What is Old is New Again: Why Black and White Prints Matter in the Age of Digital Photography

Mother and her children by Knoxville family photographer Michael Broyles

Mother and her children

Here in East Tennessee, nothing comes close to capturing the majesty of fall’s parade of colors than your trusty camera.  Photography has a way of bringing beautiful, colorful scenes to life in a two dimensional image.  However, it was not long ago that photographs came in only two colors: black and white.  While color photographs have their place in modern photography, black and white prints remain popular for their timeless quality and subtle beauty.  The color scheme works well for all types of photography, from portraits to landscapes, and adapts to a variety of lighting conditions.  Here are a few more reasons why black and white photos have endured over time.

Fewer Distractions

While we can appreciate vivid, brilliant pops of color in photographs, there are times when color can be a distraction or clash with other elements in a photo.  Black and white photography, on the other hand, is stark and reduces your subject to the bare essentials.  As a photographer, you can focus on playing up the composition and texture of your photo, things like shapes, light, and shadows.  In fact, black and white photos are a great way to contrast light and dark elements as they make shadows deeper and bright objects more brilliant.  In the case of portrait photography, a black and white color scheme accommodates a range of skin tones and can soften blemishes and imperfections. Above all, fewer distractions means your images will be more visible and stand out from the background.

Highlights Emotion

Besides bringing more attention to your subject, black and white photography can draw out specific emotions related to the subject and its surroundings.  In general, the monochrome nature of black and white prints adds an air of mystery and drama to your subject, whether human or not.  For example, think of the feelings you experience when viewing a picture of a room bathed in shadows or of a mid-winter landscape.  The emotional hook is especially heightened with portrait photography.  Without color to distract the naked eye, you are able to look at a subject’s face or into their eyes and make an emotional connection with him or her. Furthermore, a photographer can use the black and white color scheme to play up certain emotions, such as nostalgia, sadness, or seriousness.

Timeless Quality

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons photographers choose to use black and white photography today is because the medium lends a classic, timeless quality to their images.  Indeed, black and white photos have been around much longer than color photos.  It is why we so often associate black and white photographs with the past or prize them for a retro, vintage feel that color cannot capture.  They have an aesthetic and artistic flair that suggest another time and can elicit feelings of nostalgia and longing, especially from older generations who grew up with black and white prints.

Black and white photography has come a long way over the years, but its appeal remains strong among young and old alike.  It is a timeless technique that yields consistently beautiful results.


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