I shoot B&W photos. Here’s why I do it and why you shouldn’t care about it.


DALL·E 2023-11-24 A grayscale photograph depicting a photographer with an indistinct face, capturing a scene in black and white. The photographer is holding a digital camera, focusing on either an urban landscape or a natural setting. The background is subtly blurred to emphasize the photographer and the camera, reflecting the themes of artistic choice and the timeless appeal of black and white photography. The image conveys a sense of technical precision and the subjective nature of color in photography.

Color photography was introduced in the ’30s

My colleague Rob recently wrote about the idea that if we had originally invented photography in colors, no one would have ever taken black and white photos. Nostalgia, he argues, is the main reason behind the continued existence of black and white images. To be candid, I don’t entirely disagree with his perspective.

But I think there’s much more to black and white than nostalgia.

B&W sensors produce higher-quality images.

In digital cameras, all sensors are black and white.

It might seem counterintuitive, but that’s how a sensor works: it only detects amounts of light. A color filter lies in front of the sensor to create a color image file. Each pixel in the filter allows only one color to pass, and the light intensity of that pixel is attached to that color in the file. A B&W sensor lacks such a filter.

As a result, it produces sharper images and has higher sensitivity.

Colors are subjective, more so in the digital age.

First, about 10% of people have some form of color blindness.

But beyond that, we all perceive colors differently. It’s also important to remember that the photographer had control over the color rendition through the development and printing process before the digital age. Today not so much, as everyone will see photos on different screens.

The perception of B&W photos is universal.

We don’t need to settle this debate.

If we had invented sculpture earlier, should we disregard painting?

Rob made one point that I wholeheartedly agree with: if you switch a photo to black and white to “fix” it because you didn’t like it in colors, it’d probably be better to trash it or edit its colors.

If you intentionally shoot in black and white because you prefer, keep doing so. Call it nostalgia or a different art form; these are just names.

A man who eats meat
Wants to get his teeth into something

A man who does not eat meat
Wants to get his teeth into something else

If these thoughts interest you even for a moment, you’re lost

— Leonard Cohen



2 responses to “I shoot B&W photos. Here’s why I do it and why you shouldn’t care about it.”

  1. Donncha Avatar

    I think Rob is missing out on the extraordinary things you can do in b/w conversion when you change the brightness of each colour in an image in the “b/w mix”. I didn’t see a way to comment on his blog post, but I would tell him to brighten the red and orange channels of the picture of the grandpa and the small boy. Grandpa’s face is far too dark. Shadows need to be brightened too.

    Anyway, I don’t really agree with anything in that post, unfortunately. I’m 100% sure that people would shoot mono photos if colour came first. It’s definitely not a nostalgic thing.

    Shooting in colour lets me change the colour mix of the shades of grey when I convert an image to b/w. I do shoot my street photos in a b/w profile, but I see the colour in Lightroom later, and convert to b/w if it suits the image.

    However, sometimes an image is just a bad image, badly composed, or uninteresting and then whatever you do it’s not going to change that. 🙂

  2. Robert Felty Avatar

    Now I am glad that I posted my controversial statement, because I have learned something. I did not know that the sensors were black and white. That totally makes sense now. Is that also true for film? Does color film have some sort of filter on it?

    I really like the quote you chose as well.

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