Why I Shoot Black and White and Monochrome Images

Wave of Lower Antelope Canyon in Black and WhiteIn a world full of color it seems a contradiction to shoot images in black and white. The red rocks of Antelope Canyon, the greens of Oregon and the list goes on. Why would you not want to show these? What makes black and white photography interesting and a passion of mine? (more images below)

I grew up shooting film. My first camera shot only black and white roll film. I had to hind an a closed closet and change out and get into a sealed canister. Maybe I feel a connection to the past or some need to give a nod to the great masters that influenced me. Maybe it’s the timeless look and feel of the images?

With today’s technology you can shoot in color and easily do amazing conversions to black and white, add old film simulations and various monochrome tints. I have the color images in most cases. I can use either look, color or black and white. 

As I have learned and grown as a photographer and an artist I have looked for ways to force myself to work within limitations. Setting boundaries to hem me in so I will learn to use the limited space and produce great images. These limits can be simple such as putting on a 50mm prime lens and shooting everything for the day or for weeks with just that one focal length. I hosted a photowalk in Jerome Arizona a few years ago and when the participants arrived I gave them an assignment to slow them down in this digital camera world. The task was to shoot up to 12 images in 2 hours and tell me a story. In other words I “handed” them a roll of film with only 12 frames available and made sure they could not simply shoot randomly, and a will like they can with larger memory cards and multi shot settings. I put limits on them to slow their pace, their thought process, and their trigger happy finger. They had to think about what to shoot, as part of a story sequence. No firing at will and sort it out later in the computer. What happened was an amazing time for all.

I shoot with a number of top professional photographers. Traveling, camping and going to great locations. Some of them have their cameras set to multi shot and bracketing all the time. It sounds like a rapid fire machine gun going off each time they point n shoot. I can’t imagine the time it takes to manage and go through all the images these photographers take. That is their style right now and it works for them. I remember doing the for a time. Today I have slowed down and I plan, look, be selective and shoot only what I think I would like to spend my precious time editing. 

What shooting for black and white conversion has done for me, along with slowing down, is force me to look at the light, lines, shadows, composition, story telling and feel of the image that will have no color to “wow” folks. It brings the image down to it’s essence. The use of negative space, the highlights and where the eye will follow become even more important to my process. I can no longer rely on the saturation or vibrance sliders to make my image “pop”. 

I have a fascination with the look of the old Film Noir movies in black and white along with the chiaroscuro work of the old master paint artists. The play of the light and dark, blacks and whites, shadows and highlights brings emotion to the image. The lighting techniques from the Film Noir days is often seen in modern movies, albeit in color.

Not only has this process of shooting for black and white helped me slow down, it has helped me see the scene differently, light the models or products under studio lights better and more dramatically. I have learned and continue to get better at looking at the light and lines in landscapes. 

In the process of improving and evolving my art and style, I find that black and white and monochrome images are what fascinates me, creates dramatic and emotional images I want on my walls. It also takes me back to some old part of myself, some primal photography place of my youth. It connects me with my past, the history of photography and helps me feel part of the visual history left by the great masters of film still photography. It ultimately drives me forward and improves my art, style and vision. 

Even if you are not a lover of black and white images, I recommend that you play with it along with other short term limits on your photography. You will learn much from shooting with “one hand tied behind your back” in a sense. Shoot in black and white and record in jpeg only. No RAW images to fall back on. Shoot with one focal length, even if you have to use some gaffers tape to lock the zoom ring on a lens. Limit the number of shots per hour or for a project. Do only motion shots, try shots only at ground level, shoot only abstract images for a day or a week. Make all images part of a story about a person or place or both. In other words, place limits so you can learn. 

Black and white and Monochrome is my space, my passion and my focus. Yes, I will still capture in color. But I will continue to grow my portfolio of black and white monochrome images for the foreseeable future. It gives me what I want and need from the fascinating world of photography. It fulfills my need for Art.

Art is Necessary 

 Click on an image to see a larger view:

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