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History to Future of 'Black & white' and Gray scale photography

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If we dig out old family albums and photograph collections, we can come across a series of black and white pictures. Photography as we remember since ages began in this grayscale form. With development in technology and the coming of the digital age, photography underwent a major metamorphosis and emerged in the bright and colorful form that we come across nowadays. Fancy photography software like the most popular photo shop has brought about a new dimension to the world of photography. The photo shop edited pictures have a different edge to them and can be termed as ‘picture perfect’.

But of late, it has been observed that the grayscale photographs are much in demand and are assumed to have made a comeback. Or perhaps, the black and white pictures where never outdated and were always there, maybe at a back seat. Despite colors being so much more appealing, how have the black and white versions managed to maintain its strong foothold in the world of photography? The reason is simple. Grayscale photographs have an age old charm that is far more appealing than bright colors.

Black & white medium of communication

B&W, grayscale and monochrome, these are few of the terms that are associated with photographs of the earlier days. These basically refer to pictures that are in black and white shades and lack any other color.

Since the beginning of photography, be it printed or visual, the black and white images have always invoked a certain amount of romanticism, calmness and unique beauty. Perhaps, this is the reason why even today many people prefer to have a few black and white images along with colored versions. Photography is thus considered as one of the most popular black and white medium of communication with the world.

Some major features that make the black and white photography even more alluring for viewers are,

  1. Lighting: this is perhaps the most crucial feature of grayscale pictures. The photographer has the ultimate freedom to play with light and shadow and this is largely visible in the photographs. Making apt use of light and shadow goes a long way in getting a great final image. The camera can demonstrate the many emotions of love, hatred, fright, jealousy, etc by correct usage of shadows. This also helps in creating the scene well, be it suspense or mystery or affection or idealism.
  2. Contrast: contrast is the best friend of black and white pictures. One can highlight certain portions of the image while completely ignoring the background. This helps create a certain mood and adds drama to the picture. This is less present in color photographs.
  3. Graphics becomes king: with sans color, the key graphic catches the eye of the view in the first place. This makes black and white images visually more powerful.
  4. White becomes bright: with the darker areas becoming even more darker, the focus falls on the lighter shades that becomes even more brighter in the black and white image.
  5. Levels & curves: even minute details add up to the dram quotient in grayscale pictures. Certain software help make the black and white images even more attractive by altering the levels of black and white.

Advancement in technology

With the development in technological devices and high quality computer software, photography has undergone a certain boom. Photographs are no longer required to be clicked by a camera only. In fact an artist can simply create newer images by merging two or many images together, can alter an existing photograph in a way so as to give it a whole new look, and can also make major changes in an existing photograph that makes it look even more pretty. This is where black and white photographs can be created by changing the color modes of a color photograph. By switching over to grayscale option, the same colored image can be obtained in a B&W version.

Though this is a boon in some cases, professional photographers believe that the true essence of black and white images lie in the playfulness of the lens and the photographers visual imagination. We live in a colorful world. This makes taking the perfect shot in black and white a very interesting and creative challenge that many photographers love to take up.

Black and white photography, though diminished in number, is here to stay because of its appeal, its uniqueness and because of the niche it has been able to created for itself since time immemorial.

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