Ah yes, black and white film. It’s what changed my attitude in photography from wanting to recreate all the photos I see on social media sites like Instagram and instead look into some classic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Fan Ho. From here, I fully realized the raw beauty of film and the art of photography. Rather than spend time on a colorful edit, I would instead spend time on the composition. Lights, shadows, shapes, textures, and really choosing what’s in the frame became of utmost importance.
This is where Ilford HP5 comes in. Like many others who are new to film photography, this was my first take into black and white film (although I now prefer the more classic Kodak tri-x, but that’s for another discussion). As you can see from my photo, it can be gritty and quite dynamic. The black sand mixed with the lighter sand and created this beautiful blend. With the use of black and white film, the mix of sand was further emphasized as it became a monochrome gradient rather than a mix of multiple colors. Film has this beautiful property in which the grain is influenced by the light and chemicals. Rather than having a layer of uniform grain thrown over the entire image, like many editing programs do, the grain itself is dynamic as it’s influenced by the reactions between the light and film. It’s a great way to emphasize the textures of different subjects.
Sure, similar photos could be recreated with digital photography but because of the limitations of film extra time has to be taken to get as close to the finished product as possible before even pressing the shutter button. I don’t think I would have taken such a conscious effort if I were to have taken it on digital.
This image is another instance in which I tried to create something knowing it would be black and white – whether that was something I wanted at the time or not. I noticed a pool of water and some rocks. The rocks were much darker than the sand and water, and I really hoped that it would show in the photo. It’s these stark contrasts that allow black and white photography to separate just enough from reality to allow for some creative compositions.
Black and white film has its limitations, but it’s the limitations that create the need for imagination! At the very least, black and white film is a great way to exercise the sides of photography that are easily overlooked in today’s modern age of unlimited photos, eye-tracking technology, and color editing. Composition is key when dealing with a black and white only photo.