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Can Less Be More? Black and White vs. Colour Photography

August 08, 2018

Since the widespread adoption of colour film in the 1930s, shooting in black and white has become something of an artistic niche. While it's clear colour is the dominant choice these days – in the right circumstances – black and white photography still has the potential to create powerful, evocative images that might not have been otherwise possible.

From picturesque landscapes to glossy magazine editorials, black and white photography has undergone a revival in recent years. And while there's no single argument that tells you when to shoot in black and white, there are a few creative signposts that could make you rethink whether colour is the right choice.

Many of history's most iconic images were captured in monochrome – and they remain compelling to the present day. One of the key motivations behind using black and white is to replicate the same sense of nostalgia and timelessness that keeps us admiring images captured decades ago. In addition, where colour photography can highlight specific elements within the frame, many photographers prefer black and white because the audience has fewer distractions, leaving them focused solely on a photo's central subject.

This instinctively lends itself to portrait and street photography – where black and white is often used most effectively to amplify the emotional impact or drama of a photograph. Logically, there's less information within black and white images for our minds to consider, meaning we end up interpreting shapes, textures, contrast and the subject in greater detail.

Ultimately, choosing whether to shoot in black and white or colour depends on the atmosphere you wish to convey. If the colours in your photo could distract from its message – consider making it monochrome. But keep in mind, while there's no right answer in this debate, making overall changes like this should only be done if your photograph ends up saying more with less.