One of the greatest things about working in modern photography is the flexibility that all our tools allow. One of those areas of flexibility is in shooting in back and white or color. When shooting film, you had to make a decision about shooting in black and white or color when you loaded the camera. This limitation forced the photographer to think about what and how they were going to create their images.
Working in Black and White or Color
All photography is about light and shadow. These are the key core components of working with an image. However when we work in black and white, we are also concerned about tones of gray from black to white. When we work in color, we are concerned about color (hue, tint, saturation). While you can argue that black and white photography is just achromatic color, the thinking that goes into how a photograph works when it black and white or color is different. The color information can help us create compositions that use the color information to build or remove relationships. The tonal relationships of black and white also build and establish relationships and help us understand the image, but it is on some level an abstraction from our color world.
History of Photography
Color photography has been around almost since the beginning of photography. With Niépce first image around 1826 photography was born, and color photography was just a few decades later. Edmond Becquerel created the first color photographs in 1848. Although these images only survived for a few hours or days, they were still the first images to record color. As photography grew, we saw the introduction of the first mass market camera by Kodak in 1901 and just seven years later, we see Autochrome introduced as the first color film. In 1935, Kodak introduced Kodachrome forever changing the way we record and see color photography. Just a few years later, Kodak introduces ways to print slides that lead to the release of kodacolor negative film. While color photography has been around almost since the beginning, it wasn’t as widely used and in the fine art space wasn’t accepted as a viable art medium until the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the Podcast
In this podcast, I talk a little about how intertwined color and black and white photography have been since the birth of photography. I also focus on how you should think about color and black and white as tools to help you better tell a story rather than as a way to fix something in post-production because of a failure behind the camera. Learning to see in color and black and white are skills that should be developed with purpose and meaning rather than as reactions to trying to “fix” the image. For homework, I encourage you to look at some masterful black and white and color work and then challenge yourself to send a day photographing only in black and white and day only in color. No post process cheating, just working behind the camera.