on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Black & White

The core DNA of photography

Hans Strand

Hans Strand

Hans Strand is an internationally recognised photographer who has received numerous awards for his work and published three books. He lives near Stockholm in Sweden.



If I did not have to make my living from photography, I would stick with black & white. There is so much more freedom in black & white than in colour. To start with, it is a total manipulation of what you are seeing. A reduction of all colours into a monochrome interpretation. This in itself creates a new reality. In colour, I always make the comparison between the colours in my image and the ones I saw in real life. Green especially is a nightmare for me. I have a continuous fight with the colour green. It simply does not come out as subtle as it does on my retina. In black & white I can just forget about this problem and concentrate on the contrast and tonal range. This does not make the photography more simple, it is more difficult to make a good black & white photograph than with one in colour. To make it sing, the contrast often needs to fill out the entire tonal scale, from black to white. First of all, we see things in colour and a skilled visualisation is crucial to get a functional tonal scale. What works in colour will often not work in black & white. Complementary colours contrast nicely in colour, but in black & white they might come out as the same grey tone. It is when photographer nails the contrast between the elements in his/her composition that a black & white photograph really sings.

Green especially is a nightmare for me. I have a continuous fight with the colour green. It simply does not come out as subtle as it does on my retina. In black & white I can just forget about this problem and concentrate on the contrast and tonal range. This does not make photography more simple, it is more difficult to make a good black & white photograph than with one in colour. To make it sing, the contrast often needs to fill out the entire tonal scale, from black to white. First of all, we see things in colour and a skilled visualisation is crucial to get a functional tonal scale. What works in colour will often not work in black & white. Complementary colours contrast nicely in colour, but in black & white they might come out as the same grey tone. It is when photographer nails the contrast between the elements in his/her composition that a black & white photograph really sings.

When I am visiting photography fairs, I often find myself browsing over colour exhibitions quickly, whereas I tend to spend more time scrutinising the black & whites. Why is that? A photograph normally carries some content, a message or a feeling.

It is more difficult to make a good black & white photograph than with one in colour. To make it sing the contrast often need to fill out the entire tonal scale, from black to white.
 When I look at a colour photograph, I tend to take the colour for granted (if the colour is authentic that is), and I just look at the content. It is very rare that the colour itself has something extra to deliver. When I look at a black & white photograph, however, the grey scale adds an extra dimension to it. It is like two layers, one with the content and another one with the grey scale. 



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  • Adam Pierzchala

    A fine set of images as always. Many people of my generation started photography with black and white film because colour was much more expensive and frankly out of reach for a teenager.
    Now, as I shoot less film and much more digital, I still create photographs with the intention of processing in black and white. I agree with you that working in mono allows far more room for expression as it takes the viewer away from the expectation that a photo must somehow show “reality” however you may want to define it!

    I don’t always pre-visualise exactly how the final print will look – often that vision is formed as I process the file and see what effects I get. So far I have only used Lightroom and haven’t tried Silver-efex yet.

    • Yes Adam, I think the fact that we nowadays have a choice we can make afterwards is a blessing. Although it was more of a sport in the old days when you had to decide which film to use. I strongly recommend you to try Silver-Efex. It is free, so just go ahead and download it.

  • I really struggle with greens too… and I wonder how much of that is part of my move away from colour photography. Being totally immersed in Black and White is so liberating… So much fun.. so much freedom… Love your work… beautiful… thank you…

    Personally I work in black and white from the start… from the moment I start… and never look back…

    • What a wise way Len. I wish I could do it myself.

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