Richard Staniford Photography | Why Black and White?

Why Black and White?

March 31, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

So, I often get asked, "why do you specialise in black and white?" There is a short answer, which is "because I prefer it and I feel that I can be far more creative using it", but that doesn't make for a very good (or long) blog, so I'll go for the long answer:


Black & White hasn't always been my prefered choice. Don't get me wrong, I've always admired black & white and how it can make an image look and feel, but it's only in the last couple of years that I've learned how to 'see' in black & white and also how to properly convert an image without it appearing washed out. A true black & white image needs to have a good range of tones from black, all the way through to white. It also needs things such as contrast, texture, shape and form...all the compositional aspects!

Not every image will work in black & white and that's something that I had to learn quite quickly. As a black & white photographer, I've also learned that I can go out and photograph in conditions that aren't always conducive of landscape photography, such as harsh midday sun and overcast, gloomy weather.

I hear a lot of photographers talk about a scene having "no colour" and also say it's a "black & white day"! To me, that's an excuse and black & white photography shouldn't be an excuse, just because you can't find a composition or that you've taken a bad image. The internet is filled with poor images that have been converted to black & white and...'hey presto', they're suddenly award winners! I am ranting, and I'm sorry for that!


The very first landscape image that I properly converted to black & white was this one:


View from Mt John over Lake AlexandrinaView from Mt John over Lake Alexandrina

It was a time before I had learned many of the aspects of black & white, or even landscape photography itself. In fact on the day I took this image, I didn't own any decent filters and I had forgotten my tripod. I look back on this image as the start of my journey. If I was faced with the same scene today, would I take the image exactly how it is here?...probably not. Do I see this image as a great starting point and something I look back on with pride?...absolutely, it's framed and hung in my home!


People ask me if I shoot in black & white and the answer is no. We don't live in a black & white world and as I have pointed out before, not every image or scene will work in black & white.  Shooting in colour and converting afterwards in Photoshop (or whichever post processing program you choose) gives you a lot more editing options. I'm certainly not here to tell you how to convert (or even how I convert) because I'm sure there are better people to teach you than me, but if you let your camera convert your image to black & white, you will more than likely end up with a washed out, uninspiring image. There are things you can do to counter that, but if you're going to bother messing with your camera's settings, you may as well take the time to do it properly in Photoshop.

I came across an article, not so long ago, entitled '15 Reasons The World Looks Better in Black and White'. It details the work of a German-based photographer called Maikk Lipp and although he doesn't shoot landscapes, he shows you that looking at the world in black & white can give you a whole new perspective of things you may know very well. Take a look!



Probably my favourite subject to photograph are waterfalls. I am lucky enough to live in an area that has at least four well-known waterfalls and another 3 or 4 that are less known. Waterfalls make for a great black & white subject due to the stark contrast between the white water and the darker rocks. This one is probably my favourite that I have captured:

There is a lot of talk by some photographers of having foreground interest and something that will balance your image. I do think they have a point, but I love the fact that black & white lends itself to simplicity and if you know this waterfall (it's Matai Falls in the South Island of NZ), you'll know how 'busy' it can be. It's about knowing your surroundings, knowing the rules of composition and then knowing when to break them!


Talking about breaking the rules of composition:

This is definitely one of those times that breaking the rules of composition is ok. Putting your subject in the middle of the frame is generally a no-no, but with the light in this image, I was able to get away with it. 


What I've realised in putting together this blog is how I have progressed as a photographer and how (as a black and white photographer) my style has changed. I think I definitely prefer the dramatic look to my images now, along with the simplistic look, they are my favourite. Black and White is here to stay and as long as my passion for is survives, I will continue to take black & white images.  


To finish, this is the very latest image I have taken. Dramatic?...yes. Chaotic?...yes. Is it any good?...I'll leave that up to you!


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