A Good Argument for B&W Photography

Stephen F. Dennstedt

An argument can still be made for B&W photography.   I might even extend that argument to include monochromatic photography in general.   And even to variations on a theme:    where an image is mostly monochromatic—lacking vivid color.

I recently compared the present-day photographer’s, and the viewing public’s, addiction to vivid color saturation to a heroin-like rush of color—a bit hyperbolic for a metaphor but you get my drift. Or do you—is subtlety facing extinction?

Being a dinosaur myself I worry about shit like that.  You know—the freak, rogue asteroid that takes you, and all your kind, out in one fell swoop.  The truth is there are still a lot of photographers shooting B&W images, and I applaud them for it, but the majority of viewers still opt for color photos.   And not just any color photos but garish, over-saturated color photos—the more vivid the colors the better.  If it ain’t in your face it’s not worth looking at or appreciating.  For some reason the word boorish comes to mind—there seems to be an increasing coarseness creeping into our culture that is even starting to bleed into our arts.

A Misty Morning in Sighișoara, Romania

I’ve written (ranted) about this new coarseness quite a bit lately and I’m really starting to sound like the stereotypical  old man I’ve become—I have greater appreciation for the views of my parents and grandparents these days. There are good reasons Joel and I refer to ourselves as the Muppet Brothers (Statler & Waldorf): old, cranky, opinionated, and hard of hearing to name but a few. It’s not change per se that bothers me so much as it’s the type of change—I’m all for improvement but deterioration leaves me cold: our deteriorating civility, integrity, and refinement.   And it’s not just an old people against young people kind of thing.

The negative changes I’m seeing all around me are pervasive and ever-increasing. The creative arts are metaphors for me—as go the arts, so goes the culture. Maybe that’s one reason I like B&W images so much—they tend to be simple, focusing on the subject, without a bunch of colorful and noisy competing distractions. Looking at the early morning photo of Sighișoara, Romania (above) shrouded in mist suggests a certain simplicity and even mystery (click on photo to enlarge for better viewing). Since retirement and leaving the USA my mantra has become: live simple, live cheap, live free. Much like a B&W photograph itself.

Technical Field Notes: I captured this image of Sighișoara with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR and Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. My camera settings were: 1/2000s handheld @ f/4 ISO 100 @ 70mm. I awoke to see the swirling early morning mist I had waited for and “beat feet” to the Citadel on a neighboring hilltop to shoot the village scene below. I shot against the sun which was backlighting the mist-shrouded trees and houses. I edited and converted my color CameraRAW file in ACR and uploaded to PSE15 where I converted the final image to B&W, cropped it and further enhanced the sun flare. SFD

7 responses to “A Good Argument for B&W Photography

  1. Although I’ve been guilty of falling for a few fads over the years (HDR, anyone?) I agree with you that an argument can still be made for B&W. It strips away the bling and gets down to the real substance of an image. But sadly — in our age of Twitter and Instagram — most people don’t seem to care about substance, do they? Sigh.

  2. I completely agree on the progressive coarsening of our society, as in current photography. I recently stopped in to a (very high end) gallery in SoCal, and was overwhelmed by garishness of the colors assaulting my eyes.

    • Yep … we’ve all done it I’m afraid, but I’m really trying to dial back my processing. I prefer natural and subtle which is usually harder to accomplish than garish. 🙂

  3. While I shoot in colour, I find myself often thinking in black and white while I am composing the shot. Probably a good 60% of my photos end up some kind of monochrome or black and white. I never thought about why…

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