Recently I have been going back to almost exclusively shooting black-and-white for my personal projects. It is always the same: at some point I get sick of color going to black-and-white and then, once again, I get sick of black-and-white, going back to color. Interestingly, every time I go back and forth, it usually comes with a shift in style.
While color photography often seems to be illustrating the seen, black-and-white photography is a reduction. It somehow evokes a completely different type of emotions. Some say black-and-white is darker, less joyful, more dramatic, and heavy. I agree and disagree at the same time. I do believe that black-and-whites are often perceived as having one or more of the above qualities. However, I do not believe that it is ‘in the pictures’ but rather that due to the lack of colors, that could guide our emotional mindset, we are left alone and we project some of other feelings and expecations into the pictures. We ‘fuel’ or ‘charge’ the picture with emotional meaning. I believe that this is very specific to black-and-whites although sometimes there are also color pictures where the colors are so ‘natural’ that they do not impose ‘meaning’ onto the viewer.
On the technical side, the shooting envelope with black-and-white is significantly larger. You can shoot higher ISOs, both digital (because chroma noise does not matter) and analog (because you can easily push film a stop or two). That said you can shoot at higher shutter speed and/or smaller apertures with a higher depth of field, buying you some leeway with regard to focusing accuracy.
And then of course there is exposure. Exposure and metering are very different for black-and-white. Not in terms of actual EVs but in terms of what works and what looks great. Often what is way too over- or underexposed for color works surprisingly well in black-and-white. When it comes to exposure it is where the actual ‘setup’ plays a role: with digital you can get a pretty accurate preview of the final exposure and you can tweak it to your liking. In particular, most cameras allow for a black-and-white preview. With film, you cannot preview exposure which forces you to actively choose your exposure, forcing you to slow down a bit and being more considerate: you think about the final exposure and you can make a conscious decision.
How long am I going to stay with black-and-white this time? I don’t know – typically it lasts for a bit. When I started photography so many years back I was fascinated with black-and-white (like so many others before me). It is a very deep and interesting medium with a lot of expressive power – it is at the same time limiting though.
So long — TSJ.
PS: I was recently interviewed by the Structo magazine that published one of my shots as cover (a black-and-white one). You can find the interview here.