Black and White thoughts – 5 reasons to Film in Black and White


In the age of smart phones, high-def televisions, and Facebook, why would anyone shoot in black and white? Answers may widely vary from artists to artist. Most, however, would agree on its powerful cinematic effect. When someone watches a black and white motion picture, they are immediately transported into a fictional world. The scene on the screen may appear familiar, but this colorless world is void from us. Drawbacks do accompany filming in black and white, for early films and television were limited shooting to only black / white. Early filmmakers and studio producers were just starting to explore the range of this new medium. The work they produced was of a different era, the world was different…and entertainment was still structured around the stage. All of our modern day filming techniques had not yet evolved into the 21st century standard that we expect to see, which is why the average teen could not sit through a film like ‘Gone with the Wind’, with its heavy acting and theater like intermissions. However this does not mean black and white is an outdated color scheme.

This author is aware of the inevitable historical look one will achieve if filming in black and white, which, consequently, will place some burden on the artist to create something fresh to overcome such biased reactions. Yet in spite of this natural bias, black and white is still used in modern day cinema…flashback sequences, time dilation shots…and even for artistic merit. Shooting in black and white may seem technologically bygone, but if done well, then audiences will be transported into sketch-like images that will make an indelible impression on their hearts.

This article explores five reasons why to still use black and white. They are quite basic to grasp, but the real learning comes from the artist experience. Remember…the world is not in black and white, hence anything done in this scheme is by its very nature farther removed from reality than color. By stripping all colors from the palette, the artist must maximize the full range of the dark/light spectrum – getting to the essence of scene. All the grays in between are fair game for the artist to layer a scene into what creative vision they choose. Therefore it is logical to assume that if an artist becomes highly proficient in the dark/light realm, it would carry over to the color area as well.

I. Time / period
a. By shooting in black and white, the images naturally take on an older, more historic quality than in color. The lack of color immediately transports the viewer to an different, anachronistic age. This can be the major strength but also the major drawback to using this color scheme.
Time / Period

II. Mood
a. Black and White films and images definitely have their own tone. In modern day use, they tend to give the viewer a cold unsettling feeling e.g. war movies, dark memories in flashbacks, and isolation. However this does not mean black and white only appeals to negative feelings. For example, Dr. Strangelove is a film about the absurdity of war portrayed in a humorous expression.

III. Clean lines
a. Like a sketch by a pencil artist, black and white has a very simple but clean look. The whites give a silvery shine while the shadows are rich with contrast. The result is a clean smooth line that comprises the image.

IV. Focusing
a. Shooting in black in white focus attention to the action.

V. Out of this world
a. Black and white is not of our world. A film or image in black and white is not reality. Therefore an artist can experiment with techniques, and create strange new worlds, far removed from our own.

These are just a handful of reasons to film in black and white. Only by exploring this color scheme will the artist find other ways that showcase black and white imagery. With the simplicity of color in black and white, it brings the eye closer to the artist’s intent. The white glow against the inky shadows gives the audience a more direct message of the scene; the mood, and other actions that pierce the viewer’s senses in a way not found in normal, everyday life.


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