Why Is Black and White Film SO Underrated?
Why is monochromatic film the underdog? Here's why I love its de-saturation and its allowing for more creative composition, subject matter, and light play.
Today's social media circus and race of hyper-speed content creation can vex the modern photographer.
That's why so many have been drawn to analog and— more notably — the monochromatic nostalgia of black-and-white film.
B&W has a special kind of magic to it. One that slows things down and draws focus to the subject in a way other color-negative stocks can't.
Industry giants, such as Kodak or Cinestill, offer a variety of B&W films that both beginners and experts in photography need to be utilized more.
As one of the most versatile film stocks in accessibility, price point, and editing capabilities — B&W rolls are incredible instruments for film photographers to stretch their muscles or expand their skills.
Sprite 35-II Reusable 35mm Film Camera
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Room for Error
There's more room for error, artfully.
Shooting analog for the first time can be immensely intimidating. I was so overwhelmed by my first few rolls; I think I panic-shot my way through all 36 frames in complete blackout, followed by embarrassment and wonder. It felt like some great magic trick, and I was desperate to peek behind the curtain. Simplifying the capturing process with black-and-white film was like clarifying a deep breath. Instead of perfecting an image's color, my purpose became lighting, frame, and focus.
The de-saturation allows the subject to be centric, making your composition based on lighting and framing rather than the balance of colors. It affects an emotional response; gives an image depth or contrasts in a way that elicits nostalgia or a more profound sense of importance. For the same reason, it can broaden a frame and let their eyes wander or flow through rather than homing in on one corner of a bolder color that demands all the attention.
Kodak T-Max 400 Film Review | Capturing the Desert in Black and White
High contrast with fine grain — the middle ground for perfection in a black and white film stock.
It's also a more forgiving medium. You can push it a few stops further in low light than you would with color film. B&W allows for some early experimentation to see if that extra grain distracts or adds to the scene you are capturing. After my first few rolls, I would notice some slip-ups with lighting or loss of detail in the shadows, but I honestly felt powerful staring at those scans.
My motley crew of mistakes still left me with beautifully balanced frames that felt intentional with slight alterations or edits.
The Everyday Black and White
Ilford is GOAT overall, and HP5 Plus is my favorite for everyday photography. It's a stock I permanently throw in my weekend bag. Perfect for family photo sessions, landscapes, street photography, or behind-the-scenes imagery.
Like most films, it's all about how you use it. HP5 has a larger grain structure than most, so if you're looking for that cozy vintage feel without too much distraction, this is your stock.
If you've been avoiding black-and-white film for the popularity or boldness of color, I challenge you to take a step back and see where the de-saturation could lead you. Throw it in your Pentax on your next neighborhood walk and experiment. I promise an afternoon with some Ilford will do your heart some good.
Ilford HP5 is a flexible film that offers refined grains and a range of contrast available at high speed. It's equally qualified for portraits or landscapes and is widely praised for its versatile emulsion. You can capture solid contrast that intensifies the atmosphere you're capturing. Its speed makes it a great candidate for any lighting scenario and pairs beautifully with a flash.
What We Love:
The tones on Ilford HP5 are near perfect. It's no wonder it's been one of the most prevalent black and whites for over 100 years. It bears a rough character with glossy highlights resulting in that oh-so-perfect vintage tone.
Wide Exposure Latitude
Its wide exposure latitude makes it so attractive for beginners. HP5 has been specifically formulated to react well to pushing your stops with a dynamic range. You can trust it in environments with mixed or complicated lighting.
Ilford's history stretches back to when 35mm film photography was first adopted. Its influence and relevance within the market are part of what makes it so unique. This film has been updated and perfected into one of the prettiest and most accessible black-and-white film stocks today. The grain and tone meld together for a timeless look and vintage impression.
HP5 PLUS Black and White Negative 35mm Film (36 Exposures)
Looking to get a 35mm B&W film that will deliver outstanding sharpness, fine grain, under all lighting conditions? Feed your film camera Ilford HP5 PLUS 35mmBuy for $8.99
HP5 PLUS Black and White Negative 120 Film
Looking to get a 35mm film that will deliver outstanding sharpness, fine grain, under all lighting conditions? Feed your film camera Ilford HP5 PLUS 120 filmBuy for $7.99
"My motley crew of mistakes still left me with beautifully balanced frames that [felt] intentional."