Black and white photography is the oldest form of photography. Invented in the early 1820s with Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s heliography, this artistic form dominated the photographic medium for over a century. Generally speaking, black and white photography involves the fixing of light on sensitive surfaces to capture black and white images of the world around us. Historically, black and white photography has undergone several progressions. Popular early forms include daguerreotype portraiture—the first mainstream photographic form—and the calotype, its contemporary rival. Over the next century, black and white photography permeated every facet of the photographic medium—from portraiture to film. In doing so, it positioned photography as a real artistic rival to traditional painting.
Since the 1960s, the use of color photography has largely dated and unpopularized the use of black and white photography. Despite this, some contemporary photographers use the medium as a means of artistic expression. These photographers employ the nuances and perceptions of the black and white medium to create works that are timeless and focused on meaning.
Black and white photography is also a popular technical art form for those seeking an escape from the confines of color photography. Specifically, black and white photography is employed today in situations where the photographer is asked to focus on the quality, quantity, and direction of light.
Because black and white photography is better suited for emphasizing shapes, forms, shadows, and contrasts, many photographers find it a more appealing and appropriate medium for their artwork. Shooting in black and white often requires special equipment, filters, and lenses.