Black and White Photography

My tutor suggested taking a look at some black and white photographs in preparation for Assignment Three- Monochrome. Our OCA handbook questions why black and white photography is still used? Surely it’s a form of taking away information from a photograph? How can this ever be beneficial? One reason which I have learnt so far on this course is that colour is a distraction. It takes away from the main structure of a photograph; shape, form, tonal contrast, texture and lighting. Therefore what we are learning in Part Three is how to learn to use all these elements in order to create a great monochrome image.

Obviously there are some photographs that simply aren’t suited to black and white conversion, and some that are. This is another aspect of monochrome photography that I have to learn prior to my assignment. For example, Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl which I have previously blogged about would be spoilt if converted to black and white. The rich colours of the image are what make it so powerful. See below for comparison;


Sharbat_Gula (2) 1 Sharbat_Gula

Upon reading up on this subject further, I see the importance of pre-visualising what the scene will look like in black and white. Anything that contains texture will convert well into black and white. The worst light for photographing black and white photography is the harsh midday sun which strips away the texture in a scene. Plenty of texture and three dimensional form is key in producing a great monochrome shot. Below we can see a rose photographed by Ansel Adams. The strong shape and textures of the rose petals work beautifully in black and white. The texture of the wood below the subject also works further in adding texture to this shot.



Any subject with a stong shape and form will convert well into black and white also. Below we see a photograph of a rhino by Nick Brandt. The strong shape of the animal is emphasised by the plain background in this shot which works in creating nice tones in this image. The tone of the dark rhino contrasts well with the light background. Therefore the strong form, shape and tone is what makes this image look superb in monochrome.



I also researched the best subjects for black and white photography. A strong subject is portrait photography. This is something I have in mind for Assignment Three; as the monochrome effects focus attention on the eyes and face of the subject; removing any distractions that colour may bring.  Below we see a photograph by Yousuf Karsh of Albert Einstein. We can see that the black and white tones really do work in drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject’s eyes and face. Also- elderly people work superbly well, as their wrinkled skin adds further texture to the image.


karsheinstein yousuf karsh

Landscapes also work well in black and white, as the lack of colour helps draw attention to the shapes and forms within the landscape. This image by Ansel Adams shows how landscapes look great in black and white also. The strong shape of the tree, along with the texture in the branches and stones make this image work beautifully in monochrome.



I have learnt an awful lot from this research, and it has given me a great deal of knowledge into black and white photography. I now know the key elements into finding a good subject for converting into monochrome; texture, shape, form, lighting and tonal contrast.


(1) COLLECTION (2012), National Geographic’s most famous photographs, Available on:, [Accessed: 16/02/13]

(2) DAILY ART FIXX (2011), Rose and Driftwood Ansel Adams, Available on:, [Accessed 16/02/13]

(3) CIGARETTES AND MAGAZINES (2011), Nick Brandt Photographer, Available on:, [Accessed 16/02/13]

(4) MOUSE IN MY POCKET (2010), Albert Einstein, Available on:, [Accessed 16/02/13]

(5) THE ANSEL ADAMS GALLERY (2013), Ansel Adams Photography, Available on:, [Accessed 16/02/13]


2 thoughts on “Black and White Photography

  1. Pingback: Assignment Three- Monochrome | Hans Photography

  2. Pingback: Module Reflection and Evaluation | Hans Photography

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