I’ve long been of the school of thought that would suggest that black and white is for film, and if you’re shooting digital, switching over to black and white is fairly akin to putting a sepia filter on a photo for Instagram. So recently I decided to explore the concept of shooting black and white digital images to better understand the concept fully.
My reasoning for dislike of digital black and white, as potentially ignorant as it may be, stems from the observation that film has a greater depth that digital images rarely possess inherently, and that switching them over to black and white is a sort of gimmicky solution to that problem. The other facet would likely be that in the case of black and white film, it merely being black and white isn’t entirely a stylistic choice 100% of the time, where shooting black and white digital (unless you’re shooting a high end Leica DSLR that only shoots monochrome) it is more or less a choice.
My gatherings from my shooting have more or less gone on to dispel those previously held opinions. First of all, the most basic reality of black and white is that, whether you are conscious of it or not, it forces you to look at an image differently. Color, like figures, can be distracting. Although it is very often times utilized as a compositional element, color can cause the eye to become hung up on areas that are otherwise not meant to be emphasized. The parts of a photo can be more essentially viewed as just that: parts of a whole.
Another observation that I had made, and also one that I was pretty fond of, is how black and white, be it film or otherwise, reacts to higher ISO speeds. In a black and white image, noise and grain looks good; in a color image the same is not often true, especially in regard to a color image captured digitally. I was able to end up with images of good quality shooting handheld at night, something that is far more difficult to get away with when shooting in color. Although I still think that you should shoot film for GREAT black and white, I also wouldn’t say that it is a card that’s meant only to stay in the deck.