It's been 1 year shooting without color – and I like my 50 shades of grey

Leica M-A
(Image credit: Sebastian Oakley/Digital Camera World)

Photography encompasses a wide gamut of genres, interpretations, and rules. And sometimes you need to challenge yourself to push your photography to the next level, or to find new joy in this medium that we all love so much.

I did just that a little over a year ago, when I got my very first Leica. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, away from sports photography and into the realm of street photography – and it was at that moment I knew I had to change my style if I wanted to start shooting black-and-white photography and give up on color for the year.

• Want to ditch color as well? These are the best black-and-white cameras

Dipping my toe into monochrome photography first started when, by no coincidence, I was reviewing the Leica M10-R – a 40MP rangefinder camera that I totally fell in love with, and that made me want to buy into the brand. 

(Image credit: Future)

Reviewing this camera I noticed that it had a black-and-white setting, which most Leica cameras and enthusiasts call Monochrom. I selected this and something inside me knew that I wanted to shoot more in black-and-white. 

While I must confess that I shot some fantastic color images with the M10-R, it was the mono photos that I kept getting drawn to – and what started me on this journey without color.

I began to look at some of the best street photography books on the market, looked up videos on YouTube, and delved deep into tips for black-and-white photography, and I felt ready to take the plunge. 

Fast-forward a year and now 99% of my images are shot in black-and-white. And though I must say it's nice to display an odd color image on my Instagram, black-and-white is now my main medium. While this wasn't the intent of this exercise – I thought I'd just try it for a few months and be back to taking color images – it has been a year now and I don't see myself stopping any time soon.

In fact, shooting in monochrome hasn't just taken over my digital workflow; it's also a solid staple in my film workflow, which is now 100% black-and-white with self-developing at home.

So what has this experiment, that's turned into a way of life, taught me? Well I guess that, if you're stuck in a rut with your photography, setting yourself a challenge is a great benefit, and you could turn out to really enjoy it in the process.

(Image credit: Sebastian Oakley/Digital Camera World)

Only shooting black-and-white images both digitally and on film has enabled me to see things differently; subjects that might appear dull in color look great in mono. It helped me to think differently about my photography and enjoy it again as a hobby after 'retiring' from sports photography, which was my 9-5 job for over a decade.

While I do shoot the odd color image, that color image has to be special, with vivid colors and great composition. Shooting black-and-white all the time enables me to really enjoy color images as a special occasion, and not an everyday thing. 

I love shooting mono and, while I feel a still have a long way to go to really master this genre, it gives me the ability to express my passion for photography – which I will always be grateful for. Do I need to be thankful for that initial Leica that got the idea in my head? Possibly, and it's not a coincidence that I shoot on a Leica today, but I am thankful to myself for seeing this project through.

You might also be interested in the best Leica cameras, which could inspire your own photography, along with the best Leica M lenses and best Leica SL lenses to go with them. 

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Sebastian Oakley
Ecommerce Editor

For nearly two decades Sebastian's work has been published internationally. Originally specializing in Equestrianism, his visuals have been used by the leading names in the equestrian industry such as The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), The Jockey Club, Horse & Hound, and many more for various advertising campaigns, books, and pre/post-event highlights.

He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, holds a Foundation Degree in Equitation Science, and is a Master of Arts in Publishing.  He is a member of Nikon NPS and has been a Nikon user since the film days using a Nikon F5 and saw the digital transition with Nikon's D series cameras and is still to this day the youngest member to be elected into BEWA, The British Equestrian Writers' Association. 

He is familiar with and shows great interest in street, medium, and large format photography with products by Leica, Phase One, Hasselblad, Alpa, and Sinar. Sebastian has also used many cinema cameras from the likes of Sony, RED, ARRI, and everything in between. He now spends his spare time using his trusted Leica M-E or Leica M2 shooting Street photography or general life as he sees it, usually in Black and White.