The Power of Black and White Photography

In the travel and tourism industry, colour is usually king. While colour photographs carry the power of full spectrum and can evoke strong emotion (red conveys hot, green for peaceful and relaxing) black and white, in it’s minimalist form, can provide an equally strong impact by using texture, contrast, elegance and simplicity. Black and white strips everything bare; you are left with the pure essence of the photograph. Recent trends show that creative companies and DMO’s see black and white not as a technical limitation but as a creative choice.

In 2012, the National Portrait Gallery approached the Destination DC marketing organization to discuss a potential partnership to promote an upcoming black and white photography exhibit called “American Cool.” Around that time, Washington DC was transitioning from a city of policy makers to an emerging center of trend-setting hipsters.

Destination DC in turn launched a marketing campaign called “DC Cool,” inspired by the Portrait Gallery’s American Cool show. The use of black and white images presented the city in a sexy, film noir-ish mood. One year later Forbes proclaimed Washington, D.C. “Coolest City in America”.

Most photographers ask when should a photograph be converted to black and white, however, rarely do we ask why a photograph should be black and white from the outset, so let’s examine that!

black and white photography


  1. Colour No Longer Distracts

With black and white we’re left with light, shadow, texture, and contrast. The simple technical process of turning a colour photograph into black and white can turn a rather mundane colour photo into an eye-catching and intriguing image. Sunsets, snowy scenes, interiors, and nighttime photos can all be striking black and white images.

  1. Black and White Emphasizes Emotion

Black and white adds a quality to your photos that helps emphasize emotion. Both landscapes and portraits can be powerful examples of this. The psychology behind this is that colour competes with the other aspects of the photograph and a black and white photograph allows your brain to process more of the emotion being conveyed.

  1. The Timeless Quality of Black And White

Presenting photos in black and white often gives the impression of a timeless quality, a throwback to years gone by, or conveys a “classic” look/feel. Black and white never has been out of fashion, and in fact, is very trendy and hip currently!

black and white photography

When to shoot in black and white?

Not all photos look great in black and white. It’s really an art to know when an image will look great before shooting or converting. When converting colour, it’s important to have different tones otherwise your image will look “flat” or lacking contrast in black and white. High contrast images, photos of buildings (both day and night exposures) and nature scenes are all examples of imagery that look great when converted to black and white.

Some programs like Adobe Lightroom have different presets for black and white to convert your photos to a mood and tone suitable for you.