Black & White Stock: Staying Alive?

Special guest Post by Rohn Engh

If you’re an emerging stock photographer and have never entertained the idea of taking a black & white stock photo, I’d encourage you to try it. But, fair warning though, it’ll be more an experience for the soul, not for the sale.

black and whiteB&W is no longer popular among photo editors at most books and magazines — the publishing arena we deal with most, here at PhotoSource International. I recently flipped through my recent copy of Photo District NEWS. Excluding the commercial advertising only 9% of the editorial pictures were B&W, and most of those were fine art. If you flip through current newsstand magazines, you’ll see very few b&w photographs. The general public, it was proved long ago, prefers color to B&W. Editors always conform to management’s marketing research.

The change to color started in the mid-80’s, and by the mid-90’s the changeover was almost complete. You may wonder how well B&W fared in the early days of stock photography. In my own case, back in the early 60’s, I shot strictly in B&W and put my photos with one of the few early stock agencies, called “Photo Researchers.” (The agency still exists today.)

When I wrote the first edition of, “Sell & ReSell Your Photos,” I advised photographers to use the U.S. Postal Service as their delivery system. Slowly, in the mid-80’s the preference for color grew. Photobuyers now wanted color transparencies. This gave rise to the age of “lost images.” Many photographers and photobuyers alike, found they were incapable of tracking the transparencies they were handling. It wasn’t pretty. Lawsuits multiplied and photobuyers began dealing only with a circumscribed number of stock photographers they knew well.

It all changed in the early 2000’s. Digital delivery made transparency delivery unnecessary. In fact, obsolete. B&W disappeared in the process. Even though B&W prints were easy to distribute and sell to photobuyers in the 70’s and 80’s, digital delivery is even easier in the 2000’s…a fortunate happening for the independent stock photographer. Few stock photographers today engage in B&W. Those who do, and are successful in their marketing, are a very rare breed.

But who knows? We see B&W films out of Hollywood and Europe now and then. Maybe someday in the future, public taste may revisit B&W. You may want to prepare now, by capturing some of your digital images in B&W

Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. E-mail:

Author: Joe Farace

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