Black and white – are they colors?

Go to your local paint store and order pure black and pure white, and they’ll come up with those. No problem. How come there is a whole debate of whether black and white are colors? The science and theory of color which is our basis for determining black and white will have you scratching your head. Are black and white really considered as colors? We will explore and answer that.


Our reference is the site and they have an intensive description of what constitutes color and whether black or white can be categorized as such. I suggest you go over their very enlightening article Are Black & White Colors? and get a better understanding of this topic. Let me summarize the findings:

1. Black is not a color. It is the absence of color or the complete absorption of light.

2. White is a color. White reflects all the colors of the visible light spectrum to the eyes.

This obviously is going by the technical definition and scientific fundamentals of colors. As of last count, we have 16 million colors to go by. For black and white, aside from pure black and pure white, we have 254 shades of gray to choose from. But anyway, for practical purposes we categorize black and white as colors. Black is even considered the darkest of colors. The classic black is a standard color for cars, cameras, clothes and high fashion. We are practitioners of black and white photography, and we go by the power and strengths of these two colors to come up with our monochrome masterpieces. So strictly speaking, black is not a color while white is a color because it is the sum total of all the colors in the light spectrum. In the real world however, we are a pragmatic, creative and artistic bunch and we use black and white as normal colors in our palette of tools whether we are graphic artists, designers, painters or photographers.


6 responses

  1. stunning photo.

    March 23, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    • Junsjazz

      Much thanks Jane!

      March 24, 2013 at 1:41 am

  2. I like your image. However, regarding colour: That depends on whether your are referring to the “light” or ” a pigment”. If you meant Light. then yes you are correct, black is the absence and light is not. For those that are applying colour to a surface, then Black is a colour and white is not. I remember my days as an art student and photography student. There was always argument as to what we are seeing.
    If we lay ink on a surface what is the correct answer? If we are only viewing the image on a electronic display would that be different? Hmm….maybe. What about film and exposing an image on silver halides?
    Thanks for bringing that all to mind again. great article.

    March 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    • Junsjazz

      Thanks Enman for raising your point and sharing your knowledge. As a pigment for application on surface you are right about that, and that’s one area in the whole science and theories of color. Problem is there are many others areas in this topic such as the scientific basis of colors as we see them in the light spectrum. Anyway, black and white are essential “colors” for us photographers. Thanks again!

      March 24, 2013 at 11:59 pm

  3. Junsjazz

    Much thanks Judy!

    March 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

  4. this photo is quite powerful in its graceful curves. thank you.

    March 26, 2013 at 9:01 pm

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