When I was beginning photography, B&W is like a shortcut of good photos.
B&W photos has certain appeals that pleases all of us. It was like one of the “effect” that looks good, because when you choose between color effects in lightroom, iphone, or even in-camera color presets, lots of time proves switching to B&W instantly make the photo stylish.
When i shoot more, I begin to deconstruct why B&W photos easily make many photos looks good:
- photos with unexciting colors doesn’t reveal itself as bad as it originally is.
- it unifies a photo set. Often without careful planning, a photo set ends up with varying, inconsistent color and lighting. B&W make it consistent and easily look like a set. look at your facebook photo album!
- color noise/ grains/ under-exposed greyish colors are reduced to monochrome and these unwanted distraction are less prominent, essentially increasing the range of low-light/ under-exposued photos usability.
- due to above reason, a converted B&W can also be manipulated with tonity vastly without breaking the naturalness of colors.
- most people just think it’s cool.
That’s why simply converting your photo to B&W can easily make your photos look good, but far from great.
True B&W photography is an art of its own. It’s a pursue of pure image. In absence of color, what takes over are tones, contrast, composition, lighting, texture, details, lines and shapes, mass, that are amplified to be the sole perception from the audience. That’s the fundamental difference.
Then, no color separation means you have one important tools missing in order to achieve object definition and separation. Also, bokeh is not as eye popping (but still important)
Shooting more and more, I discovered more about the uniqueness of B&W, both when you capture and photo, and post-processing.
Sometimes, post-converting to B&W still proves useful to save or upgrade my photos, but I tell myself I should aim higher. That’s why i begin shooting with camera preset set to B&W. This way, when I shoot hav
e a totally different mentality from the start. I will be focused to find good lighting, good contrast, good texture, good shapes, etc. A good way of training my eyes straight on, instead of doing that in post as optional effect. Trust me, a day of shooting like this, you will end up with surprisingly breakthrough in your photos! And that’s why the Leica Monochrome make sense!( If you can afford it) If you are really into B&W, having camera always in B&W is no obstruction at all. And Leica Mono’s sensor in this way provides even higher resolving power and low light performance.
While i shoot in B&W effect (burnt into jpg) i also enable RAW. Obvious reason is the dynamic range and lossless details. But in B&W there is one important unique reason for it: color filtering. What is that? in the film eras, photographer can control thier B&W photos using color filters. You asked why does color filter matter when it’s B&W? well, it matters A LOT!. say, without filter, a tomato and vegetables looks greyish with varying tones, not much tonal contrast. But if you add a red filter in front, because the green light reflected by vegetables are blocked by the red filter, your tomato stays greyish but your vegetables becomes black or dark grey! Now a basket of tomates and vegetables suddenly becomes more interesting because of the contrast between tomatos and vegetables. In digital, we have the luxory of not needing to decide what filters to put before you shoot – you can do it in post. By having your RAW, your original color files are retained, that’s essential to do a “post color filtering”.
Advanced software like Photoshop or lightroom all provdies some kind of “channel mixer” meaning you can vary the contribution of your RGB channels, effectively doing the same thing. This is unique to B&W, there is little point to do that in color photos. If you are too new to this. In lightroom try the topmost effect preset. there are “red filter” “green filter” etc for you to choose directly. In photoshop, a simple way to see it is to solo individual RGB channel: you will find that you are getting 3 B&W photo versions out of one photo! and you can mix them like cocktail!
Another software that looks promising and specialized in B&W is Nik silver Efex Pro. I personally haven’t tried it, but its tutorial videos look like they are really designing the software in the perspective of B&W photographers and darkroom people do.
Usually when trying out “post color filtering for B&W”, i look for the following when choosing what filter to use:
- Skin tone: different filtering results in different softness, tonity, and contrast of skin tone. If your photo has a face, this factor will override others.
- Contrast: some filter choice enhances the detaility or contrast of your subject. Some choice separate objects more and enhance definition while some will make your objects definition, texture disappear.
- As a while, different choice will sometimes make the photo have different focus of attention. try to choice one that works better.
In terms of color correction, opinions varies a great range on color photos as regarding how much is “allowable” to color correct a photo. Some prefer absolutely natural and original colors, some like to go for aggressive “re-coloring”. Well, in the realm of B&W, you are generally more allowable to go farther – for one reason, B&W is more surreal in a way, you can go creative for the tonality manipulation without “upsetting” the audeience; for another reason, physical color filters for B&W photography is already altering this, and darkroom techniques are also manipulating these, masters did it a lot too. That’s why, in B&W you really have more creative license and “authenticity” to manipulate it.
Finally, I think of B&W as “making pictures”, besides “taking pictures”.