A Case For Black & White Photography

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Having been Ansel Adams’ full-time assistant for five years and the exclusive printer of his black-and-white Special Edition Prints of Yosemite for over 40 years, I have a preference for black and white in my own work, which comes as little surprise to most people in the photo world.

While I have enjoyed working in color at various points in my career — I assisted in a high-end, largely color advertising studio for three years before my time with Adams and operated my own advertising studio for a dozen years after that — I have to acknowledge a preference for my monochrome world.

By its very nature, black-and-white photography is an abstraction of reality. With color work, unless I am doing something dramatically arty, you are likely going to feel something is “wrong” if I show you a landscape with a green sky or a portrait with purple skin. There is an inherent expectation of “reality” with color.

With black-and-white images, however, I can render a rich blue sky as something light and airy with little distinction between cloud and sky, or as something deeply moody, with strong separation between cloud and sky. Neither of these variations is dependent on color, and neither would give rise to a feeling of something being “wrong.” They are just an interpretation or a more personalized way of expressing a feeling or reaction to a scene. It’s very liberating to create one’s own version of reality instead of being held to the reality of what is actually in front of the lens.

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