Black And White Digital Photography


 Black And White Digital Photography

The origins of the term "black-and-white" for the use of a single color photography date to 1843. The most usual method was to use chemical sensitization to convert black and white silver salts sensitized in glass plates into large crystals.

A variant, known as palladium or platinum printing (sometimes called platinum or palladium contact printing) was developed in France and Russia but mostly used in Russia. It uses a metallic salt coated on paper that is sensitive only to blue, violet, green and yellow light when exposed; it does not require an exposure to mercury vapor. The salt is also sensitive to red, so a red safe-light should be used for viewing or printing. The use of palladium was discontinued in the late 1960s, but palladium prints are still occasionally made by fine art printers and some old master prints are known.

Palladium printing had several advantages over other methods: it had a higher image contrast and finer grain than any other process then available; the deep black of the print was considered desirable by many photographers; and it produced extremely fine detail, due to its ability to use relatively high magnifications. It was also much more economical than platinum/palladium because less expensive papers could be used with it.

In 1851, the British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot patented yet another method of making prints on paper using a chemical process. He called it "perspication." Although Talbot probably never used this process, it was later called by him "foxing" or "foxing printing." Under this process, black and white images were made by contact printing from printed positives. Rather than converting the black into a crystal, the silver grains are lost upon exposure to light. The image is therefore essentially reproduced in its entirety onto one silver grain as printmaker rather than through a chemical reaction that converts silver in the negative to silver in the print. This allows the silver grains in the negative to be "reproduced" in the print but in a much more economical process and without the need for a separate paper positive.

Foxing printing was essentially a convergent development of:

Black-and-white photographs were historically made by exposing a sheet of photographic paper to light, developing the silver halide chemically (the silver salts either dissolve or remain behind as particles) in order to make permanent white photographs on that piece of film. When color films and processes were introduced, they were also used to produce black-and-white still photography but since these processes are chemically identical, they will produce an identical black-and-white photograph when exposed on film. A number of methods and materials can be used to produce black-and-white film but most fall in one of the following three categories:

In order to convert a color photographic print on paper into a black-and-white image, all of the original colors are converted into shades of grey. This is usually done by either desaturating the colors or merely filtering out useable color components from the light.

Digital cameras can be set either to record in color, or to change between several different modes that simulate filters (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). The latter is useful for printing on monochrome papers or for creating a black and white copy from a colour negative. Some films are also sensitive to infrared and ultraviolet light, and these can be made black-and-white with appropriate filters.

Black-and-white photography is one of the oldest types of photography. The first known photographs were made in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce using a heliograph process which required hours of exposure in the camera. The earliest existing color photographs, taken by Thomas Sutton in 1861 using three color filters, were initially thought to be black-and-white because of the red, green and blue coloration of the prints that resulted from processing them with traditional methods.

In the United States, "serious" photography was said to have begun with the black-and-white work of Mathew Brady. Because of Brady's interest in war photography, other photographers, such as Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O'Sullivan followed suit in covering war for their respective publications.

Although the black-and-white photograph became a serious medium for fine art photography at the end of the 19th century, its use in advertising began in about 1900 with hand painted ads or color illustrations printed on black-and-white photographic paper. Early color work in the 1900s used either collotype or autochrome plates before the move to gelatin silver halide emulsions in the mid 1910s.

Some early commercial cameras, such as the Eadicus or Safety-Kodak, had two sprockets: one for black-and-white film and the other for color film. Operation was nearly identical except that the color film was exposed twice, once for each of the three color signals (red-green-blue) with all but an intermediate cyan (i.e. pink signal) being blocked off by a filter wheel on one sprocket or the other. The black-and-white film was exposed once with the same filters without any filtering in between.

In November 1906 Henry Fox Talbot patented a process called "perspective" which was essentially a precursor to modern black and white photography. The process used two glass plates, one of which was blackened and the images were captured by shining light through the negative onto the other plate.

The first use of black-and-white photography in a motion picture was in Georges Méliès's film "Carrefour De L'Opera" (1899). It was not until 1907 with the release of Edwin S. Porter's "The Kiss" that motion picture studios began to use black-and-white more frequently.

Black-and-white remained queen of Hollywood throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, although color became increasingly popular for showing films in cinemas. Black-and-white film remained the choice of some producers, however, until the late 1950s.

The cost of color processing was always considerably higher than black-and-white processing. Even after color film was offered as late as 1952, black-and-white was considerably cheaper and easier to develop for home use. Since the 1980s, with the widespread availability of low cost systems such as Kodak's Instamatic cameras and Kodacolor film, black and white photography is experiencing a renaissance among amateurs.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has a collection of over 200,000 black-and-white photographs made by the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879). In addition to her own work, there are about 1,400 photographs by other notable photographers in the collection.

In 2014 The Smithsonian Institution launched an online series of 18 works from its collection of 35mm black-and-white photography. The project was curated by Tom Zaller and entitled "Black and White Photographs", with the work focus on the "power" of photography's black-and-white aesthetic.

A common misconception is that all black and white photographs made by hand can be considered film noir.


The question cannot, of course, be answered with absolute precision because the definition of "film noir" is not precise. However, there is a sense in which the answer can be given to a high degree of accuracy.

The first thing that needs to be said about the use of black-and-white photography is that it was almost universal for cinema until about 1950. Practically every studio in Hollywood used black-and-white film at this time. As early as 1905 this was because there was simply no choice: even when color processes were available they were only suitable for use by skilled technicians and took a great deal more time than did black-and-white filming with hand-processed film.

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