Why do we Still make B&W Photos?

Round Window – Pismo Beach, CA – Fujifilm X100VKodak Tri-X 400 Recipe

The world is full of color, so why would one want to photograph in black-and-white? It’s so old-fashioned anyway. Are there any good reasons to make monochrome pictures in 2023?

In 1826, the first photograph was captured by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France. It was black-and-white because the first process was B&W. But then in 1861 the first color picture was made by James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Sutton in Scotland. That should have been the end of B&W photos, right? Actually, color photography didn’t catch on for a very long time because the process to create them was much more complex than B&W, and their color reproduction not particularly accurate. Kodak launched Kodachrome slide film in 1935, which was the first reasonably accurate color process. That should have been the end of B&W, but it wasn’t. In fact, many photographers shunned color photography, and derided it as for amateurs. Black-and-white was for the serious, while color was not.

The New American Color movement of the 1960’s and ’70’s is really what made color photography an acceptable art form. It challenged the idea that “real” photography was only in monochrome. Color images could be just as good as, or perhaps even better than, B&W pictures. It revolutionized photography.

Epic Zip Line – Sundance, UT – Fujifilm X100F – Agfa Scala Recipe

That was so long ago. Color photography is the norm now, not black-and-white. Your digital camera captures a color picture, and you have to convert it to B&W if you want to see in shades of grey. B&W has become a niche of sorts.

So why should you shoot black-and-white photographs in 2023? What reasons are there, other than nostalgia for a time long gone? I love B&W photography, so let me offer a few to you.

Black-and-white pictures are abstract by nature. They’re not faithful reproductions of the world as we see it. Because it is abstract, the photographer is invited to capture the scene in a unique way, with a vision that is dissimilar to, and perhaps even the opposite of, reality. It’s not so much about what the scene is, but about how we see the scene through a divergent eye, and how we can express that to the viewer. It’s a timeless approach to fine-art photography.

The strength of color photographs is color, but it’s also its weakness. When color works within a color theory—perhaps contrasting or harmonious—it can create an especially dramatic or beautiful picture; however, when the colors within an image work against each other, it can be a distraction. B&W photos remove the distraction of color, allowing the viewer to see the important elements without color fighting for their attention—it’s the art of subtraction.

Playing with Waves – Cambria, CA – Fujifilm X100V – Kodak Tri-X 400 Recipe

Black-and-white photography is about light and shadow. It’s about contrast. It’s about shape. Texture. Pattern. Space. Emotion. Those are very important elements to color photography, too, but they’re even more critical to B&W pictures. Mastering monochrome will make you a better photographer, even for your color work.

Fujifilm cameras are particularly great for black-and-white photography thanks to their wonderful film simulations: Monochrome and especially Acros. Many different Film Simulation Recipes can be made using these as the base, with a wide variety of characteristics. Pick one that looks interesting to you, and shoot with it for a day or two to see what you get. My personal favorite is Kodak Tri-X 400, but there are so many that are really good, it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.

Whether you’ve been shooting black-and-white for decades and decades, or if you never have before but are interested, I invite you to join myself and Fujifilm X-Photographer Nathalie Boucry as we discuss B&W photography in-depth on SOOC Live this Thursday, August 3rd, at 10:00 AM Pacific Time, 1:00 PM Eastern. I’ve included it below so that you can easily find in on Thursday.

If you missed last Thursday’s SOOC Live broadcast, where Nathalie and I finished our discussion of travel photography, be sure to watch it now. I’ve included it below, or visit the SOOC Live YouTube Channel. Also, if you haven’t seen the Viewers’ Images slideshow (your pictures!), I’ve added that to the bottom of this article—be sure to watch!


  1. HL fotoeins · August 1

    R., thanks for a great and brief historical perspective, as well as succinct reasons why black and white photography remains effective. If I’m not mistaken, I remember reading about how at the outset, color photography was considered (too much in/of the) “vernacular”: interesting arguments at the time, but ones at which I simply chuckle now.

    • Ritchie Roesch · August 4

      It’s pretty comedic now. Reminds me of RAW vs JPEG today. Back then it was color vs B&W. Silly in retrospect. Thanks for the comment!

  2. lu · August 2

    I love black and white photo! But it’s difficult sometimes to switch over to it – a part of me insists on using color to accurately ‘represent’ that moment, even though B&W is sometimes the better choice.

    • Ritchie Roesch · August 4

      Maybe only use B&W for a week and see what happens? Challenge yourself outside your comfort zone. It’s a low-risk, high-reward kind of experiment.

      • lu · August 4

        Honestly, I really like that idea. I’ve tried in the past, but defaulted to color – I’ll push myself to use only B&W for a week and let you/the Fuji community know how it goes!

  3. Lennard Grohn · August 8

    Good evening Ritchie,
    thanks a lot for sharing all this helpful and inspiring input especially the recipes!
    I bought a GFX 50s II this year and I wonder if I also can use the same recipes that are “made” for the X100V!? It has a different sensor, but the menu / settings are the same…!?
    Thanks in advance – Warm greetings from Germany!

    • Ritchie Roesch · August 9

      Hi! I’m not certain which Recipes are most correct for the GFX 50S II, but it’s either X-Trans IV (such as for the X-E4) or X-Trans V. The only major difference between X-Trans IV and X-Trans V is how blue is rendered on some film simulations. I’m sure you’re fine either way. I do know that GFX renders shadows slightly lighter, and increasing Shadow by +0.5 makes it more similar. I hope this is helpful!

      • Lennard · August 10

        Thanks a lot Ritchie!

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