Photo Source: Libreshot
Black and white photography used to be the default of photography. It was not until the 1930s when Kodachrome was released and modern color photography was a really feasible possibility. On first blush, it might seem unintuitive to use black and white when digital photography is already in color, and photo filters have plenty of options to add or enhance color as needed. Nevertheless, black and white photography is a commonly used style among photographers, including some that almost exclusively use the style.
Black and white as a color scheme in photography carries with it a lot of emotion. In one article, Rex Jones notes, “An image presented in full color tells a very complete story, whereas an image that is stripped of color leaves a completely different set of ways that we can interpret what we see.” When we take color out of a photo, we invite a different way of looking at a picture. Often, it invites more somber and pensive emotions. When the vibrancy is cut out, darkness gets to settle in. Sometimes, it invokes a sense of something old or dead. During an experiment on Agorapulse on color versus black and white photography on Instagram, one commenter accidentally misinterpreted the black and white photo of the CEO as a tribute for someone who had died.
Our thoughts of color photography have evolved over time. In the Fifties, color photography was dismissed as gaudy and over-embellished(PetaPixel). It did not take until the 1970s where photographers started to embrace and praise color photography. In one quote, black and white photography “elevated a photograph from banality to a work of art.” Perhaps because color was available, the realism of color made a photo seem less like art and more like documentation. These attitudes would shift over time, but it is interesting to think about how long it would take until the fine art photography world would fully embrace colored photography. On another hand, sentiments may have shifted in the modern day. In one social media experiment done by Agorapulse, they found that color photos on Instagram received more likes, comments, and impressions than black and white posts. This may not be as good of a test of sentiment, since it is possible that the black and white photography simply did not fit the general aesthetic that black and white photography normally captures, so the posts felt out of place. It also doesn’t technically comment on the current trends with photographer circles either. For instance, Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbara Davidson has been known to use black and white photography for her work, signifying a place in the world for black and white photography.
Black and white photography has always been a fixture, especially since color had come years after photography was first invented. At first, photographers were reluctant to even add color, and now modern photographers can choose whether or not they even want to have it in the first place. Taking color out of a photo allows the photo to invoke a different set of emotions. In the end, since both kinds are so available, black and white photography is a kind of tool. When photographers present a subject, the choice of color is another essential part of the story they want to tell, and perhaps the reason we still like black and white photography is not because it is simply in black and white, but it is because of the way it changes the story of a photo for us. If used correctly, it can elevate the photo to more memorable heights, allowing its message to be better conveyed.