Black and White Stock Photography


I remember a conversation some time ago with a friend of mine who was also a Stock Photographer. He asked whether I sold many black and white images. I answered no I didn't and he said he didn't either. So we wondered why this might be, tried to work an an answer and then gave up. The question we were really asking is why does black and white photography sell less than colour, which is obviously the case. Newspapers used to be almost exclusively B/W, but that has changed. And yet for many subjects, it does work better. 

One answer is obviously that whenever designers get involved chances are that they understand the process of converting a colour image to monochrome just as well as photographers do. All of the above started life as colour images and I actually prefer doing that rather than shooting without colour in the first place. Photoshop is seriously good at fine tuning B/W images with it's sliders that can lighten and darken specific colours. As you can see I like the 'Ansel Adams approach' with black skies and dramatic contrast. And yes this does take only a few seconds in Photoshop. So is B/W now only the preserve of fine art photographers and can only really exist in it's printed form on a gallery wall?

Well to a certain extent yes. Many of the most famous and well known photographers worked at a time when colour photography was still not great. But then it is certainly the case that different sensors and films will all yield different colour renditions of a scene even today. Plus we all see colours in a different way so any attempt to classify any photographic colour rendition as accurate is fraught with complication. A long way from the simple tonality of Black and White, or shades of grey as it might be more properly called. 

The thing is, Black and White just looks photographic. People I'm sure still see an exclusively B/W photographer as more 'artistic' than those who work in colour, even though there are many wonderful photographers who would demonstrate the opposite. And this may be because of Photographic history, some strange kind of interpretation of photography as an art form or some kind of cultural perception that has built up over all the years that cameras have been around. I have no answer to this but even in 2017 I think there is still a sense that somehow if you only produce B/W images, you are somehow a better or 'purer' photographer. That should of course be regarded as complete nonsense, but that attitude persist nonetheless and shows no willingness to disappear. 

So, I still upload B/W images to stock libraries and yes they still have very few buyers. I will continue to do so when I feel it's right for an image to be reduced to shape and light. I have always felt that some use black and white to attempt to convey an 'artistic' look, for the reasons I outlined above and despite all the evidence and my efforts to the contrary I suspect I may, at times, be guilty of that too. But I guess if I'm happy with the result then that is a satisfactory outcome and as photographers it might be a good idea for us to lighten up a little about black and white. It's neither intrinsically artistic or in any sense 'proper' photography, merely another option. Would it were so easy for me to dress in something other than black!! Yet another photographic fetish that I can't seem to shake.