Black and white photography has an undeniable allure. It has a special power that turns ordinary and everyday subjects into iconic imagery. But when most brands need to show the color of their products or rely on the impact of color to stand out in competitive visual advertising fields, how can the black and white medium be used in fresh and modern ways for advertising and marketing campaigns?
Let’s be real. Black and white photography sells a vibe. It’s a bold move to forego color, so even this choice in and of itself is a statement. Black and white (B&W) was the original film stock, used to capture some of the most classic and memorable images in history. It reminds us of the richness and historical roots of the medium of photography, as well as the great early modernist photographers who helped elevate the status of photography from a technical practice to an artistic discipline.
In the 1970s, color photography came to the fore, and that’s where it’s been ever since. Color imagery continues to dominate the visual mediascape but the ease and proliferation of picture-taking have also created a saturated sea of digital images. But sprung from the point-and-shoot-with-your-phone era, a renewed appreciation for photography’s artistic traditions emerged.
Modern audiences have developed an appetite for more intentional and creatively captured images, especially in the stock photography realm. In the same moment, people have a growing affinity for brands that refrain from gratuitous shouting marketing tactics and instead strategically draw the viewer in with images that inspire interest, emotional connection, and contemplation.
What makes B&W photography special
Black and white photography has formal qualities that make it unique from color. We see life in color; therefore, B&W photography presents a point of view that is unnatural to the human eye, experienced only through the mediation of photography. This distance from reality makes B&W imagery more closely associated with the realm of art and memory. The medium lends its subjects a special weight because it communicates through its very form that a photographic moment is an artifact and also a product of human perception.
Where we’re seeing black and white photography
A common misperception is that black and white photography is in the domain of fine art photography or used superficially elsewhere to achieve a moodier, artier, or more nostalgic aesthetic. But for most brands, choosing black and white photography over color is a very conscious and conceptual choice. Artists continue to evolve the visual aesthetics of this art form in new and exciting ways. While some brands have folded black and white imagery into their brand identity for a long time — see Saint Laurent and Dior —other brands with more popular street appeal — Calvin Klein and Tracksmith — have leaned into edgier campaign strategies with black and white imagery.
But when it comes to stock photography, how can we use black and white images in a meaningful way? Stocksy has a rich collection of B&W photography from a long list of talented contributors. There are many reasons to think beyond color photography and incorporate a more classic feel. Incorporating black and white content into your brand is a great idea. Here’s why:
Black and white stock photography is easy to incorporate with many design aesthetics and colors. Because it’s grayscale, it matches almost anything.
For some, black and white imagery represents an intriguing step toward the surreal. It’s an opportunity to move away from reality and to consider common objects in unexpected or abstract ways.
The stark contrast and graphic qualities of some black and white photos are highly effective in catching the eye.
Black and white photos make the everyday feel potent and memorable.
By avoiding color, photographers strip back visual noise and offer a quieter visual experience to heighten the intimacy or tenderness of a moment.
The importance of tone, light, and depth increases our perception of surfaces and textures, luminosity, materiality, and patternation.
Black and white photography harnesses the drama of movement. Use it to give your visuals cinematic appeal.
The quietness of black and white images can imbue the subject or moment with a sense of poignancy and also of a heightened sense of the subject’s interiority.
Black and white photographs invite us to better consider the conceptual nature of a picture.
Break the mold. Because black and white photography is expected to be more mood-driven, use it to amplify humor and playfulness.
How to search for B&W assets
Use filters! Our Stocksy Search by Color tool isn’t limited to the rainbow. You can filter search results by choosing the “Search Grayscale” option below the color bar. With this option, you can keyword search your campaign needs and see all the associated B&W content.
Or, if you’d like to just peruse all the B&W Stocksy has to offer, click the magnifying glass icon in the search bar and then filter grayscale. Now you have all the B&W mood and vibe at your fingertips. Try filtering by curated to see some of the best in the collection, according to our curators and editors.