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Modern Black and White Photography

Black and white photography for many people epitomizes the true essence of photography. A black and white photograph for me evokes memories of a more organic experience with an image. My love of photography began in the black and white darkroom as a teenager. The very first time I put a piece of photographic paper into chemicals and the image appeared-I was totally hooked. The problems that you had to deal with in the darkroom like dust and chemicals made the invention of digital imagery a welcomed improvement for many photographers. However, I do have very fond memories of working with film, fixer and fiber-based paper.

For those of us that still like the expression of a black and white photograph it is easily achieved with today’s software and paper options that are available.

Although all DSLR cameras have the ability to shoot ‘monochrome’ as a picture style option, this isn’t the best choice when deciding to make an image black and white. First, the picture style option of monochrome will only apply to a JPEG file. The RAW file will not reflect the black and white info because a RAW file is not processed ‘in camera”. (See blog “Should you be shooting JPEG or RAW?” ) So the recommendation is to shoot RAW files in color and then use an editing program to convert the image to black and white. In addition the ‘monochrome” option in camera gives a very flat version of black and white.

So what are the choices for achieving the best results when converting a color RAW file to black and white?

  • Lightroom: In the Develop module users can easily toggle through a multitude of black and white presets that Adobe has created for you. In addition these presets can be modified in the Develop module to create your own version of black and white and then saved as your own ‘preset’.

  • Photoshop : In CC the black and white adjustment is its own “layer”. Creating a layer in Photoshop gives you full control of the black and white adjustment, including, opacity, visibility and masking. Creating a layer mask will allow you to have part of the photo black and white and part color.

  • Nik Silver Efex Pro(by Google): For the black and white enthusiast! I love this program for taking color images and rendering them to black and white. This is a program that can be purchased online(they were just bought by Google) It is sold as an entire suite of filters and well worth the purchase price. The filter program ‘plugs’ into PSE, CS6, LR5 and Aperture or can work as a stand alone program. The great thing about this software is that it gives you many ‘presets’ as sort of a ‘start here’ and then you can fine tune that preset. In addition there are also ‘film types’ that you can choose from to emulate film grain. There are also vignette and border settings if you are feeling so inclined.

I often find that sometimes an image that looks so-so in color really comes alive when turned into a black and white photo. Once the photo is finished printing out to a cotton rag or fine art paper really gives it the vintage feel.

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