Defining Monochrome Photography

Defining Monochrome Photography

Talk about monochrome, we always associated it with black and white photography. In fact, most think it is the same thing. This is one of many misunderstanding in photography world. So now I really want to talk about this topic so we can really defining monochrome photography.

Question: Is monochrome photography is the same as black and white photography?

Answer: No…It’s not the same. But black and white is part of monochrome photography.

What is it mean?

Define the Word “Monochrome”

Monochrome consisted of two words. Mono means single or one. Chrome (Chroma) mean color. So it is obvious monochrome mean single color.

To be more precise, Wikipedia defines monochrome photography as a photography where the image produced has a single hue, rather than recording the colors of the object that was photographed. 

There you have it. Any single color photography is monochrome. Whether blue, yellow, brown, or others. As long as it only has a single color, it is monochrome photography.

How about Black and White Photography???

So here is the question, if monochrome photography is a single color photography, does that mean black and white photography isn’t monochrome since it has two colors, “black” and “white”?

I will say, right, but also wrong.  Right because it is true that there is two color, black and white. Wrong because black and white photography doesn’t actually mean it has colors black and white. Confuse?

This is another misunderstanding of black and white photography. We assume that it consisted of two color, black and white. But the fact is black and white photography only consisted of one color, gray.

Gray scale (credit: Tomás Castelazo from Wikimedia)

Image above is what usually called a gray scale. This how gray color shifted from darker to brighter or the other way around because of its different tone. The tone is the various amounts of light and dark in a photo. In black and white photography this is what actually happens. Gray color looks like white or black because each of them has a different tone.

So if you look at black and white photography, remember:

If it looks like Black, it is a darker tone gray color.

If it looks like White, it is a brighter tone gray color.

Why don’t check some of my photos, and think “It’s gray.”

Is it black or white? Or gray?

Or why don’t take a photo with your phone and use a black and white filter with some app (like Instagram). I’m sure you end up with gray color, not an actual black and white color.

Of course, there are many black and white photography that look like an actual black and white color. This is because how intense the contrast that was made in post-processing. Like some of my photos, some of them looks completely black.

Other Monochrome Photography

There many other kinds of monochrome photography that in the past, they simply did that because they have no choice. But nowadays it becomes some kind of photography style. Check this out:

Cyanotype (Credit: from Wikipedia)
Sepia (Credit: from Wikipedia)

There is only light and dark tone in a single color.

Well, these aren’t my photos. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huge fan of this kind of photography. Just feel weird and old to me.


Anyway, there you have it. Now we can understand and defining monochrome photography. So the next time you see some color photography and they called it monochrome photography, think again.


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