Styles 101: What is Black and White Photography?

Clients often aren’t aware of the intricacies of photography, especially when it comes to the multitude of styles out there that some professional photographers offer. To help them better understand the types of photography that can be illustrated in their carefully created images, this series of posts provides explanations and examples of every photography style listed in Photographer Central.

We won’t go into the specifics of what black and white photography is because most of you already know. Instead, we’ll focus on how black and white photography can be used differently than color photography, and why it’s sometimes the better option.

This style of photography is often used in reportage media because it’s reminiscent of older newspapers before color was introduced to newsprint. These days, a lot of documentary style and photojournalistic photography will be in black and white to help people immediately make the connection between the photo and something news-related.

Black and white photography is also a way for photographers to use light in more creative ways. Because the focus is away from how well things are lit, a black and white photo will emphasize the relationship between things that are in the light and things that are in the dark. Shadows will appear differently as well and can play a bigger role in pictures because there’s less distraction by colored elements.

In general, when you remove color, you shift the viewer’s focus from things in the background to the main subject of the photo. Without having to process how colors appear, people will tune out a lot of what they would normally pay attention to, and instead they will look at the most prominent elements of the photo.

Emotion is a tricky thing to showcase in any photo, whether it’s in color or black and white. However, it can actually be easier in black and white photography because there are fewer distractions. For instance, a photo of a person staring straight at the camera will be a lot more commanding in black and white because you won’t be able to notice anything besides their gaze. You won’t be able to concentrate on their skin color, hair color, or eye color because it won’t be as obvious. The attention ends up landing on their gaze and your interpretation of it.

Often, black and white photography can be a style for producing timeless and classic photos. Since older generations of photography were only available in black and white, we sometimes unconsciously believe a black and white photo is from a long time ago. For a photo shoot that’s staged as if it were taken in a long past decade, black and white photography is a great style to employ. 

Photo credits: Susie and Will PicturesWendy Lemon PhotographySean Webb PhotographyCharveyMac PhotographyKel Murphy Photography


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