Why is monochrome photography popular

The art of black and white photography

Origins and Development

The origins of black and white photography go back to the beginnings of photography itself. Back then, before it was possible to reproduce visual reality true to color, black and white photography had no special name. It was referred to as what we nowadays generally understand by the term photography.

English football fans in London / Photo: E Dean, WhiteWall.com

In the meantime, traditional black and white photography has lost its importance. It was only used in peripheral areas such as astrography, traffic monitoring or long-term archiving. However, many motifs from the early years of photography are still very popular. Whether the landscape photographs by Ansel Adams, the Paris impressions by Henri Cartier-Bresson or the multi-faceted portrait series by August Sander: the essential and world-famous icons of the history of photography are black and white.

Lunch on top of a skyscraper / Photo: Charles C. Ebbets, WhiteWall.com

Black and white - from the blemish of colorlessness to the desired photographic effect

As groundbreaking as the history of the development of photography is, from the very beginning it was tainted with the supposed flaw of not accurately reflecting reality. While most photographers in the more than 170-year history of photography painfully longed for more color, we now have the choice between color and black-and-white photos. What was normal back then is now often considered an effect. In the menu of a digital camera, the term “monochrome” or the abbreviation “B / W” are often used as a proxy for images without a color tone. In contrast to analog photography, decisions such as the choice of a specific black and white film are not made in the digital age. The decision for or against a certain black and white aesthetic, which once had a lasting effect, is nowadays often only made during post-processing.

Interior view of New York Central Station (around 1936) / Photo: WhiteWall.com

Effect of black and white photography

However, neither the birth of applied color photography in the 1930s nor the current triumphant advance of digital recording processes could replace monochrome black-and-white photography: over the decades it has developed into a stylistic device and an independent art form. The abstraction of colors is also very popular in the digital age. For black and white pictures, the Pay particular attention to the play between light and shadow, to contours, shapes and the composition of the picture. The two “color extremes” black and white stand in a particularly strong contrast to one another and often leave a certain something A touch of nostalgia resonate. The black and white effect of a picture is initially independent of the subject and lives solely from the reduction to its gray tones. In contrast to monochrome images, colors often distract from the actual image. Although color photos are closer to reality, the impression often arises that monochrome motifs bring out reality more strongly. The black and white photography will Due to their richness in contrast, they often have an unadulterated and original effectattributed to.

Photo: WhiteWall.com

Tips & tricks for black and white photography

Black and white photography means more than removing its color from a picture with a click of the mouse. There are quite a few pictures that are impressive in color, but when converted to black and white they lose all appeal. Anyone who photographs black and white must therefore be able to transform the colored reality into a black and white abstraction in their heads. During the recording it is important to perceive colors as contrasts and to correctly assess brightness values. This type of photography on the one hand requires a certain photographic talent, but on the other hand it also has an incredibly aesthetic appeal. In order to decipher a black-and-white photo, more intellectual capacity is required than is the case with color photography. Concentrating on taking a subject counteracts fast-paced arbitrariness, which is why black and white photography is still very popular. A black and white picture looks best on high-quality, specially designed photo paper. Baryta photo paper is an evergreen. Developed as early as 1866, it is one of the absolute classics among photo papers and guarantees brilliant white, rich black tones and sharp contours. An alternative is the black and white paper from von Illford, which can be ordered with either a smooth or matt surface.

Checklist for black and white photography

  • Imagine your motif as a black and white photograph while taking the picture: Pay attention to the contrasts between colors, differences between light and dark, and special graphic structures
  • Do not use a camera filter, instead convert the photo into a black and white image during post-processing
  • Have the image developed on suitable photo paper, use barite photo paper or Illford black and white photo paper

Drifting snow / Photo: Kai Ziehl, WhiteWall.com

You can buy all of the pictures used in the article from us as individually designed wall pictures.