Why shoot in black and white?

I’ve always been a fan of black and white photographs.

But what is it about black and white photographs that’s so appealing? What does shooting in black and white add? Are there times when you should or shouldn’t use it?

Picture this: I was out walking in local woodland earlier this morning. It was 7am in mid May. The sun was already up and you could feel the change in the seasons. Spring was blossoming into summer. The birds seemed to be singing of its coming and the Bluebells were beginning to wilt.


In its beginnings, all photography was black and white. Colour photography didn’t really start to become popular until the Lumière brothers developed the photographic colour process, called the Lumière Autochrome in 1907.

Black and white photography therefore has a nostalgic dimension. It suggests a time when everything was simpler, before our lives became so cluttered with colour and distraction.

Without wanting to sound too maudlin, black and white hints at a time that has past, just as the Bluebells’ time is passing at the end of Spring, I wanted the black and white of the photograph to express that transience.

“Bluebells passing”

Greek Myth

Bluebells go by many names. They can also be referred to as ‘wild hyacinths,’ which recalls the Greek myth.

According to the myth Hyacinth was a lover of Apollo who died tragically when he was struck on the head with a discus. Apollo created the flower from his lover’s spilt blood. Like most Greek myths, you can take different meanings from it, but there is the suggestion that out of death comes new life.

A fitting message for the changing of the seasons.


Black and white is also a good way of creating mood.

Photography is all about making creative choices for me. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of a Bluebell is arguably its colour (it’s in the name after all). By taking away that colour in the photograph you effectively take away the flower’s most distinctive feature.

As one of my friend’s commented on social media “Beautiful greybells. Love this!” I liked how he turned the flower into something new with the play on words.

I like that new things are constantly born out of old things.

It’s not really an “Ending” – is it?

Morning dew and butterflies

Interesting photographs tell a story.

Everything you put into your photograph, including what’s in (and sometimes out of) frame; all the tweaks with the camera settings to get the right exposure; the colours captured and all the other little creative things you do, help make that story.

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what my photography lecturer said in class this week.

When you think about photography in this way it makes you approach the subject differently.

What kind of story do you want to tell? How do you want the viewer to feel? What conclusions do you want them to draw about your work (and you)?

These are all important questions to reflect on. By thinking about photography in this way it’s made me put a lot more thought into why I am taking a particular shot, who am I taking the shot for and what is the story I want to tell.

In the digital age where everyone is practically tethered to a smart phone and has a high spec camera at their fingertips the art of taking a photograph is often overlooked. It’s all too easy just to get out your phone and take a shot without thinking about it. I’m guilty of it myself and you probably are too.

One of the main benefits for me from studying photography has been to slow down that process between taking out a camera and taking the shot. There’s so much more detail that needs to happen between those two things.

Take the photograph above of the butterfly, let’s deconstruct the story.


I like walking in the great outdoors, during lockdown I’ve done a lot of it too. We all have. This has had many benefits for my wellbeing and has made me appreciate the simpler things that we so often overlook in our busy lives.

I’m lucky that I live near Anston Stones Wood (an SSSI) which has many fantastic walks with an abundance of wildlife. An ideal setting for my story. It’s personal to me, but it’s something others can identify with and enjoy too.

Who am I taking the shot for?

It’s important to immerse yourself in your subject. If you care about what you do and enjoy it, that will shine through in your work. It will come as no surprise then that I partly took this photograph for myself. This is reflected in the image as I’m subtly in the frame (at least, my shadow is, as I took the photograph).

A minor detail, perhaps, but it was difficult to achieve in this shot. I had to keep the sun behind me to make my shadow visible in the shot, and make it clear from the shadow that I was taking a photograph. I also had to do this and get close enough to the butterfly to capture its beauty before it fluttered away (slow shutter speed a must!).

Not so easy, trust me, but it’s exactly that kind of detail that photographers strive for in a shot.

What is the story?

One thing I love about photography, like much of the arts, is that it’s so open to interpretation and you can make your own story out of something.

I hope the story you take from this is about the beauty of the little things all around us, like walking in the morning dew with the butterflies. I hope you take away something of the detail and effort that is needed to make an interesting photograph too.

Interesting photographs make interesting stories.