Photographing in Black and White or B/W has been around since the early 19th century with the  oldest surviving photograph of the image formed in a camera was created by Niépce in 1826 or 1827 although the earliest recorded use of a camera obscura which was a pin hole “camera” to produce an inverted image on a screen at the opposite end to the hole is found in Chinese writings by Mozi, dated to the 4th century BCE. Until the 16th century the camera obscura was mainly used to study optics and astronomy, especially to safely watch solar eclipses without damaging the eyes.

 I won’t go into the full history here but there is plenty of information available on this link History_of_photography

 Black & White photography is not for everyone, some have even been heard to say that it has no place in modern visual arts  as it is the 21st century therefore we should make full use of colour in our images, I personally disagree, having started my photographic career using B/W film & learning the craft of exposing the film then developing the latent images into negatives then producing a paper positive in a dark room.  It was a cheap  way to learn as I bought the 35mm film in bulk 30m lengths, loaded my own cassettes in a light proof film dispenser, then processed the film into negatives & produced my own prints of varying sizes, usually 250mmx200mm (10x8in) in my home dark room that I had set up in a spare bedroom by adding black plastic to the widows & a thick black curtain to keep out all light. The door also had a black curtain over  it to stop light from around the door frame. Loading the bulk film into the special dispenser  had to be done in complete darkness so as to not fog the film but once it was closed, it was safe to load the cassettes with the  light on as there was an another light tight sealed compartment  where the end of the film was attached to the spool in the cassette, closed up & the number of exposures, (usually 36 ) was cranked via a handle & counter attached to the dispenser.  I was able to get 18 rolls of film from each bulk roll or 648 images. Looking back I had actually taken thousands of negatives & hate to think how much it cost me over the years in film, developer, fixer & paper,  but to me photography was a way of life & a huge passion. My medium  & large format studio cameras  had  multiple  backs that contained one or the other film as needed & could easily be changed mid job, one even had Polaroid film so as to immediately check exposures , lighting & composition before committing the shot to the final film which then took time to develop.

 Digital, hmmm, so much easier especially with the size of megapixles produced out of smaller /lighter gear giving the same if not better enlargement possibilities.

It is so much easier these days with the introduction of digital cameras/phones with tiny memory cards that hold thousands of images & immediate viewing. I had to plan to shoot either B/W or colour & most times had 2 camera bodies with me so that I could chose between them.

 Now people just shoot in colour or set the camera to shot in B/W or  convert a colour  image with a image processing program on their computer though you have to bear in mind that not every colour image looks good in B/W as the varying shades of grey ( yes, alright, 50 shades) or more that are produced sometimes are the same shade, thus producing an image that has no contrast with things blending into each other.

 To rectify this contrast problem & only if you are serious in wanting to do good B/W photography I suggest that you invest in a set of coloured filters to control how your photographs will turn out in B/W though not strictly necessary & are totally up to the individual.  They are not expensive & usually 4 is sufficient; yellow, green, orange & red, which will cover all subjects, most kits include blue which is not used often as it darkens most colours & reduces contrast. If used in landscape photography it  will lighten the sky so that detail is lost, thus not recommended but can be used to enhance mood of early morning or late afternoon scenes where the light is redder than the blue of midday & shot in B/W.

 As an example in this loss of contrast  red & green  along with blue/yellow always appear the same shade of light grey in B/W so you need an opposite coloured filter to lighten one & darken it’s opposite.  Each filter lets through its own colour of light and blocks other colours to give good contrast. In B/W this gives a lighter shade of grey to correspond with that coloured filter used & darkening its opposite. You have to look at colour wheel to see how the colours relate to each other. Using this theory, the red will be lighter & green darker with a red filter or reverse the effect with a green filter. The same for yellow objects which will be lighter than the blue, if a yellow filter is used.

 A yellow filter in B/W  photography will darken the blue sky & green trees slightly & highlight the white clouds  giving a more natural image than an image not using any filter.

 The orange filter will give more contrast in landscapes, darkening the sky even further but can be used in B/W portraits to lighten freckles & red hair/beards  in people & give good warm skin tones  in both men & women.

 Red gives the  most dramatic contrast in landscapes making the sky black, clouds really white & green trees  lighter giving an almost infrared feel to the photograph, a cheap alternative to true infrared. The red filter also cuts through fog & mist better. Because it lightens similar colours a red flower will look lighter in B/W than the green foliage around it.

 A green filter will lighten grass & trees but make yellow/red objects darker & also give a portrait of a man a more rugged complexion as it darkens the skin tones, which is not very flattering in portraits of girls or women.

 It must be noted that a coloured filter will have that colour cast on the image if it is originally shot in colour & is very hard or almost impossible to remove in post processing if you want to have both colour & b/w images from that particular frame. Most cameras have a special mode for shooting in B/W  but then you can’t add the original colours back to the scene.  If you want to use the filters you will have to take 2 images, the B/W one with filter & the colour one without the filter to get the absolute best results. Depends on how keen you are to achieve the maximum out of your images. I am fortunate as I have 2 cameras, so I can set one up for B/W with the required  filter & the other for colour with a polariser filter to optimise the colour by cutting out glare.


 Pure black & white photography is not to be confused with monochrome which means single colour & can have a colour tint like sepia where as the B/W is just that with all its greys inbetween.

 The filters are not necessary & most image post production processing programs will convert the colour image satisfactorily by applying different colour channels  & boosting the contrast for the black & white image. Photoshop, Lightroom & even Microsoft photos has excellent controls with which you can produce acceptable results though you cannot produce the really dramatic effects that a red filter can achieve.

 More people seem to be attracted back to this medium which needs a slightly different approach than ordinary colour photography but it is not hard to master once your learn to look at objects in Black & White along with all the in between greys.

Colour Original.

A red filter will darken the sky , highlight the clouds & add drama

Using black /white  & vignetting around the edges can make a picture feel old.

Colour converted to B/W, loses contrast

Colour converted to B/W  with contrast added, better but do not get full range of grey tones.

Taken in B/W with orange filter, gives great  contrast  & full range of grey tones.