Do you see in black and white? - Digital Photography School
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Do you see in black and white?

Black-And-White

One thing some photographers and filmakers talk about is ‘seeing in black and white.’

Whether they are shooting in black and white or colour, seeing in B&W is a useful skill to learn. If you can ignore the colour, you can tell whether an image will work or not when converted (or taken) in B&W. Also, what makes a B&W image good can also improve a colour image (contrast, use of light, shapes, form etc.)

So what happens if you can’t see in B&W?

Well, for some photographers, you don’t need to, you can let your camera do it for you. I discovered this while playing with my Canon 20D a few weeks back and love it. I shoot in RAW all the time, so any changes I make to the camera’s parameters: sharpness, contrast, saturation etc don’t affect the RAW file. Neither does the B&W setting!

It DOES affect the preview you get on the LCD screen, so you will see your photo in B&W immediately after taking the shot, but the RAW file will still have all of the colour information. So you can instantly tell if the shot will work in B&W but also still have the option of keeping it in colour.

This tip was submitted by DPS reader Neil Smith from Pic a Day.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.garethtownsend.info Gareth

    Great tip, I’m going to try it out tonight when I get home, should have the same effect on a 350d. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.sillyhat.net Michael

    Awesome info about your Cannon… I’ll definitely have to try that!

  • Kari Rady

    As you wrote in your teaser: “Whether they are shooting in black and white or colour, seeing in B&W is a useful skill to learn.” I had hoped you would include some tips one how to learn that skill. Instead I gained something else, how to compensate for not having it. A bit disappointing due to lead-in.

  • SP

    I was hoping you would explain a bit on why that skill is important

  • vamsi

    I already shoot RAW in B&W, so I expected some tips one how to learn that skill, too. But, great tip for those who didn’t know that yet.

  • http://www.nathanfrankephotography.com Nathan

    I learned how to see b/w by shooting lots and lots of b/w film, and reading everything I could find about the zone system.

    Working with film and wet darkrooms, you get to see your images as a complete unit, instead of a bunch of individual pixels next to each other. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and eventually it just clicks.

    At least, that’s whow it worked for me.

  • Marco

    I often use the winter months when it is too cold for me to get out (health issues) and I do this by going through old images. I open them in GIMP and try them with different B&W conversions. Gimp has a standard conversion option but also has three desaturation modes that give slightly different versions as well. I can look though these and get a feel for what works and maybe figure out why but then close them without saving them and they are still the same as before. This often helps me find things that help find out what works even in color. It seems that if an image is good in B&W, it is often just as good or better in color. However if it is very flat in B&W, it often lacks something even in color. So learning goes on.

  • Roberto Ramirez

    Simply genius. Very interesting tip, is one of those things that are there but many of us never explore. Really nice ;)

  • Jessica Knorr

    does this work with the 60D as well? Also do you have any tutorials for turning color photos to black and white and getting the awesome contrast of a true b&w?

Some older comments

  • Marco

    January 18, 2013 04:05 pm

    I often use the winter months when it is too cold for me to get out (health issues) and I do this by going through old images. I open them in GIMP and try them with different B&W conversions. Gimp has a standard conversion option but also has three desaturation modes that give slightly different versions as well. I can look though these and get a feel for what works and maybe figure out why but then close them without saving them and they are still the same as before. This often helps me find things that help find out what works even in color. It seems that if an image is good in B&W, it is often just as good or better in color. However if it is very flat in B&W, it often lacks something even in color. So learning goes on.

  • Nathan

    August 20, 2011 11:25 pm

    I learned how to see b/w by shooting lots and lots of b/w film, and reading everything I could find about the zone system.

    Working with film and wet darkrooms, you get to see your images as a complete unit, instead of a bunch of individual pixels next to each other. You learn what works and what doesn't, and eventually it just clicks.

    At least, that's whow it worked for me.

  • vamsi

    February 21, 2009 07:52 am

    I already shoot RAW in B&W, so I expected some tips one how to learn that skill, too. But, great tip for those who didn't know that yet.

  • SP

    October 31, 2006 05:57 am

    I was hoping you would explain a bit on why that skill is important

  • Kari Rady

    October 27, 2006 05:25 pm

    As you wrote in your teaser: "Whether they are shooting in black and white or colour, seeing in B&W is a useful skill to learn." I had hoped you would include some tips one how to learn that skill. Instead I gained something else, how to compensate for not having it. A bit disappointing due to lead-in.

  • Michael

    October 27, 2006 12:15 am

    Awesome info about your Cannon... I'll definitely have to try that!

  • Gareth

    October 26, 2006 01:27 pm

    Great tip, I'm going to try it out tonight when I get home, should have the same effect on a 350d. Thanks for sharing!

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