BLACK & WHITE
Black and White Photography Conversion
Judy Colbert, Writer
Purists have and will continue to discuss the merits of black and white photography, even in this age of digital miracles. Old and new darkroom enthusiasts will rhapsodize over watching an image emerge from a watery bath that perfectly expresses what was in the mind’s eye.
The argument goes something like, black and white isn’t as lifelike because, after all, the real world (for most people) is in color. The composition is more important and lights and shadows capture our attention and define the images more accurately than the impression one is given by differences in hues and saturation of colors. Those who shoot in color says that real world is color and that’s how it should be represented.
Taking that discussion to a more finite level means questioning whether you should shoot in black and white or in color and convert to black and white. Part of that discussion is your reason for shooting in black and white. Is it your aesthetic? Are you entering a photography contest? Are your images being published in black and white in a magazine or book? Which brings us back to, which is better?
“The easiest answer,” says Todd Vorenkamp, senior creative content writer for B&H Photo in New York, is “if you shoot in color you have much more control over the conversion, even if you use manual adjustments on your camera. You can make a lot more adjustments to the image in post processing on your computer. Unless you’re using a Leica M Monochrome (which promises to “capture authentic ‘true’ black and white digital photographs that ignores color data” and can set you back $7000 or so), your camera sensor sees in color. Even if you tell it to shoot in black and white, it’s going to see color and then convert it.
“Then,” says Vorenkamp, “digital people will tell you to not use auto levels, so you spend three minutes adjusting sliders and the photo looks identical to one that used auto levels. If you tell the camera to shoot in black and white, you won’t have that control, but you won’t have to go through the extra steps with filters and sliders in post processing.”
Stan Ruddie, a lifelong people photographer, says he can talk about the differences forever. In a nutshell, though, he says, “You can convert to greyscale in almost any editing program, but you will get that grey image with no highlights.” For better success, he says, “When you want to convert to black and white, open the photo in any editing program. Select adjust photo, then channel mixer, then monochrome. You will see three color bars. If you slide one way or the other, you will see color tones change. Finish with a contrast and brightness adjustment and then save a copy under a new name.”
“As a side note,” says Vorenkamp, “there are many who poo-poo different methods of converting from color to black and white digitally, but I honestly believe there is no right or wrong way to do it. An example: Many say you should never just ‘desaturate’ an image. But, if you are the photographer/ artist and you desaturate the image and it looks good to you, then why not use it?”
Photo by Stan Ruddie
BW Sample Just Desaturate
Photo by Stan Ruddie
BW Sample Red Filter
Photo by Stan Ruddie
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