How Emotion is Evoked by Black & White Photography

One reason black and white photography creates such feeling is the contrast between the dark and light shades of black, white and gray. The human eye notices two things when looking at a photo; color and contrast. With no color to view, your eye becomes even more sensitive to the sharp contrasts in black and white photos; creating a stronger, more moving image.

There are certain things that come through more strongly in black and white photos than in color photos. For example, texture. Color photos can deceive us and make a texture less obvious to the eye, but black and white photos show texture in a very intense way. This provokes a strong reaction from the viewer. See the photo below for an example.

Perhaps the main reason black and white photography incites such emotion is the absence of colour. Colours can distract viewers from the emotional or physical state of the subject. For example, if the photo above were in colour, my eyes may be distracted by the colours of the jewellery worn by the subject. This would cause me to ignore the texture of her skin and look in her eye; decreasing my emotional reaction.


"The invention of colour photography was seen as an improvement in the art, but black and white still continues to be used."

This is directly related to the fact that black and white photography creates a very artistic product that is moving, timeless and classic. Whatever the reasoning for its effect on human emotion, black and white photography will always create a different effect than color photography.

About: Lauren Phillips has been a professional event photographer for 16 years and also owns the site Photography Degrees. She likes to write articles about everything photography.