For most of the history of photography, black and white photography was a photographer’s only choice for taking pictures. Even when color became available, black and white photos were initially of better quality and less expensive to develop than their color counterparts.

As its quality improved, color film became a more popular choice for photographs, causing black and white photography to decline in popularity.

However, at present, black and white photos are enjoying a revival. Photographers are rediscovering the power and timeless nature that black and white film can lend to photos.

Why Take Black and White Photos?
With the vibrant colors available in modern film and with digital cameras, why opt for black and white photos at all? Depending on the subject, a photographer may use black and white film to create a stark, somber tone for his photos. This quality has paved the way for black and white photography in photojournalism.

The vibrancy of color can, at times, actually detract from the desired photographic effect. Subtle effects of texture and lighting that can be lost in color photographs will stand out in black and white photography.

Black and white photos can add an air of romance, class, timelessness and mystery to otherwise ordinary photographs. A run-of-the-mill color photo may look entirely different when seen in black and white. For this reason, both wedding and gothic photography have embraced the timeless quality of black and white photos.

Black and White Photography Tips
Without the distraction of color, other elements of photography stand out in black and white photos. Consequently, the photographer must pay extra attention to lighting, textures and the basic photography composition within his viewfinder’s frame.

Framing With Light and Shadows
Black and white photos emphasize the play of light and shadows without the distraction of color. This is both a strength and weakness for black and white photos. In the right lighting conditions, black and white photographs are beautiful. However, when taken in the wrong light, black and white images may look washed out or too dark.

Because shadow and light play such a key role in the effect of black and white photography, two pictures of the same subject can create very different looks at different times of the day. Imagine the play of light through trees. The contrast between dark tree trunks and light will look very different on a sunny afternoon than on a misty morning. In both cases, however, the mood achieved with black and white photography is still powerful.

Because light and shadow come to the fore in black and white photography, play with the framing in your pictures. Taking black and white photos framed by, say, the branches of a tree or an architectural arch can produce beautiful effects.

Color Conundrums
Black and white photography is a good choice when the colors in a scene just don’t work together. A photo of a loving couple hugging, for instance, can look awful if the colors of their clothing clash. In such cases, opt for black and white to avoid colors that can distract the viewer’s eye.

At some point, a photographer may want to capture the texture of a specific object, such as a tree trunk, rock face or the wrinkles and lines in an older person’s face. Because color can detract from texture photographs, experiment capturing textures of your subject with black and white film.

Timeless Subjects
Black and white photography gives photos a timeless, nostalgic feel simply by the absence of color. Color often dates a picture either because the original colors in the print have faded or because the popularity of colors in the photo can be traced back to a certain generation (i.e., rusty oranges and pea greens are a trademark of the 1970s). Black and white photography circumvents this problem.

When aiming for a timeless feel to a landscape or architectural photo, try to avoid anything that might date the photo: cars, posters, telephone poles and other items. Wedding photos often work well with black and white photography, as wedding dresses and tuxedos don’t suggest a specific time period when color isn’t a factor.

Because clothes can also date a photo, try a head portrait rather than a full-figure photo.

Black and White Photos Go Digital
While black and white photographs reach back to the very origins of photography, digital cameras represent the forefront of photo technology. At first glance, the two might not seem to go together. Yet, digital cameras have enhanced the advantages of black and white photography.

Many digital cameras now have black and white settings. Keep in mind that the effectiveness of these settings depends largely on the quality of the camera.

If a digital camera’s black and white setting doesn’t produce good quality photographs, you can still produce them with a few extra steps. Take the photo using the camera’s normal color settings, then use the camera’s editing software to turn the photo into black and white on your computer. Computer software allows a photographer to alter a picture’s contrast and brightness to improve the quality of black and white photos.

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