When photography began it was all in B&W and the fact that serious photography was always in B&W was so ingrained that it would be over a century before anyone would take colour photography seriously. Today the quality of colour photography is so high (and the digital revolution has made it so easily achievable and flexible) you might wonder why anyone would bother with B&W anymore. But B&W photography has actually enjoyed a huge resurgence in recent years with many photo magazines specialising in monochrome, and exhibitions being won by B&W shots, and thousands of tutorials online showing how to achieve good B&W results.
So what are the strengths of B&W and why choose it today over colour? Well there are several answers and it can’t be ignored that B&W still has a snob value for ‘serious’ photography. But artistically it has merit and strengths where colour can’t compete.
B&W can be defined as the absence of colour and in photography that is it’s advantage. And not just in circumstances where there are some undesirable colours or a clash of different colours that you can’t control - this is where B&W will instantly make your photo more appealing.
In portraiture B&W allows you to focus on the tones and not the colours. Take a photos of someone wearing a red sweater and in colour and the eye is instantly distracted by the red clothing. However in B&W the fabric is now irrelevant and the viewers attention is back to focusing on the person in the photo. B&W instantly desaturates the distractions and allows the viewer to concentrate more on the subject itself and not the colours of the subject.
In B&W the photographer also has a lot more range with tones. You can adjust and control a fabulous amount of tones in B&W where skin will still look beautifully smooth and dramatic. Particularly when you combine it with studio lighting. Should you attempt the same range in colour and you will get very weird and unappealing colour shifts and fringing in skin. The viewer can admire the skin in an almost abstract artistic manner as it lacks the reality of colour skin. This abstraction is one reason why it has traditionally been more acceptable as ‘fine art’.
Photographers shoots differently when they are considering B&W, the how the light falls on the subject differently and produces a unique quality that would not result in the same type of photo if they were considering colour. This leads to a more emotional and less technical quality in the photo and the absence of colour allows the view to read more into the photo much like poetry rather than fiction.
And finally because B&W is so old and traditional it instantly has an ageless quality. Colour trends change almost year by year now and can age over time. But B&W is eternal and what better way to preserve your beauty forever than to do it in a form that will last forever.