condition, as I have mentioned above.

Compare this to color film and, quite often, I would need a good day, with plenty of sunshine in order to take my shots. Also, when shooting with color film, you really have to get exposures spot on. There is no room for compromise, so-to-speak.

The great thing about black and white film is that you do not have to be as strict with exposures as you do when shooting with color film. This is because you are only working with blacks, whites,and greys. Every shot can be made to look moody, to produce the right type of atmosphere that is needed.

Another thing with black and white photography is that the focus is on the subject. With color, quite often, there can be a clash of colors. This often means that there is too much going on in the photograph at the same time. This can result in the focus being taken away from the subject. Black and white however, keeps it simple, by keeping the subject as the focus of attention..

Despite the lack of color, a lot can be achieved when shooting with 35mm black and white film. The simplicity of the film makes it one of the most sought after film mediums to shoot with.

The creativity that an amateur photographer can produce with just a basic knowledge of shutter speeds and apertures is immense. When working with black and white film what you must also understand is that there are different shades, or tones, that you will notice too. It is not just a matter of black, white, and greys, but different levels [shades] of them. I feel that there is more than meets the eye when shooting with black and white film.

The subtlety of it, the creativity of it, the fact that you can shoot in virtually any light condition - without the worry of having to compensate for color - is very attractive to the amateur photographer.

Colors can distract you away from your main subject. Too many colors in a picture, I feel, can make the picture look too busy because they then tend to clash. However, for me, black and white film is classy, is 'art nouveau', and the simplest images can be made to look ethereal and very beautiful indeed. If you experiment with different shutter speeds and aperture settings when shooting with black and white film, then you can produce photographic artwork the more you practice.

So put your digital camera away, take out your film camera. Load it with 35mm black and white film and away you go. Experiment, taking different shots at different times of the day, using different exposure settings for the same subject. See how using different settings can drastically alter the mood of the surrounding area, and the subject.

Also, 'mood' and 'atmosphere' can be used to great effect in black and white photography, by using color filters. Now this sounds like a contradiction in terms, because this article is about black and white photography.

So what has color filters got to do with black and white photography? Actually, they have a lot to do with it. By using certain color filters that you fit onto the front of your lens, you can drastically alter the atmosphere within your shot.

Color filters are used to adjust the range of tones within black and white photography. For example, using a yellow filter.will increase the contrast in the clouds. At the same time, yellow filters not only increases the contrast in clouds, but darkens the sky too.

Yellow filters also have the ability to reduce haze and mist as well. So they are really important to the photographer, if he or she needs to manipulate the contrast in the sky, or needs the clouds to be darker.

However, if you want to make the sky look even darker still, then using an orange filter will do the trick. Orange filters are much more stronger in effect than that of yellow filters. So if you want that 'dramatic' picture, when taking landscape shots, then use an orange filter.

You will get the same results - as if you have used a yellow filter, fitted to the front of your lens, but the effect will be more dramatic. If you want to take shots of foliage, then use a green filter. Green filters will lighten any foliage - whilst darkening the sky somewhat.

If you are taking portrait shots then a green filter will result in pleasant skin tones - more so in men, then in women. Using a light yellow filter, will give pleasing skin tones for women. By using a red filter, this will give you even more dramatic sky effects. It will also darken greenery - such as foliage - whilst also reducing haze and mist.

If you want to increase the effects of mist and haze, then use a blue filer. This filter will give you a foggy, misty atmosphere within your shot. Details of objects in the distance will also be obscured by using this filter.

There are plenty more filters - other than color filters - that you could use as well. Special effects filters, neutral density filters, fog filters. It really does depend on what you want from your picture. However, the filter that you should definitely carry around with you at all times is a yellow filter.

As I have mentioned above, yellow filters have the ability to darken the sky, plus they cut through the haze and mist. Contrast of clouds will be increased, whilst darkening the sky. One tip to take note of, I would tend to leave a yellow filter firmly fixed onto my lens all the time - if shooting with black and white film.

Take indoor shots as well as outdoor, take nighttime shots too. Use every bit of available light that you can. And produce black and white imagery that will make people gasp, and that will stand the test of time.

The Beauty of Black and White Photography

The sheer beauty of black and white photographs defines what time is all about. In fact, the way black and white prints have the power, in a simple mono shot, to be able to touch the very soul of those viewing them is unique. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is never more so than when viewing a black and white photograph. Black and white photographs exude a kind of mystical ethereal - and indeed, surreal feeling to the picture.

Much more so than with any color photograph. In fact, one might think that black and white photography is boring, with its lack of color. But you could not be further from the truth. The very fact that the genre does lack color, is why so many people love it so much. The simplicity of it, brings out its beauty time and again.

Your eyes are not competing with different colors all vying for your attention. With black and white prints it is just you, and the subject, nothing else. Your eyes automatically focus on what the photographer intended for you to see - without the distraction of different colors clashing. This article is in honor of black and white photography, and all those who still love this genre and keep it alive to this day.

Creative Black and White: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
Creative Black and White: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques

You don't always have to stick to the rules of photography - whether you are shooting in black and white or color.

This fine publication, by renowned photographer Harold Davis, shows you the tips and techniques you can use in order to create beautiful black and white imagery time and again.

Whether you are an amateur, testing the water, for the first time, with black and white photography, a seasoned professional, or a lover of the genre of black and white, this book covers it all.

It contains all the tips and tricks needed so you too can produce b/w imagery that will stand the test of time.

It goes far beyond the basics of photography, showing you how to overcome the challenges that crop up when shooting with black and white.

I have found that this book is a fine addition to my collection of photography books. I would highly-recommend this book because If you love black and white photography, you will love this..

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

Although I have this book in my collection now, I wish it had been around all those years ago when i first began shooting with black and white.

The book is comprehensive, covering every aspect of black and white photography.

It is, indeed, an instruction book, covering everything from advising you on what lenses to use when taking your shots, to taking you through aperture and shutter settings.

For any budding photographer out there, who loves the genre of black and white photography, Henry Horenstein's 'Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual', is simply superb.

Filled with practical tips to improve your photography, the book really is worth its weight in gold.

An invaluable edition to any amateur photographer's collection.

The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow
The Art of Black and White Photography: Techniques for Creating Superb Images in a Digital Workflow

Well, as soon as I picked up this book to read, I knew black and white photography was alive and well.

What struck me about this volume was the depth to which the author goes into. Including subjects like 'filters' and what they do [ for those who shoot with film] to what camera you should choose, it really is a comprehensive read, as far as that aspect is concerned.

Although there is something for both amateur and professional photographers to read up on, the book is more, I feel, for the professional photographer who uses either film or digital format.

In reference to 'digital', there are some people who will read the book and feel that the author did not go in-depth enough on that subject - dedicating around 40 pages to it. I feel that this is refreshing, though, in an age when digital has overtaken every aspect of our lives.

The author also concentrates on the composition of the pictures, especially when shooting architecture.

However, although the book is good, it may not be to everyone's taste.

This is because the subjects are limited to only landscape and architecture picture taking. What struck me about this book is that it also shows you how to include new technology, alongside 'old'. Although I do not use 'new technology' myself when taking my pictures, I can appreciate the depth to which the author has gone too in showing how 'old art' can be improved upon.

But as I stated earlier, I am happy that only 40 pages were dedicated to the digital side of photography, as there are many of us out there who still cling on to the 'old art'.

Overall, this book may be too technical for some. However, if you give yourself a chance to read through the book, you will come across some wonderful hints and tips that will improve your black and white photography.



The Beauty of Black and White Photography

What is the first thought that enters your head when viewing a black and white photograph? Do you think how bland it looks? How colorless even? Do you think that black and white photographs have no depth to them?

Or do you simply prefer color? Well you are here, reading this module, so I will assume that you have an appreciation for black and white photographs that goes beyond 'liking' them. So if that is the case then this article is for you - and all lovers of the black and white genre.

Because black and white photographs are beautiful, stunning in their simplicity. They convey, I feel, the closest feeling yet to being able to 'capture time'. It is not just the capturing of the 'moment' but the capturing of 'time' itself.

There is an almost, deep, spiritual feeling, as I have mentioned above, to black and white photographs that I feel [and it is only my opinion] cannot be caught with color. There is also a mystery and a beauty to black and white photographs, that really does stir something deep inside those who appreciate them and love them.

Taking photographs with 35mm black and white film, loaded into a Single Lens Reflex Camera is one of the joys for me, in photography. Granted, I could use digital cameras to take black and white shots. But the end product, for me, is just not the same.

I really do prefer using film cameras, and always have done. Because I know that from the moment I load the film into the camera, to when I take the shot and process it, it is all my own work. I was responsible for that photograph, from the very beginning to the very end.

If I use a digital camera, then I feel I am somehow 'cheating' the process of taking photographs. For me, digital photography is the 'fast food' of the photographic world. Photography does not have to be 'fast' and 'instant'. But instead, it should be more of a 'creative' process.

There is nothing wrong with using digital cameras if the moment dictates. Especially when something is happening right before your eyes. But I am talking about generally. When you go out on a shoot to take your pictures, there is nothing quite like using a film camera loaded with black and white film - whether it is 35mm film or larger formats.

There is a crispness to black and white 35mm film, [and that could be said for the larger formats of black and white film too] that goes far beyond what a digital camera can produce. And this is conveyed - and comes across so strongly - within black and white photographs.

I love black and white photographs, and working with black and white film. There is just nothing like it - despite the so-called advances photography has made with Digital High-Definition cameras now.

Black and white film photography will always be my favorite type of photography. And that will never change. I really can see why, when shooting with black and white film with a film camera, you are, quite literally, 'painting with light' [which is what the word, 'photography' means] .Black and white is deeply-beautiful, mysterious, and also almost spiritual in its nature. What do you think?

Black and White Photography: The Most Beautiful Pictures

The Beauty of Black and White Photography

A debate on whether people prefer to shoot with black and white or with color.

So which do you prefer?

My Love for Black and White Film Photography

Black and White London Street Photography

Beautiful black and white imagery here of the streets of London.

Keep It


Lightness and Darkness

Black and white should always be about the understanding of lightness and darkness

And, how the two combined, can create wonderful photographic artwork that captures time.

The Art of Black and White Photography

One man's life's passion for black and white photography

Joel Tjintjelaar

Again, fine examples of just how light and dark work together in black and white.

Fine Art Black and White Photography: By Mark Voce

Beautiful black and white photographs from the British Coastline.

Ilford - Best in Black and White

Ilford is the world-famous name in Black and White Photography. On this module you will see just what applications you can use. And also you can purchase any Ilford product. The site also gives you hints and tips to follow, when out taking black and white shots.

Wear Clothing That is Suitable

The most important thing when out shooting black and white, or any type of photography, is to stay comfortable. Wear clothing that is suitable for the occasion. If you do not feel comfortable in what you are wearing, you cannot then concentrate on what you need to do - in reference to shooting pictures. Wear a jacket that has plenty of pockets, and that suits your photographic needs.

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    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Aunt-Mollie: You have hit the nail on the head. You are so right with that comment. There is nothing like black and white photographs. Thank you for reading and commenting. I truly appreciate it.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I think black and white photos are right for so many things. It's an art form of its own.

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @mcspocky lm: There is nothing like being in the darkroom developing black and white prints. It is a wonderful skill to learn. I love it, and I am glad that you do too. Thank you for reading, my friend. I really appreciate it.

    • mcspocky lm profile image

      mcspocky lm 

      5 years ago

      When I was in high school I used to spend hours in the darkroom developing the black & white photos I took... I did a lot of black & white photography back then.

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @FashionMommy: Thank you for reading, my friend. Yes. I have always loved b/w photography for many years. And, it is quite true what you have said, they are unique and very elegant too.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice lens. I do appreciate photographs in black and white because they are unique and elegant.

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @takkhisa: Thank you for reading and commenting my friend. Yes, color photographs are beautiful, but black and white photographs take photography, I feel, to another level.

    • takkhisa profile image


      5 years ago

      I do like both color photographs and black & white! Actually, black & white photos are beautiful to watch and think :)

    • wleon63 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Board-Game-Brooke: Thank you for reading and commenting. I truly appreciate it. Yes, Ansel Adams black and white prints are evocative. I remember learning about him, many years ago, whilst studying black and white photography in college. You are right in your comment. .

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      5 years ago from US/TN

      I usually prefer color photos, but I can definitely appreciate the artistry of black and white photographs. Ansel Adams did some lovely black & white photos.


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