Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Black and white family photography


Why you can’t beat black and white

“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. When you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.”

– Ted Grant, photojournalist

Wise words indeed. I’ve always specialised in black and white. I passionately believe that it’s the perfect medium for family photography.

When I take family photos I’m thinking of the here and now, recording moments for you, the parents, so you can remember your little ones growing up.

But I’m also always thinking to the future. I feel strongly that my pictures are for the children as much as for the parents. I want the children to love the pictures I take when they’re grown-ups as much as their parents love the pictures now.

How your photographs can stand the test of time

For successive generations to love their family pictures equally, I believe it’s vital to photograph children in a natural and timeless manner.

High fashion and contemporary style images look great when they’re first taken, but two years down the line they can begin to date and thirty years later they’re more likely to raise a laugh than tug a heart-string.

Think about the trends we’ve seen come and go in photography – the ’80s bride and groom framed within a brandy glass, the spot colour pictures that were all the rage in the early days of Photoshop. They had their time in the spotlight but their appeal has faded fast: fun to look back on, not so suitable for proudly displaying on the wall.

Black and white family photography will never date.

It will look as timeless when your child is three as when they’re 33 or even 93. Black and white transcends fads and fashions. It cuts to the essence of the image and looks ever more beautiful as the years pass.

At home, I have pictures of my childhood hung on the wall, next to pictures taken now, alongside pictures of my parents as children, all black and white. I know from first hand that the images of me looked good when they were taken, looked good when I was a self-conscious teenager, and look fantastic now when I’m in my thirties.

Together, they tell our family story through the years in a way that colour photos, or a mixture of both, couldn’t.


How black and white can take you on a journey

I truly believe that family photographs are the keys to our childhood memories. They’re the bookmarks in time that take us back to important times and places, that hold dear the important people who make us who we are.

Looking at one picture in one place can take us on a journey. I look at a childhood picture from Greenwich Park and I’m taken in so many directions: learning to ride my bikes, football games with my brothers, teenage days hanging out with friends and later, running the London Marathon. One picture in one place takes me on these journeys and sparks these memories.

You can do the same for your family. By photographing in your favourite places and doing the things you love to do, your images will remind your children of their childhood throughout the lives.

When looking at childhood pictures it’s lovely to have no distractions. I grew up in the 80s, but there’s no hint of the green of my Doc Marten boots or the neon of my t-shirt. Instead, I see emotions and relationships, action and reaction, light, shade and composition.

Take a look at a Cartier Bresson photograph. You won’t be thinking “What were they wearing?” Your eye will be drawn to a decisive moment, one that sums up everything about the image. Black and white family photography can achieve exactly the same for you.

How black and white reflects the love in your family

Black and white shows us relationships in a way that no other medium can do.  Photography records the moment, that squeeze of pure love as you pull your child into a tight hug, the deep belly laugh as they tell the best joke ever.  Black and white then makes us focus completely on what’s important within that moment: the love in your family.

There is a wonderful simplicity to black and white images that helps the eye to focus.  By removing the distractions of colour, we’re drawn further and further into an image, looking closer and for longer.

In an era where we see so many images day in day out, black and white calls to us to slow down, to stop and pay attention, to concentrate on the narrative in front of us. We have no choice but to concentrate on what is important: those we love.

The emotional depth of monochrome imagery is well-documented. For generations, it’s been the medium of choice for great storytellers and much of the very best photojournalism is still in black and white.  It’s a powerful medium and a beautiful one.

By telling your stories in this way, in pictures that have an element of mystery and depth that makes you pause, we create something wonderful for your children.



How black and white creates better photographs

With black and white photography, there’s nowhere to hide. And that gives you better pictures.

Your images can’t just be about the weather or the view – a beautiful blue sky or some pretty flowers – they have to be about your children: their personalities, their interactions, their genuine expressions and natural smiles.

The pictures have to be excellent technically and show real emotions. They have to make us feel.  I love this challenge as I strive on each and every photoshoot to take the very best pictures possible.

Monochrome family photographs look to the light, to graphical compositions and strong stories: stories that are told beautifully, emotively.  The pictures have to be great to work in black and white and they have to be great to last and look good in the future.

Choosing a photographer with a clearly defined style and a strong belief in why they work in that style, along with their expertise, will result in better pictures for you.  You know what to expect and can be sure of high quality, consistent images taken with passion.

Tell your children’s story in monochrome

Taking regular black and white pictures of your children documents their lives, recording everything that’s important to them. Become a regular client of your photographer and you’ll start to build a story, one they can look back on to remember all the amazing things you did together.

By shooting consistently in black and white you can be sure that all your pictures will look fabulous together.  They will flow beautifully and seamlessly from one year to the next.

Choose black and white for your family photographs and we can show them the world from before their memories, their tiny newborn fingers, early smiles and tentative first steps. Moving through the years, we can capture the helter-skelter ride on their first bicycle, creating Lego masterpieces or playing chess.

Photography allows you to hold memories in your hands. Black and white photography makes those memories both natural and timeless.

Take a look at how black and white can create such magic at www.helenbartlett.co.uk