Black and White Cinematography: Introduction

Here's a look at black and white cinematography. I've been exploring my principles for good cinematography in video essays lately, and black and white is the next item I'm looking at. This is a really big topic, it's more than a little foolish to take on cinematography writ large, and quite frankly I think that understanding black and white cinematography might be the most difficult piece of this overview of the area.

I have some case studies coming up over the next weeks because it's just too difficult to put everything together in any sort of timely manner. These cases will look at practical ways to achieve good images in cinematography. They will also demonstrate differing approaches to cinematography having an effect on the meaning of the film.

Until then, I really have to point to some good thoughts from Peter Bogdanovich on the power of black and white cinematography as well as some really brilliant examples. So far, working on this project, I'm almost feeling as though black and white is richer than color photography. When does using color justify itself? Most of the images in the films in this essay are more powerful than most of the image content I can think of in color cinematography.

As I mention, I think that there are inherently abstract and minimalist qualities to working in black and white. That being the case would require more work be dome by objects in the film beyond merely the performance to be dialed into coloring in character, meaning, or theme. All the parts of filmmaking have to come together more under the constraints of black and white cinematography. That can be seen in a lot of the films I look at.

As for the case studies, the two movies I'll look at in depth aren't teased here. It'll just be a matter of time and of analysis to see how those movies work. Nevertheless, the upcoming work I'll have on approaches to black and white cinematography will look at the two best examples I can think of in this format, which also by happenstance have the most different approaches to the challenge of shooting this way.