What is black-and-white photography? (1 of 2)

“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”  Alfred Stieglitz

This is the beginning of a series of publications in which I’ll address the topic of black-and-white from different angles and perspectives and that hopefully will provide you with a solid understanding of what digital black-and-white photography is all about as well as with the basis in order to start creating your own black-and-white imagery. Now, this series will include posts and videos that can be easily located by using the tag “learning-black-and-white” either in the search box above or by directly clicking on the tag name at the bottom of this post.

Let´s get started, black-and-white photography is as old as photography is, so long before newspapers and magazines started publishing in color at that time printing in color was cost prohibited black-and-white images were widely accepted as the standard. During probably the first hundred years of photography monochrome was the way to print photographs. Some variations of black-and-white like tinting the print using tones such as sepia, cyanotype and ambrotype or split tones   that consist on tinting highlights in one color and shadows in a different one, typically yellow and blue  were used not just to print images in paper media but to print any type of image independently of the photography gender fine art, portraits, landscapes obviously I’m referring to the time of film photography.

With the advent of color film, some high-end photographers working for specialized magazines particularly in certain industries, like fashion started using color, but the cost remained prohibited for most professional and amateur photographers as well as artists. So, this was one of the reasons why many photographers and particularly fine art photographers continued shooting in black-and-white until that eventually color film and color printing became available to everyone. From around 1975 to the late 90s color became king in printed media and I should say that color started also to be accepted as a viable medium in fine art photography.

Nowadays, we live in a digital world in which photography has also evolved from basically an analog process to a digital process. The cost of printing images in color has not just fallen dramatically but it has also became almost irrelevant given the spreading of the Internet and other associated digital developments. So, most people today consume content including images and videos in a digital format. In that same vein today’s media world is a full-color mostly digital world in which for photographers is has turned more convenient and easier — considering the rise of digital photography — to shoot in color than in black-and-white.

However now that color has became the norm, black-and-white offers a classy, elegant, fresh alternative to photographers and artists that in many ways feels more real than usually over-saturated color images. Moreover, black-and-white is still one of the best ways to learn photography, allowing practitioners to understand concepts like tonal range, composition which is more evident when you eliminate color from the image, exposure latitude and other image attributes like sharpness and contrast are essential to black-and-white given the absence of color. So, practitioners have an opportunity to really grab those concepts in black-and-white.  Having said that, we can state without hesitation that black-and-white is here to stay as a unique medium available to photographers and artists to present their vision of the world.

In the next post we’ll continue exploring what black-and-white is about, in the second part of the post I will provide an introduction to the more specific topic of this series that is digital black-and-white photography, so far we have focused our discussion more to the level of black-and-photography in general, the idea was to provide some context. So, in the second part I’ll start breaking down the more particular aspect of digital black-and-white photography.

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