B&W Is More than the Absence of Color

I pulled out some B&W prints today to help me answer the question, "Why do I like this type of photography so much?"


Yes, color is beautiful, but sometimes color can be distracting as well. Plus, the appeal of monochrome goes beyond the mere absence of color. It's as though the hues are replaced with a wonderful metallic tonality. There's a visceral nature to these prints. I want to touch them.

B&W images are clarifying. The composition becomes cleaner, the lighting is sharper, they are easy to digest.

Even though most of my film shooting these days is with Tri-X and Ilford, I really like digital B&W with a mirrorless camera where I can choose the monochrome style I want to use and compose through the EVF with that very look. I feel like this makes my framing even stronger. Mirrorless cameras are truly a blessing for B&W enthusiasts.

My current favorite digital cameras for B&W work are the Olympus PEN-F in Mono 2 mode and the Fujifilm X100V in Acros+Y film simulation. I'm also experimenting with the Fujifilm GFX 100S with the Fuji GF 50mm pancake lens. The GFX supports my favorite B&W film simulations plus adjustable grain effect.

DSCF0077-GFX100S-Voigtlander-40mm-1024.jpg Redwood Stump - Fujifilm GFX 100S, Voigtlander 40mm f/2.0 lens, Monochrome+G mode. Photos by Derrick Story.

I capture in RAW+Jpeg using a monochrome style or film simulation. The Jpeg reflects that choice, while the RAW file retains all the color data. In post production, I can decide if I want to use the in-camera Jpeg, or process the RAW for even more dynamic range, then convert it in one of my favorite creative apps such as Silver Efex Pro or DXO Film Pack.

P3031366-Armstrong-Redwoods-1024.jpg Path in Redwood Forest - Olympus PEN-F, Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom, Monochrome 2 mode.

But there's more. I do recommend printing the picture on a really nice paper surface. The experience goes to a whole new level. Some of my favorites are: Red River Paper 60lb. Polar Matte, 75lb. Arctic Polar Luster, and Aurora Art White 300. You can review a great menu of B&W printing papers on the Red River Paper website.

After thinking about all of this, it finally dawned on me what I truly love about B&W photography: it allows me to see the world in a whole new way. How wonderful is that?

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