Black and white architectural photography

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Just like landscape or portrait photography, there are many alternative styles of architectural photography, and among them firmly sits black and white photography.

Black and white architectural photography involves taking photographs of built structures in a monochrome grey tone. Black and white architectural photographers take their photos in this format and refrain from using any color to express their work.

What is a black & white photograph?

Generally speaking, a B&W photograph is a monochrome photo. However, this definition is a bit ambiguous because you can have a monochrome photo that is not black and white.

The more accurate definition would therefore be, an image where all color has been removed, either in the digital process or by the choice of photographic film, consisting of only shades of grey tones that goes from dark to light.

What are the advantages of black & white photography?

One of the main reasons why black and white photographs are so popular is because they are one of the most effective methods to capture a timeless picture. Color can eventually fade and date a photograph and in turn draw attention to wrong aspects of the image.

Taking photos in black and white also lends your image that added classical feeling. This is because many people still perceive black and white as a throwback to photography rawest form.

Fine art photographers prefer this type of photography because it has a tendency to distance the subject matter from reality. We all see the world in color but when it is removed, we tend to pause and look more closely.

Black and white photography further highlights shape, form and pattern in the image. When color is removed, the distractions that come with it are also done away with. This allows you to really see what is important. You can clearly see the elements of the photo within the frame in terms of their shape, form and their unspoken relationships.

You can also make better use of negative space within the frame. Negative space is defined as the areas of the frame/photo that are empty. These are easier to highlight when shooting in black and white. Distractions that color brings are removed allowing you to separate the subject nicely from the background adding a richer depth to the overall composition.

Images taken in black and white emphasize emotion captured in the image, and as a result you will often feel a closer connection to the subject in the photo. With the color removed, deeper connections can be formed without any distractions.

Finally, practicing black and white photography allows the photographer to view light differently. Your perception of light in the environment and how it interacts with the subject shifts over time, and draws more focus on the quantity, quality and direction of light around you.

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Disadvantages of black & white photography

Arguably, it could be said that some black and white photographs lack emotion, and can miss the story telling and human aspect a lot colored photographs present.

Aside from this, not every photographer is skilled enough in taking high quality black and white photographs. It requires a lot of practice and discipline to learn. With black and white photography, the only true difference between the exceptional and the common, is the level of experience the photographer can bring to capturing the right image.

Why is it used in architectural photography?

Black and white photography has the ability of changing the way we perceive the subjects of the photograph.

When used in architectural photography, It emphasizes the building’s shape, form and relationships with its immediate environment. All these aspects are clearer and more prominent in black and white.

Advantages of using black and white photography in architecture

The use of monochromatic black and white images removes the distractions of color allowing the viewer to really focus on the real subject and object of the photograph. It gives the building the attention and presence it deserves.

Structures can be viewed at different, unconventional angles when trying to play with the different aspects of light like the direction and intensity. It allows both the photographer and the viewer to see something different every time.

Photos taken in black and white allow the beauty of a building to survive through time. This is because of the classical feel that black and white brings with it. It makes it difficult to tie down a building to one particular era.

Disadvantages of using black and white photography in architecture

It is difficult to capture the mood of the moment without colors. This is true when you want to get all the life in a photo without color. Photos can appear dull and slightly post apocalyptic.

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Famous black and white architectural photographers

1.      Frederick H. Evans (born June 26, 1853, London-died June 24, London)

Evans was a British photographer known for his images of English and French cathedrals. He was a man of strong beliefs and a perfectionist and purist at heart. His passion led him to create one of the largest recorded collections of religious architectural photographs.

He carried out his work mainly using the platinotype technique. Platinotype images have extensive and subtle tonal ranges. Simply put, these are monochrome images with better resistance to deterioration. His work was pure, unfiltered and unedited.

2.      Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

Abbott was a pioneering American architectural and scientific photographer who is best known for her series, “Changing New York” (1936-1938), which documented the changing architectural and social landscape of the city during the Great Depression.

3.      Julius Shulman (October 10, 1910- July 15, 2009)

Julius Shulman was an American architectural photographer best known for his photograph of the Stahl House in California.

Considered one the most influential architectural photographers, he shot in both color and black and white, with his works published all over the world. Through his work, architectural photography has been considered an independent art form.

4.      Eric de Mare (born 1910, London - January 2002)

Most people consider Eric de Mare to be one of Britain’s most influential architectural photographers. According to The Telegraph, through De Mare’s photography, British architects were forced to rethink the entire idea of modernism and what really defines it, and this pushed the whole industry into a new era.

Eric de Mare was predominantly an industrial photographer. He had years of experience in this field, which is why he was featured in many publications and won a lot of awards for his unique outlook on architecture.

5.      Ezra Stoller (16 May 1915 - 29 October 2004)

Ezra Stoller was born in Chicago. He specialized in the photography of landmarks of modern architecture. Some of his most iconic works include Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Alva Aalto’s Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

He was world-renown for his innate ability to capture the beauty of modern architecture through black-and-white photography.

Ezra Stoller is widely credited with having aided the spread of modernism in architecture through his work. His distinguished career earned him the honor of being the first recipient of a Gold Medal for Photography from the American Institute of Architects.

Top famous black and white architectural photographers today

1.      Andrew Prokos

Prokos is a Greek-American architectural and fine-art photographer. His work has taken him around the world, earning him numerous awards. His fine art photographs incorporate architectural elements and sweeping natural and urban views.

In Brazil 2012 and 2013, he produced his award-winning series, the Niemeyer’s Brasilia, which earned him nation-wide and international praise. This series featured in Brazilian print media and was later published in twelve countries.

His series, ‘Night and Day’, which utilizes multiple exposures captured over time to document the transition from day to night in various locations around the world was awarded two first-place finishes at the 2015 Prix de la Photographie People's Choice Awards.

2.      Hélène Binet

Binet is a Swiss-French architectural photographer based in London. She is also one of the leading architectural photographers in the world right now, working with some of the most influential architects like Zaha Hadid architects, Peter Zumthor and Daniel Libeskind.

She is an award-winning photographer having received the Redaksjonell Fotografi from Visuelt, 1997, Wissenschaft fur Leben Scholarship, 2004 from the Olympus Europa Stiftung, Forum AID Award 2006, and the Honorary Fellowship of Royal Institute of British Architects, 2008. Most recently she was honored with the Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award in 2015.

3.      Kerstin Arnemann

Kerstin Arnemann is a German photographer. She currently lives on the small island of Malta. She is passionate about fine art and specializes in long exposure photography.

She demonstrates her prowess in her predominantly monochromatic photographs which have a playful combination of lines, shapes, and light.

4.      Mihai Florea

Mihai Florea is an Australian photographer from Melbourne. He got into architectural photography only recently, but he brings with him a fresh take on things and an entirely new outlook on the field of architectural photography.

His work places a clear emphasis on composition, balance and lighting. He also uses long exposure techniques and minimalistic monochrome pictures to create a sense of depth and excite the viewer.

5.      Julia Anna Gospodarou

Gospodarou is an award-winning photographer for her black and white fine art photography. She is also an Athens-based architect with a deep passion for her work.

Her works emphasize the almost abstract details of a structure without completely removing it from context by preserving the factor of scale and the building’s form.