Why Shoot in Black and White?
The answer is simple; black and white is timeless. Black and white images transcend the here and now to stand on their own. It is easier to see the art in a black and white image because the image is removed from reality. Rather than mentally comparing the photographic image to the actually subject as perceived by the eye, the viewer is forced to examine the image as something separate from reality — something that has a life of its own.
Using a DSLR to Take Black and White Photos
Even though you can use Adobe Photoshop to convert a color photograph into a black and white photograph, the best results are obtained by taking the photograph in black and white. There are those that would contend that Photoshop is better but I prefer being able to get instant feedback via my LCD while taking the photo. Being able to evaluate a shot immediately after taking it is one of the main advantages of using a digital camera. I don’t have to imagine what the image would look like in B/W — I get to actually see it. I prefer to not lose that ability. Besides, if you save your images in camera raw and JPEG, you get the best of both worlds. The camera raw file will be in color and can be processed later. I prefer to have the most opportunities to make creative decisions. For me, creativity occurs before, during, and after the shoot.
Thinking in Black and White
When shooting in black and white, you need to be more conscious of shadows, contrast, and the range of values. Also think about whether your shot would be better if it was high-key or low-key. Shifting the value range one way or the other can sometimes make the difference between an average photograph and an amazing photograph. Remember, the viewer will be more aware of these elements. Don’t forget about composition while you are concentrating on shadows, contrast, and value! The underlying structure of a photograph is also more apparent when shot in black and white.
Settings for Black and White
All you have to do is to select Monochrome in your camera’s menu. Look under Picture Control for Nikon cameras or Picture Style for Canon cameras. When I’m shooting in black and white, I always shoot camera raw plus JPEG. The JPEG file is in black and white but the camera raw file is in color. If I need to make any adjustments using software, I can use the camera raw file. There have also been a few times that I ended up preferring the color version.
Shooting in Monochrome (B/W) will give you the opportunity to use some of the virtual filters that are probably lurking somewhere in your DSLR. In the old days, we had to carry around red, orange, yellow, and green filters when shooting black and white. With a digital SLR, the filters are virtual and produce the same effects as show in the following chart:
|Camera Settings for Monochrome Filter Effects|
|None||Normal black-and-white image with no filter effect.|
|Yellow||Blue sky will look more natural and white clouds will look crisper.|
|Orange||Blue sky will look slightly darker. Sunsets will look more brilliant.|
|Red||Blue sky will look quite dark. Fall leaves will look crisper and brighter.|
|Green||Skin tones and lips look fine. Tree leaves will look crisper and brighter.|
Use the most appropriate filter for your subject. For instance, if you are taking a portrait and your subject is wearing dark red lipstick, the person’s lips will look black in the black and white photo. Unless you are going for a Goth look, you should use a Red or Orange filter when taking the shot.
To read about an excellent plugin for Photoshop that does an amazing job of converting color photos to monochrome, read my review of Silver Efex Pro 2.
So, now that you know how to take black and white photos with your DSLR, taking impressive black and white photographs is only a few settings away.
If you found this post instructive, please comment and share it with your friends.