Black and White Photography v's Colour Photography

Update: This post was originally posted on 7th February 2020 but after changing my website this post had to be re-published due to technical issues.

The Background


The first photograph taken by a camera was taken in 1826 but this was understandably black and white due to no other reason than the technology was limited and could only produce a black and white photo. The first coloured photograph wasn’t taken for another 35 years, it was taken by mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell.


In time the mainstream technology for producing photographs went from only being able to produce black and white images to being able to produce colour photographs. This did prompt some photographers, who had been using the additive method of mixing coloured lights to get colour into their photos from the black and white film, to go back to taking black and white photos.


Advantages to Colour Photography


With digital cameras today it is usually easy to change from shooting in colour to shooting in black and white, it is normally just a case of changing a setting.


So, what are the advantages to colour photography?


Well it is a wonderful way of communicating a particular mood, whether that is one of joy through the use of warm colours or one of sadness through the use of cold colours.


Colour photography is a great way of catch a viewers eye and making them stop to enjoy your photograph.

One of my examples of colour photography is this one of Linlithgow Palace, it communicates a mood of calm but happy. It also hopefully makes the viewer stop and reflect on the calm photograph.

Linlithgow Palace and Linlithgow Loch on a calm day

Advantages to Black and White Photography


Whilst it is all to easy just to shot in colour these days as normally that is what the cameras default setting is, most cameras can still shoot in Black and white. So, what are the advantages to shooting in black and white?


Taking colour away from a photo adds a timeless element to you’re a photo, due to the fact that it harks back to a time when for the masses at least black and white was the only option when it came to photography. It also emphasises the light and shadow that is hitting the subject in the photograph.


One example of my own black and white photography is this one, again of Linlithgow palace. But by taking away the colour you can see how it adds the timeless element, and in my opinion adds a moodiness that you just can’t capture in the colour photograph.



Overview


Although the two photos were not taken on the same day or with the same camera they are of the same subject. So despite these differences of day and equipment I do think they do help demonstrate how taking colour away changes the mood of a photograph.


So, how do you decide whether to shoot in black and white or in colour?


Well it does come down to what you are trying to relay in the photo. Are you wanting to relay a happy feeling, well you’ll need to take a colour photograph. On the other hand, if you want either a moody or timeless photo, then you need to take a black and white photo.


Of course, it takes time to know instinctively when to change the settings on the camera between colour and black and white. That takes practice, in the meantime what I would say is try to consciously think what style of photography best suits the situation. And if you are swithering take 2 photos of the same scene or subject and that way you can see which is best. I have done that a good number of times and probably will continue to do it every now and again, but through practice I am getting better at judging what is best for a particular photograph.


Of course, remember if you get home and realize a photo would’ve looked better in black and white rather than colour, well there is always the option to change it in your editing programme. However, I try and not rely on this option too much as the photos don’t always look the best when changed to black and white in the editing programme.


Well at least not in my opinion.

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