I have been shooting street photography for about 2 years now. Since I always look for ways to challenge myself and to look for new avenues to take my craft, I decided to look at what shooting black and white would do to me, creatively.
Before end of 2017 I would shoot black and white photo here and there without really thinking about why. As long as the picture looked good without colors, I would desaturate it and voila, there was a black and white picture. No real intention.
While my road to black and white photography was rather coincidental at first, I gradually returned to this interpretation of the world. I started to read about it and figured out there’s more to it than just sliding the desaturate slider all the way down. That is when the decision was made – what will happen if I shoot only black and white? If was to do it, I wanted to dedicate myself entirely. Or at least as much as possible. Therefore I decided to shoot black and white only for all of 2018. The year now coming to an end, what has shooting black and white for one year taught me?
Simplicity in its purest form
I love making photography simple. I think the absolute top of any field is to create a masterpiece with as little components as possible. In photography, this is tied to different things: simplifying composition, removing elements from the composition and adding mystery, using light creatively or removing colour altogether. By removing colour I realised I am pushing the simplicity and minimalism I strive for, even further then before.
Composition at center stage of focus
While out on the streets and having the black and white mindset, I trained my eye to disregard colour and how it impacts my photographic vision and thinking. Gradually, I stopped looking for that red umbrella next to red bus (or some similar scenario). Instead, I now look at my composition, I slow down and decide what I will include in my frame and what not. I will look at shapes around me, how they interact with each other and how they interact with light. Speaking of light…
Understanding light becomes more than just a phrase
Shooting black and white, the light has become one of the key elements I include in my compositions now, along with humans and their environments. Whether the light is strong, casting harsh shadows or soft, creating wonderful shadows, I now see how that affects my photography. Being able to see the quality and quantity of light helps to add to the overall result, to adjust the story, evoke a feeling, drama or moodiness. Before, during midday with hard sun out, I would not feel like going out and shoot. Now I know how to use that light to my advantage, how fast shutter speed creates rich black shadows in which I can hide so many things – hence the simplicity again.
Removing colour adds more focus on the essence of a photograph
Earlier, I would transform the picture into black and white when something was off with the image. Looking back at those cases I realised, I converted them to black and white when the colour did not work too well. So what if I shot my images intentionally this way? Removing colour makes me think about the composition, about the depth of the image, it makes me think about if this or that should be a part of it and why. Basically, removing colour strips the picture to its purest form and you immediately see all the mistakes photographer made, because you are not drown to colour, but you focus on the essence.
Black & white photography as a creative choice
For some, shooting black and white is a creative choice. People choose to shoot this way to stand out, to honour the great photographers who shot only black and white, to remove themselves from distraction of colour or to challenge themselves creatively. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore beautiful colour photography and I follow many many photographers who are masters of working with colour. During this year, I only came to realise I actually liked black and white and I currently enjoy shooting this way very much.
By shooting black and white, I can come at least a little bit closer to the masters of photography who shot B&W. Ansel Adams, Cartier Bresson, Sebastio Salgado, Peter Lindbergh, just to name a few. Moreover, if I manage to capture image which does not include anything modern, you cannot really say how old it is. Isn’t that great?
To wrap up, I will simply list what I learned during 2018 when I only shot black and white:
1. My compositions improved
2. I am more focused when shooting on the streets
3. I think more about the story
4. I understand light a little better now
5. Interestingly, I did not get bored during this time and therefore, I will be shooting B&W from now on!
If you wish to read more on the topic, check out these great reads below.
This is a perfect read, adding to what I’ve been talking about:
Here is an interesting article on shooting B&W and in RAW at the same time:
Check out these 20 black and white photos which prove you don’t need colour:
Here is my favorite go to resource for “How to” articles – Eric Kim Photography: