Monday, January 4, 2021

12 Days of DSLR Day 10: Black and White Photography

Black and white photography spawns entire fields within itself, and Boost Your Photography has dedicated entire months to book studies around this theme (see links at the end if you are curious). For this black and white photograph remix, we'll look at two key issues: subjects for black and white photography and whether to shoot or post-process your images.

Welcome to the 12 Days of DSLR! We’re revisiting and updating 12 of our most popular posts to give you the jumpstart on making the most of your DSLR camera. This series is aimed at first-time DSLR owners as well as those who want a little more guidance for how the make the most out of shooting with a DSLR.

Day 10: Black and White Photography

Certain subjects seem to better lend themselves to successful black and white photography than others. From a book club study of Andrew Gibson's The Magic of Black and White, Vol 1, pages 45-58 discuss different common subjects for black and white photography and how to approach each one.

Here are my quick take-aways from each of the individual subject chapters.

Portraits. In black and white portraiture, the attention is on eyes and texture. You will often see the elderly as the subject of a black and white portrait.

Landscapes. Black and white landscapes force you to focus on tone, light, and shape. Black and white gives you the freedom to interpret a landscape in a unique or unconventional way to truly make it your image.

Travel Photography. Black and white lends a timeless feel to travel photography and almost immediately makes you feel nostalgic.

Flowers. Without the worry of color, flowers are all about shape, tone, and contrast.

Architecture. Black and white emphasizes form and texture and allows you to create more dramatic compositions against unique skies.

Try to seek out different subjects this week than you have before. Or, use black and white to explore a familiar subject in a different way. See how you can create something special that represents your statement about the subject.

Black and White Photography: in camera

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? 

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. 

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!

Want more posts on black and white photography?

See Boost Your Photography's book club of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography (or the Black and White Photography Field Guide). Be sure to read the overview and week 1week 2week 3week 4, and week 5 posts if you are curious.

Or check out our book club study of Andrew Gibson's The Magic of Black and White, Vol 1. We focused on seeing in black and whitedetails in black and white, and subjects (covered above).

Stay tuned for the rest of the 12 Days of DSLR! 

Want to learn more? Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is 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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