When to Use Black & White Photography

Tibetan Monk - Thierry Bornier - Ethnic Minorities - Photography in China

When you’re viewing images – it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the lines, textures and emotion that is shared. Whether they are in color or black and white, viewing them is much different than creating them. If you are a photographer the question then comes up,  when should you be choosing black and white?

Before the rise of digital photography, we were forced to choose between color and b&w when selecting the film we were shooting on. Nowadays, it is simply a matter of ‘flipping a switch’ that determines whether your photograph will be in full color or in black and white.

Here are some things to consider when making the decision:

Creating a Different Reality

Our everyday reality is filled with color, from the moment we wake up to the end of the day, we are presented with colors in the world around us. Removing the colorful element of an image takes that “realness” of it and transfers viewers to an alternate version of reality – one where tones, not colors, rule.

Find a Focus

Whenever you’re framing an image, you should ways be thinking of where the focus will lie. An example being, subjects that have high contrasts. Viewer’s focus can be increased on that subject if it is shot in black and white since it enhances the tones – and create dynamic contrasts. 

Get Lost in Time

Black and white was the original color of photography. It is often something that is associated with luxuries of the past such as fine-art photography. Today, there is still that timeless association with images that are displayed in b&w.


As seen in our post, Elements of a Great Photo, there are many factors that go into taking an excellent photo. By shooting in black and white, you are able to eliminate one of these elements, color, to experiment and focus on the others. Once you’ve made the decision to shoot in b&w, play around with the frame’s lines, textures, composition, etc. to see how it can influence and impact your photo – and its viewers.


Mood is an element of a photograph that is often hardest to capture. In full color photos, the different colors can be highlighted to build the right emotions, but black and white also has a mood. It is often more associated with timelessness and seriousness. Instead of colors – b&w plays on tones to build the image’s mood and emotion.

With today’s technology, it is easy to switch shoot modes and/or edit color photos into black and white once they have been shot. The challenge is – training your eye to be able to evaluate how a color scene can translate into a black and white shot and shooting it directly in black and white.

Are you up for the challenge? 


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