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Try B&W Film: Take It Back to Basics

History and Reasons Why All (Specifically Beginners) Should Try Black and White Photography

Daido Moriyama (Japan, b.1938)

As a new photographer, I was inevitably attracted to colour images. I saw greyscale as something for old family portraits or the photography class at my local high school. Growing up in an era dominated by the internet, my initial inspiration was, of course, found on apps such as Instagram and Pinterest. These apps are filled with bright, saturated colour images, focused on bokeh (background blur) and neon lights. I knew nothing about the ins and out of photography, but I believed that I could create something as impressive as the accounts that filled my feed. Eventually, I strayed from digital photography to take up an interest in analog (film) photography. This led me to black and white, which I believe to be the purest form of photography.

Ansel Adams ("After Thunderstorm, Garnet Lake")

In 1935, Ansel Adams published his first technical book, Making a Photograph. This book was followed by a series of three books, Camera and Lens (modern name: The Camera), The Negative, and The Print. These three books are widely considered as the best guides to understanding the technique and skill that comes along with Analogue Photography.

Ansel Adams was a pioneer in photography and created incredible black and white images. He preaches the technical side of photography and the importance of developing a knowledge for your craft. Another of his crucial inventions was the Zone System. This system allows a photographer to correctly expose a scene and to gauge that specific scene’s dynamic range. Every professional I asked had suggested that I begin in B&W to learn about this zone system. Learning the system allows you to meter both colour and B&W scenes more effectively, but also understand exposure, ISO and terminology such as pushing, pulling, spots and reflectance. 

 The point of this article is to convince readers to ditch the color wheel  and get back to basics. Shooting B&W has allowed me to focus on my composition, which creates a much more interesting image. You can also focus on tonal range and using correct settings, a very crucial part of learning the ropes. Finally, if you do mess up your settings, B&W film is more forgiving when underexposed or overexposed. This means you could still have a usable image even when it’s not properly exposed.

There have been an exponential number of professional photographers working with B&W photography throughout the years. Some of these professionals like Ansel Adams, have left a lasting effect on the art form. Some of my personal favourites include Daido Moriyama and Dorothea Lange. Both photographers have created masterpieces that capture their creative environment. When studying these two photographers side by side, we see a large contrast in subjects, locations and tonal range.     


Integrating black and white photography into my workflow has improved my work on many different levels. When an image is stripped of colour, the story becomes so much more essential to the success of that particular image. I feel it is very easy to get caught up in creating flashy works that draw a lot of attention, while leaving story telling on the back burner. To make a successful photo that survives the test of time, it has to include an invaluable story that captivates audiences worldwide. As you can see in the photos I’ve included in this article (not including my own), these famous images make the viewer question what the work stands for. B&W film is also really easy to develop at home! This adds a whole other dimension to your work as a film photographer and presents even more variables to make your work more unique. 

If you want to check out some new photographers following Ansel Adams's vision, check out this link to artists represented by his gallery.

Personal Work ("MAXINE")

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