Working in black and white gives the photographer a different perspective, and is a great way to look at subjects in a new way. Taking color away from a picture places greater accent on shape, texture and detail. An effective black and white photograph can look far more striking than the color equivalent.
The simple act of taking color away from images forces the photographer to look at things in a new way. Color can be a powerful element of composition, and by removing it the photographer needs to work in a different way. Looking at the world in black and white is a great way to improve your photographic skills in general.
When you remove color from an image you can no longer rely on it to provide interest or a focal point in a picture. Shape and form become far more important when color is removed. Many people do not realize it, but color can actually be a distraction in a photograph.
Form and shape are key elements of black and white photography. If you look at old photographs, you will sense a different approach to framing and composition. This is often where the photographer has been forced to find pleasing elements of form and shape to create their picture. Photographs often have a bolder, more graphic look when taken in black and white, and a skilled photographer can exploit this to their advantage.
Contrast also becomes more important in pictures without differences in color to separate various elements. The photographer must introduce and use contrasting shades to create powerful images. Contrast can define and separate the objects of a photograph. Depth and perspective can be created by clever use of contrast.
When color is present in a photograph, it often distracts the eye from texture and other more detailed elements. Colour is such a powerful and emotional element of an image. Working in black and white, the photographer is able to use texture to create different images. For example, a photograph of the rough bark of a tree can look very striking in black and white. In color this same picture would be very different, as the color of the bark may overwhelm the texture.
Lighting is absolutely key in black and white photographs because it brings out the elements of texture, shape and form. Strong, directional light will highlight texture and form and bring out the graphic qualities of a picture. Lighting also influences tone, another of the photographer’s tools when working in black and white.
Some people believe that black and white is more suitable for some subjects than others, but a skilled photographer can adapt his approach and make it work for any picture. Portrait photographs take on new elements of character and glamor in black and white. Landscapes become more graphic in black and white, revealing elements of texture and form.
Set yourself a challenge to tackle a subject you often photograph in color using black and white for a change. Consider how taking colour away from each photograph will alter its impact. Look for strong shape, form and texture to create bold and striking images. This exercise will improve your photography in general, and you will learn a lot by adapting your approach in this way.