Black-and-white is back because it's part of the power of photography. In today's color-saturated, manipulated-image world, black-and-white feels real. To many, it looks fresh. Black-and-white is back because brides want to see black-and-white photos in their wedding albums. Black-and-white is back because it's still a great way to learn about how film "sees" light. The bottom line: Black-and-white photography is back because it's beautiful.

Black-and-white is educational
Black-and-white photography is a great way to learn about the photographic medium. Concepts of highlight and shadow detail, image contrast, film and exposure latitude, and tonal range are all best understood by studying the black-and-white image.

The educational value of black-and-white film is not limited to making black-and-white images. Color silver halide images are actually made out of three (or more) layers of black-and-white images that interact with color couplers to produce layers of color dye. Viewed together, they give the illusion of a full range of colors. Whether learning to control color film and prints or even the different layers of a color image that has been scanned into a computer, the more you know about contrast, exposure latitude, and highlight and shadow areas of black-and-white images, the greater your color mastery will be.

Even if accomplished and comfortable working in color, you'll derive great benefit from learning about black-and-white photography.


Traditional film
To choose from the full range of films for black-and-white, it is necessary to visit a good camera store, either locally or online. Chances are there isn't even one roll of black-and-white film, much less a decent selection, at your local drugstore or big discount store. This is where the specialty store shines.

When you find a good store, you'll find a variety of great black-and-white film in various speeds. The number that accompanies each film is its ISO or speed. The higher the number, the "faster" the film - meaning it is more sensitive to light. For most users, we recommend using a 400-speed film; and for low-light situations, we suggest trying one of the 1600 or 3200-speed emulsions.

There are other film stocks to consider, such as Kodak BW400CN. It's a 400-speed, black-and-white film that can be processed in conventional color negative chemistry, a process technically known as C-41.

While we've discussed only traditional film-based materials, keep in mind any color photo can be converted to a black-and-white image on a computer. Several digital cameras on the market also allow users to capture images as black-and-white. How's that for a comeback?

Part one of a two-part series, provided by the New York Institute of Photography (



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