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Shooting with Film: Black & White vs. Color

Updated: May 27, 2022

To shoot with black and white or color - that is the question.


Black and white and color film rolls both have their own appeals. The key is knowing when and how to use both films to your advantage.


When shooting with a black and white film you need to think and imagine in black and white. Now this might require some mind bending and contorting on your part, as you force your color-seeing eyes to see only in black and white. Objects that might look stunning for you might not look as stunning when captured in black and white, but they might also look even more stunning in black and white.


So again, the key is knowing when to take these black and white shots to further elevate its beauty.


Shooting with black and white


So when should you stick with black and white photography?


There are some key elements of photography, and these are line, shape, form, texture, pattern, color and space. When shooting with black and white you simply omit the element of color.


So if you are trying to capture a moment that is mostly a play of color, you need to consider how the photo will look without it. Does it have a strong play of line, shape, form, and texture? Or is it really the color that is the main attraction?


Black and white film photo of a man and his dog on a hot summer day
Stripped away from color, this photo allows you to focus solely on the subject and his loyal canine friend.

Imagine the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen. What makes it so beautiful? Is it the colors? Consider that with the absence of color you will only see the texture and shape of the clouds, the horizon in the distance, light and the general composition of the photo. So if you are adamant to capture this sunset sans color, you would want to make sure that other elements come to play in your photo.


Better yet, try to capture instead moments in which color plays a supporting role rather than that of the leading role. Color can be a distraction to the main message you want the photo to convey -- in black and white photography, you have the chance to eliminate this distraction entirely. You can instead focus on the emotion that you are trying to capture. Black and white film does a good job in bringing emotion out of a photo. You will find fine art photography predominantly shot in black and white for this reason among a few others.


Two farmers and a donkey carrying big baskets on a hill
Shooting in black and white film allows you to focus more on the emotion of the subjects, as seen on the above photo

Shooting with color


However appealing black and white photography is, the eyes see the world in a wide spectrum of color. So taking photos with a color film comes more instinctively to many of us compared to a black and white film.


When taking photos with a color film you should ideally use the element of color to your advantage and take photos in which color plays a central role. Picture a field of different colors of tulips in Amsterdam.


Colorful tulips in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Great to capture with a color film as it highlights the striking and bold colors of the tuliips

For the most part, color film rolls are relatively cheaper than their black and white counterparts. The same also applies to film development.


From my own experience, if you are living in a country where there isn't particularly a strong film community, it could also be more difficult to find a processing lab for your black and white film.


That being said, I wouldn’t use one type of film exclusively because again, both have their own appeals. When I started with film photography I started to shoot first with black and white, so there is undeniably a sweet spot for it in my heart. I gradually started shooting more with color and now I have both black and white and color films ready on different cameras so I can shoot more flexibly. Ultimately, the choice is yours.


Whatever you decide, here are some of the best and most popular black and white and color film rolls for a 35mm camera to get you started:


Color

  1. Kodak Gold 200

  2. Kodak Ultramax 400

  3. Fuji Superia X-Tra 400


Black and White

  1. Kodak Tri-X 400TX

  2. Ilford HP5 Plus 400

  3. Fomapan 400

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