Saturday, July 19, 2014

Black and White Photography: Do You Shoot or Do You Post-Process?

Black and white photography has changed tremendously since the days of black and white film. Now, digital shooters face a wide variety of options for shooting and creating black and white or monochrome photographs. But which method is best for you?

Monochrome photography is the topic for next week in the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. (Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

Black and White Photography: in camera

The more traditional way to shoot black and white photographs is to do so in camera. Nearly all cameras, from point-and-shoots to DSLRs to phone cameras have an option for shooting and recording in black and white. This hearkens back to the days of film, where if you put black and white film in your camera, then you were shooting black and white images. (If you shoot JPEG, all color information will be lost, and you will retain only the black and white image. If you shoot RAW+JPEG, the color information will be retained in the RAW file, and you will retain a black and white JPEG version of the image.)

One of the biggest benefits to shooting black and white in camera is the immediate feedback. You can see the photograph on your LCD screen, which may guide you to try different angles, compositions, or exposures in your next shots. Because we do not naturally "see" the world in black and white, this feedback can help you train your eye to understand what works well in black and white.

There are many different ways to control and refine your black and white photographs in camera. Within the monochrome setting on my DSLR, there is the ability to adjust the sharpness, the contrast, or add a filter or toning effect. (Sepia is a common choice for monochrome toning.)

In-Camera Monochrome Settings (no post-processing for black and white) | Boost Your Photography

The series of six photographs above were all shot by manipulating the settings in camera with no post-processing involved (other than making the collage). The top row shots were left: monochrome default settings and right: monochrome with maximum contrast. The middle row shots were left: monochrome with minimum contrast and right: monochrome with default contrast, maximum sharpness, and red filter. The bottom row shots were left: monochrome with default contrast, maximum sharpness, and blue tone and right: color with standard settings. This is just a quick look at some of the many different monochrome effects you can create within your camera.

The biggest downside to shooting black and white in camera is that your black and white settings and conversion become baked into the final photograph when you are shooting JPEG. You cannot get back the color information and any post-processing changes will potentially degrade the quality of your image.

Black and White Photography: post-processing

The second option for shooting black and white is to shoot in color (or RAW) and to convert your photograph to black and white through a post-processing program, app, or web site. The benefit to this method is that you have significantly more flexibility in the final look of your photograph, but the downside is that you lose the instant feedback of "seeing" in black and white through your camera's display.

Comparison of the three different color channels for black and white conversion

One way to post-process a color photograph into black and white is to look at the three different color channels that make up the color image. (A color photograph is recorded by your camera's sensor by three different colors of sensors: blue, red, and green.) The comparison of all three channels and the color image, above, highlights some of the variation that can be found in black and white conversions of the same image. (If you are having trouble seeing some of the differences, look at the colors in the sky and the red sign across the three different channels.)

Another way to post-process a color photograph is to use a default conversion. Most photography software programs and apps offer different default methods for converting a color photograph into black and white. After you have chosen your default conversion you can also adjust other post-processing options such as contrast, exposure, vignettes, or dodging and burning to get exactly the look you wanted.

If you do not want to pay for a software program or app, you can also achieve great black and white looks with the free photography program PicMonkey available at article pinned above walks you through the steps to Make Your Black and White Photographs POP for Free with PicMonkey. This post includes a lot of screen shots to help you visualize  the whole process and follow along with your own photograph(s).

So, How Do You Black and White?

What about you? Do you have a favorite way for achieving black and white shots or a great conversion tip? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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