Tip: Black and White Digital Photography

Bill Prosser

Few people can be both excellent BW and Color photographers. The craftsmanship for both is the same, you sill have to produce sharp pictures with appropriate exposure, focus, and depth of field. Visual design elements are often the same, but color relies on hues for many of is lines, shapes, and textures; while BW relies on tonal differences in addition to the physical shapes of objects. Contrasting colors, such as red and green, that can produce stunning color contrast often produce boring monochromes with almost the same ones (that’s why you can meter off of grass and red dresses to get pretty accurate medium gray exposure readings). For those who want to try to learn about BW photography, one of the most difficult sills to conquer is to now what one’s various colors will produce. Most experts suggest that one should shoot in color and then use software to convert to BW rather than shoot BW. The reasoning is you can always convert color to BW, but not the reverse. I have found that it is helpful, however, to practice with my camera color-setting to BW to get a feel for tonal differences of different colors. As a result, just as many old-time medium format photographers used to shoot Polaroid pictures before exposing their film, I have found that carrying a Point and Shoot camera set on BW, and an SLR camera set on color is a nice combination when shooting for BW images. I look at the P&S LCD and often snap a picture of what a color scene might produce in BW. When I find a good one, I usually shoot it with both cameras. It is also nice to have a color image to help you decide during post-processing how to adjust color tones to give a color-to-BW conversion more contrast, but that is a subject for another possible tip.

Bill Prosser

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