Why Shoot B&W?

Today I was wondering why I would ever shoot B&W film? I mean, I can shoot color, and convert to B&W very easily. Especially with digital, Lightroom makes it very simple.

I thought I would take a step back, though. Back to a time where I had to decide, ahead of time, what kind of photos I was going to take. I had to think through what kind of film I would pack for the trip. I couldn’t just capture images, and later decide how they would look. Sure, I could do a lot in the darkroom, but it may not be easy to switch between color and black & white, or to shoot in different kinds of light, or to decide that I need to shoot at ISO 100 or 1600. Before digital, there were factors involved that limited what and how I could shoot, so I was forced to plan more than I need to now.

Today, we tend to just shoot, without considering what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. And, in many cases, we get good quality images. But the process of creating images, the artistic thought process, is more than we tend to do today. In my mind at least, there is a thoughtful process that comes before we shoot even one photo. There is a process of considering when and how you will capture an image – and there is a consideration for what the desired outcome should be. Even though I’m not always successful at achieving my desired outcome, I try to discipline myself to think that through. I try to think ahead, and consider what I’m trying to accomplish in any photo shoot. If I’m going out shooting for myself, for fun, I have an idea of what I’d like to come away with. If I’m shooting for a job, I try to discern from my employer what they want as a final product – and then I do what I need to do, with my given tool(s), to provide what they expect or need.

So, do you think it makes sense to load black and white film in your camera and limit yourself to just that? Well, I would say, in some cases, yes. I think you can decide to shoot black and white – and in an artistic sense, that’s quite ok. I also think it’s a good exercise to limit yourself to shooting only black and white, and force your mind to think in black and white. In the same way, I think it’s a good exercise to limit yourself to a single, fixed focal length lens from time to time. Zoom lenses can make us lazy. If you go someplace with only a 50mm or 24mm lens, you may have to physically move around to frame an image the way you want.

In our digital world, we tend to want to be ultra spontaneous with our photography. My encouragement to you is that you dig out your film camera, load it with some Ilford FP4 (one of my favorite black and white films) and go shoot some non-color photos! If you’re really feeling adventurous, take only one prime lens, and try pushing yourself to the edge of your creative limits. I’ll be on the edge of my chair waiting to hear about your experience.