Monochrome is Magical

Dear friend,

I’m thinking a lot about creative constraints. I am starting to really recognize the truth:

Constraints are the mother of creativity.

Why black and white photography?

I’m currently watching CITIZEN KANE, and I am blown away by the cinematography. And it was all shot in black and white!

Citizen Kane screenshot
Citizen Kane screenshot

I’m starting to recognize that black and white pictures are so good precisely because of the constraints of black and white.

Citizen Kane screenshot
Citizen Kane screenshot

With black and white, you have a limited palette. But perhaps it is BECAUSE we have a limitation in black and white– that we are able to give birth to more creative, innovative, and unique images.

Monochrome as surreal

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people like black and white photography. I don’t think it is purely because monochrome images are nostalgic. I think it is because black and white photos are naturally surreal. The real world doesn’t look black and white; thus, it is more interesting and novel to look at reality through a monochromatic lens.


Monochrome simplifies. I am also starting to recognize another thing I believe in art:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

The problem with too much visual imagery; it is too busy! There is too much going on! By forcing yourself to render scenes into simple black and white ones– you are forced to focus on the essential in an image.

Monochrome as magical

Monochrome is magical. There is something inherently beautiful in black and white images.

My theory:

In today’s overly-colorful and saturated world, black and white imagery calms down our eyes.

Our eyeballs can relax a bit with monochrome.

Negative space

In life, we have too much over-stimulation. We need more breathing room; more negative room.

Black and white makes it easy to render negative space. With monochrome photography; less is more.

Black and white is good for imagination

Monochromatic imagery is better for our imagination. Why? We are forced to ‘fill in the gaps’ with our imagination.

Black and white for composition

I also believe monochrome makes it easier for us to compose our scenes. I still love color photography, but with monochrome (when you shoot monochrome), you force your eyes to simplify the scenes. When you shoot black and white, you train your eyes to simplify and ‘abstractify’ the world.

Simple is difficult

I actually believe to simplify something is extremely difficult. To be able to strip the superfluous to the maximum without losing anything is truly an art.

What is the best black and white camera?

Currently the best black and white camera is the RICOH GR II, shoot in RAW, and use ERIC KIM MONOCHROME 1600 PRESET. Oh yeah, exciting news– apparently the RICOH GR III is coming soon.

I also like shooting Kodak Tri-X 400 film (pushed to 1600), for monochrome bliss.

Keep it simple

To make better photos, keep it simple. Remember the saying from Dieter Rams:

“Less, but better.”


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