Why Contrast Really Matter in Black and White Photography

Why Contrast Really Matter in Black and White Photography

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Black and white photography is a photography genre that I specialize in. For that, I always learn more and more about photography. One thing that I always ask is what is really important in black and white photography. The only thing I can think of is contrast. Something that for some doesn’t even matter. But for me, it is. So why does contrast really matter in black and white photography?

What is Contrast?

Well, I think the word is already obvious. Contrast just mean different of two opposite thing.

So I think it is also obvious what it means in black and white photography. Contrast means the difference between white and black.

Let’s try to look at it deeper.

The contrast in Black and White Photography

I did explain this before but let review again about black and white photography.

If you really look at black and white photography, the truth it’s not filled with black and white color. But actually with gray color which happens to have a dark tone and light tone.

Read More: Defining Monochrome Photography

Let’s take a look at this image:

low contrast

As you can see it’s a box of gradual color from dark (left) to bright (right). Can’t tell? But if you look more closely there’s a distinction between the left part and right part. Now, this is because both sides have a familiar tone and because of that, it almost looks the same. That’s low contrast.

high contrast

So I want a black and white. The only way to do it is by making the tone complete opposite to one another. And if you look at the image above what I did is make the left side darker and the right side lighter. And so we can see more obvious the difference between those two. That’s high contrast.

So what does contrast means in black and white photography? It means is to create a lighter tone on the bright part and create a darker tone on the dark part. Or make white whiter and black blacker.

Just remember this:

White + Contrast = Whiter

Black + Contrast = Blacker

Why Contrast Really Matter in Black and White Photography

It’s important in black and white photography for some reason.

Contrast Give Form

In color photography, it is easy to differentiate one element from the others, because it usually has different colors. But in black and white photography, it is hardly the case.

Color Photography

What happens if all your image is in gray. How to tell the difference between one element to the other if all the colors of those elements are the same. One way to do it is by adding more contrast.

Turn it to monochrome

As you can see before, adding contrast can show the form of an element much better by creating an outline between elements. With it, we can see much better the form of one element and another element.

A bit of contrast

Contrast Give Impact

What I mean by impact is the feeling of “wow” in a photo. It is my personal opinion, but when I see a photo turn into grayscale (gray color photo) it just feels boring. But if I increase the contrast, it turns into much better and that feeling of “wow.”

Which is better? Left or Right?

It Makes Sense

I think I state the obvious. Isn’t black and white photography should be “black” and “white” colors. If I show gray color photography and call it black and white photography, does it make sense? I don’t think so.


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