In Camera Black and Whites? Seriously? - Digital Photography School

In Camera Black and Whites? Seriously?

Ok guys, I know what you’re thinking.

  1. “What’s the point?”
  2. “Conversions can happen after the fact in post.”
  3. “Shooting in color gives you more options after the fact.”

While all these arguments have validity in their own right, there are a few reasons you may just want to consider shooting your black and whites in camera. So here’s the scoop:

Once upon a time there was a girl named Natalie.  She shot everything in color until one day her friend Mike Colon suggested she try shooting her black and whites in camera.  Doubtfully, Natalie obeyed, and this is what she discovered:

  1. In camera black and whites force creativity.WOW!  It’s like a creative infusion from the Heavens.  When you’re shooting in camera black and whites you’re making a creative decision as you depress the shutter.  It’s empowering AND it forces you to really focus and think things through to the end as you shoot rather than mentally using Photoshop as a crutch for sloppy photography. It makes you WORK HARDER, and I find that when you work harder on one aspect of your photography, all aspects tend to benefit.
  2. They just look better!Black and whites shot in camera are more organic and less “muddy,” thus requiring less work in post processing.  When I shoot my black and whites in camera I find that basically all I need after the fact is a slight contrast boost and perhaps a sepia overlay at a low opacity (see my post on custom black and whites) if I’m going for something with a more antiqued look. I’ll be honest with you, I can get the same affect with color images converted to black and white in Photoshop, but it takes a heck of a lot more tweaking to get the desired result.  Since I’m all over simplicity, in camera conversions have turned out to be my cup of tea.
  3. It’s fun!As I’m shooting my black and whites in camera and I check that LCD, it’s refreshing and fun to see those black and white images staring back at me!  Woot woot!

Now do the reasons just listed in favor of in camera conversions trump those presented at the top of the post in opposition?  Meh. It’s preferencial really. But it’s definitely something to think about.

Happy Shooting!

Note from Darren: Of course in photography for every person’s approach there’s another one. I prefer to convert to Black and White later – I talk about why here. What approach do you take?

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

  • scott hume

    i shoot in b&w with my 400d and i find that if i want to go back later the RAW files have the color information…i mean you have to shoot in RAW setting, but again you kind of get the best of both worlds, if you will.

  • jennifer

    oh my goodness. all this discussion. some people like to shoot in b&w once in a while. some people hang onto what it really feels like to shoot in b&w. some people don’t agree, change it later in photoshop. we should stop talking (myself included) and get out there and shoot more!! :-D shoot shoot shoot.

  • http://mightymarce.blogspot.com Marcy

    I experimented with shooting in B&W in-camera once, but the images I saw in the viewfinder just looked… blah. So I haven’t tried it again. This post’s making me think I should try it out again. Thanks =)

  • vamsi

    I’m so happy to read this article, couse I can see that I’m not the only “fool” in the world. Actually, some days back I got idea to shot only in B&W in-camera (of course – RAW), and it’s all fun and interesting. I converted my images to B&W anyway, so why bother. Only I’m disappointed that b/w filters form film cameras don’t work well with digital, neither in-camera filters don’t work like those on film. I have set of Cokin filters and wanted to use them on my 40D like I did on b/w films.

  • Markb

    I always shoot everything in colour and convert to B&W in post production. My Nikon D80 is good but I don’t trust it to make all the decisions for me. If you shoot B&W you are leaving all the work to the camera and with that loosing flexability. I shot some gritty high contrast looking B&W shots which I could not get the same effect in camera.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/colinthedog/3236738416/

  • http://www.springtreeroad.com/springtreeroad/november-in-bw/ maya | springtree road

    i normally convert, but i did a whole month shooting in black and white this past november and it was wonderful. i plan to do it again next year, but i haven’t decided on if it’ll be a whole month or not.

  • Tigre

    I agree that shooting BW is very challenging and bring nice result too, but I thing that in camera BW is ok if you are experimenting, have no time for pp, or just doing some personal shooting, the only cons I find shooting in camera BW is that later on if you change your mind, cannot convert the BW in to colors.

  • johnp

    Fred
    This is getting side-tracked I know so I’ll try to keep it brief, but I’ve actually gone back to prefering the K10D jpegs over the RAW even for B&W (note connection to forum after all!). In photoshop (elements) if you copy the jpeg layer/ high pass filter at 10-15/soft light, you will quickly greatly improve the image. You then can quickly get a very subtle blur affect by erasing (rubber tool) the background and any oversharp edges from the copy layer. You cant achieve that once a RAW file is processed (its hard to get back to the inherent soft image the K10D processes).

  • http://redbubble.comandshutterpoint.com Margie

    Re: the article “shoot B/W in camera” I whole heartedly agree with Natalie on the process.
    I enjoy shooting still life, portraits and architecture in camera set at B/W. Seeing this way while I shoot makes another side of my brain work as I search out the shadows and lighting and lines of an image rather than be distracted by it’s beautiful color. This was a very helpful article, and well written.

  • richard

    I think it’s important to recognize what Natalie is trying to teach here. It’s not about going out and always shooting “in-camera” B&W, from what I understood it’s more about using the process as a practice to make us better photographers. I like what she says about being forced to think things through from start to finish and make a creative decision from the get go. I think it would help any photographer refine their art.

    Also, we need to remember that there is more than one way to do things. The author herself says that it’s all a matter of preference.

    Personally I think this excercise can help us capture more of those “great” shots on purpose rather than clicking a million times and getting that shot on accident.

  • vanilla

    I’ve only started shooting with DSLR so I’m “sucking in” all the info like a sponge. I was also told to shoot everything in colour and then process it in pc if I want BW images. But even the person who told me that was surprised when I showed him the BW pix in the camera. There is something about them…Even when I tried to process colour image and compared the result with the one taken as BW, they were never the same…so, I would say it depends on the shot you want to take and on the effect you want to make…

  • http://www.freewebs.com/booksbya-k A-K

    I prefer this technique too… probably because I don’t have photoshop and prefer not to rely on Picasa… :)

  • Héctor

    what if you can have the advantages of shooting in colour and watching your photos in B&W in your LCD? let me tell you something…

    one day I was shooting some pics in RAW with my Olympus E510 and set it to B&W. When I loaded my pics into Photoshop Lightroom I realized that they were in colour!

    i don’t know how many cameras have this behavior, and really haven’t tried this again or tried opening the pics with other software, but here is the point: you can shoot in b&w in raw, see all your pics in the lcd in b&w, convert them to b&w jpg in camera, process them in your computer both in colour or b&w…

    maybe all the cameras do this, but since I don’t know it I wanted to share this experience with you :)

  • Lara Farhadi

    I just converted to digital a year ago (with a Canon 40D), and I’ve been loving shooting BW with it. I just think differently when I’m shooting BW – it’s about the light and the contrast, and the shadows. In color things read differently. There is a different challenge, and a different approach. A good color photo isn’t necessarily a good BW one, while a good BW could make a great color shot, but that’s a different story.

  • http://floggingkevin.com Kevin

    All the arguments in favor of color raw images and b&w processing are valid, but the creative aspect of this technique is just as valid.

    I shoot b&w in-camera when using Live View, as it forces me to compose my shot better. If I could force my viewfinder to be b&w I would do it because it would help me. Should you do that? Only you can answer that question.

  • the other Adam

    With digital I still shoot colour and convert, and not just because my D70 only does it that way… the channel mixer is cheaper than a new set of red and yellow filters for my digital lenses, and without them the pictures wouldn’t be very good. While I agree that you think differently, if I’m going to go “shooting in black and white”, I’d rather shoot film.

  • ice dragon

    cool pictures! using black and white enchance de pictures!

  • http://jameserowe@mac.com Jim

    I agree that shooting in Black and White (Monochrome setting) in camera is a great visualization aid and adds something to the process of trying to capture good black and white images. It DOES definitely make you work harder. Personally I like to shoot in Raw so that then, even though the camera was in Monochrome setting, when I download the images (to Aperture) I still have them in full colour so that I can do my own conversions through SilverFX pro (or not in many cases!).

  • Paul

    When i shot in raw and go to my files i have to change to black & white then it becomes stored in fine.Why wont it just take it in black and white.
    Sorry if its a silly question just starting out.
    thanks Paul

  • David Jamieson

    Hi Natalie. I use a panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 camera and since early in the piece have always shot in camera BW in RAW formatt. I agree with everything you say about it as I find that it makes me work harder
    (I’m an old wet darkroom splasher). I also,and don’t ask me why, get “cleaner” images to work with and spend much less time in PP than when I shot for conversion.
    Subjective is the Key word here,so basically I say “Whatever floats your boat” but I’d recommend that anyone serious about mono imaging give it a go.
    Love your site and the chatty way you present your various views.Best always…..David.

  • Martin Tolley

    I found that I learned a great deal more about light by shooting in B&W. If also forced me to look, really look, at shape and texture, element and form. Now when shooting in colour I often dial back to B&W to concentrate on the nature of the subject. Colour is so seductive it can distract. And if you shoot B&W in the camera, without the Raw option – you just have to get it right, it’s a really good discipline.

  • YourFrank

    Hey there Nat.

    I hope for your sake you’ve grasped concept of the black and white photography by the time, or if you’ve sworn to never return to this website. You’re very limited opinion on the CHOICES people have when they deal with their tools is sickening.

    Please. Understand that photography was originally an art form, not just a way to make a few bucks.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/aum_kleem/ Aum Kleem

    I alternate shooting in black and white – in camera – with full colour in RAW. I find shooting in black and white in camera helps one to found the grey scales for a composition more successfully. However, I take the majority in colour, and convert to black and white in post-processing, will change the camera to B&W in field to check out the grey tones.

  • W. Kim Heron

    I sometimes find it stimulating to shoot in B&W from the get, so this piece was a welcome affirmation of that approach. Also, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been flummoxed with setting a decent color correction and would simply give up and put my camera away but for the ability to shoot in B&W.

  • Terry

    I am interested in Street Photography and Black and White seems to be the style.
    Thanks for encouraging me to shoot in BW
    Terry

  • Sayak Chaudhuri

    Hi

    I’m new here in the comments section although I’ve been following this website ever since I bought my first camera. I’m a stickler for simplicity and I prefer the in camera B&W mode over shoot-in-colour-then-convert-to-B&W. My latest tool is an entry level Sony point and shoot (which is less conspicuous than the bulky dSLR or superzoom on the road – again, for simplicity).

    The reasons I favour in camera B&W over later conversion are – (i) less worrying about white balance, (ii) you really get to focus on the subject and the composition than the colour harmony, and (iii) more often than not, converting from colour to B&W gives out horrible results!

    Donno if that’s just me or if someone else’s come across point (iii), but it would be great to get some perspective on that one

    Regards

Some older comments

  • W. Kim Heron

    November 7, 2012 11:14 am

    I sometimes find it stimulating to shoot in B&W from the get, so this piece was a welcome affirmation of that approach. Also, I've been in situations where I've been flummoxed with setting a decent color correction and would simply give up and put my camera away but for the ability to shoot in B&W.

  • Aum Kleem

    August 22, 2011 01:46 pm

    I alternate shooting in black and white - in camera - with full colour in RAW. I find shooting in black and white in camera helps one to found the grey scales for a composition more successfully. However, I take the majority in colour, and convert to black and white in post-processing, will change the camera to B&W in field to check out the grey tones.

  • YourFrank

    December 6, 2010 09:02 pm

    Hey there Nat.

    I hope for your sake you've grasped concept of the black and white photography by the time, or if you've sworn to never return to this website. You're very limited opinion on the CHOICES people have when they deal with their tools is sickening.

    Please. Understand that photography was originally an art form, not just a way to make a few bucks.

  • Martin Tolley

    November 24, 2010 07:00 pm

    I found that I learned a great deal more about light by shooting in B&W. If also forced me to look, really look, at shape and texture, element and form. Now when shooting in colour I often dial back to B&W to concentrate on the nature of the subject. Colour is so seductive it can distract. And if you shoot B&W in the camera, without the Raw option - you just have to get it right, it's a really good discipline.

  • David Jamieson

    November 12, 2009 09:58 pm

    Hi Natalie. I use a panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 camera and since early in the piece have always shot in camera BW in RAW formatt. I agree with everything you say about it as I find that it makes me work harder
    (I'm an old wet darkroom splasher). I also,and don't ask me why, get "cleaner" images to work with and spend much less time in PP than when I shot for conversion.
    Subjective is the Key word here,so basically I say "Whatever floats your boat" but I'd recommend that anyone serious about mono imaging give it a go.
    Love your site and the chatty way you present your various views.Best always.....David.

  • Paul

    April 25, 2009 12:28 am

    When i shot in raw and go to my files i have to change to black & white then it becomes stored in fine.Why wont it just take it in black and white.
    Sorry if its a silly question just starting out.
    thanks Paul

  • Jim

    March 7, 2009 10:25 am

    I agree that shooting in Black and White (Monochrome setting) in camera is a great visualization aid and adds something to the process of trying to capture good black and white images. It DOES definitely make you work harder. Personally I like to shoot in Raw so that then, even though the camera was in Monochrome setting, when I download the images (to Aperture) I still have them in full colour so that I can do my own conversions through SilverFX pro (or not in many cases!).

  • ice dragon

    February 23, 2009 03:22 pm

    cool pictures! using black and white enchance de pictures!

  • the other Adam

    February 9, 2009 01:22 pm

    With digital I still shoot colour and convert, and not just because my D70 only does it that way... the channel mixer is cheaper than a new set of red and yellow filters for my digital lenses, and without them the pictures wouldn't be very good. While I agree that you think differently, if I'm going to go "shooting in black and white", I'd rather shoot film.

  • Kevin

    February 7, 2009 02:45 pm

    All the arguments in favor of color raw images and b&w processing are valid, but the creative aspect of this technique is just as valid.

    I shoot b&w in-camera when using Live View, as it forces me to compose my shot better. If I could force my viewfinder to be b&w I would do it because it would help me. Should you do that? Only you can answer that question.

  • Lara Farhadi

    February 7, 2009 11:18 am

    I just converted to digital a year ago (with a Canon 40D), and I've been loving shooting BW with it. I just think differently when I'm shooting BW - it's about the light and the contrast, and the shadows. In color things read differently. There is a different challenge, and a different approach. A good color photo isn't necessarily a good BW one, while a good BW could make a great color shot, but that's a different story.

  • Héctor

    February 7, 2009 01:57 am

    what if you can have the advantages of shooting in colour and watching your photos in B&W in your LCD? let me tell you something...

    one day I was shooting some pics in RAW with my Olympus E510 and set it to B&W. When I loaded my pics into Photoshop Lightroom I realized that they were in colour!

    i don't know how many cameras have this behavior, and really haven't tried this again or tried opening the pics with other software, but here is the point: you can shoot in b&w in raw, see all your pics in the lcd in b&w, convert them to b&w jpg in camera, process them in your computer both in colour or b&w...

    maybe all the cameras do this, but since I don't know it I wanted to share this experience with you :)

  • A-K

    February 6, 2009 11:56 pm

    I prefer this technique too... probably because I don't have photoshop and prefer not to rely on Picasa... :)

  • vanilla

    February 6, 2009 11:34 pm

    I've only started shooting with DSLR so I'm "sucking in" all the info like a sponge. I was also told to shoot everything in colour and then process it in pc if I want BW images. But even the person who told me that was surprised when I showed him the BW pix in the camera. There is something about them...Even when I tried to process colour image and compared the result with the one taken as BW, they were never the same...so, I would say it depends on the shot you want to take and on the effect you want to make...

  • richard

    February 6, 2009 02:55 pm

    I think it's important to recognize what Natalie is trying to teach here. It's not about going out and always shooting "in-camera" B&W, from what I understood it's more about using the process as a practice to make us better photographers. I like what she says about being forced to think things through from start to finish and make a creative decision from the get go. I think it would help any photographer refine their art.

    Also, we need to remember that there is more than one way to do things. The author herself says that it's all a matter of preference.

    Personally I think this excercise can help us capture more of those "great" shots on purpose rather than clicking a million times and getting that shot on accident.

  • Margie

    February 6, 2009 12:47 pm

    Re: the article "shoot B/W in camera" I whole heartedly agree with Natalie on the process.
    I enjoy shooting still life, portraits and architecture in camera set at B/W. Seeing this way while I shoot makes another side of my brain work as I search out the shadows and lighting and lines of an image rather than be distracted by it's beautiful color. This was a very helpful article, and well written.

  • johnp

    February 6, 2009 09:54 am

    Fred
    This is getting side-tracked I know so I'll try to keep it brief, but I've actually gone back to prefering the K10D jpegs over the RAW even for B&W (note connection to forum after all!). In photoshop (elements) if you copy the jpeg layer/ high pass filter at 10-15/soft light, you will quickly greatly improve the image. You then can quickly get a very subtle blur affect by erasing (rubber tool) the background and any oversharp edges from the copy layer. You cant achieve that once a RAW file is processed (its hard to get back to the inherent soft image the K10D processes).

  • Tigre

    February 6, 2009 08:28 am

    I agree that shooting BW is very challenging and bring nice result too, but I thing that in camera BW is ok if you are experimenting, have no time for pp, or just doing some personal shooting, the only cons I find shooting in camera BW is that later on if you change your mind, cannot convert the BW in to colors.

  • maya | springtree road

    February 6, 2009 08:09 am

    i normally convert, but i did a whole month shooting in black and white this past november and it was wonderful. i plan to do it again next year, but i haven't decided on if it'll be a whole month or not.

  • Markb

    February 6, 2009 06:45 am

    I always shoot everything in colour and convert to B&W in post production. My Nikon D80 is good but I don't trust it to make all the decisions for me. If you shoot B&W you are leaving all the work to the camera and with that loosing flexability. I shot some gritty high contrast looking B&W shots which I could not get the same effect in camera.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/colinthedog/3236738416/

  • vamsi

    February 6, 2009 06:00 am

    I'm so happy to read this article, couse I can see that I'm not the only "fool" in the world. Actually, some days back I got idea to shot only in B&W in-camera (of course - RAW), and it's all fun and interesting. I converted my images to B&W anyway, so why bother. Only I'm disappointed that b/w filters form film cameras don't work well with digital, neither in-camera filters don't work like those on film. I have set of Cokin filters and wanted to use them on my 40D like I did on b/w films.

  • Marcy

    February 6, 2009 04:09 am

    I experimented with shooting in B&W in-camera once, but the images I saw in the viewfinder just looked... blah. So I haven't tried it again. This post's making me think I should try it out again. Thanks =)

  • jennifer

    February 6, 2009 02:45 am

    oh my goodness. all this discussion. some people like to shoot in b&w once in a while. some people hang onto what it really feels like to shoot in b&w. some people don't agree, change it later in photoshop. we should stop talking (myself included) and get out there and shoot more!! :-D shoot shoot shoot.

  • scott hume

    February 6, 2009 01:04 am

    i shoot in b&w with my 400d and i find that if i want to go back later the RAW files have the color information...i mean you have to shoot in RAW setting, but again you kind of get the best of both worlds, if you will.

  • Lirou

    February 5, 2009 10:49 pm

    I shoot in raw and set the camera to b&w. This way I can see the imagens in bw on my camera as I shoot, witch is great to help you think in bw. Since it is in raw, I still have the option to make it colorful again in post.

  • Fred Albrecht

    February 5, 2009 10:29 pm

    This only works if you trust the way the camera creates B&W from its captures.

    There are lots of ways to generate B&W out of a RAW capture (and then some). I know that out of a given scene, I certainly wouldn't trust the camera's "black box" to generate the optimal one.

    For example, my K10d is well known for being fairly bad at generating JPEGs by itself. Using a K10 means shooting in RAW and processing yourself.
    I'm fairly sure the same kind of thing could apply to B&W conversions for either this camera or others.

    Either way, I'm certainly not going to trust something I have absolutely no control on to do my processing for me. I'm old enough to see an image in colour (the same way I saw the "real life" in colour and decided "I'll shoot this in B&W") and desaturate it by myself.

  • Mike Fendt

    February 5, 2009 07:33 pm

    i tend to shoot in Jpeg & Raw so i can get a colour and a B&W shot, Nice post

  • Ernie

    February 5, 2009 06:34 pm

    Hi there everyone, I have just recently bought a nikon d 90 and was actually trying to find how I can shoot in Black and White as I am new with DSLR's. However I can't find how to do it. Can anybody help? thanks

    ernie

  • Lorenzo

    February 5, 2009 05:35 pm

    In the past I used both "in camera" and "photoshopped" black and white... I haven't tried yet to take a complete black and white photo session, but I do agree with almost all you (Natalie) says, especially for what's concerning creativity! I guess every situation is different, so there is no a right way to use B&W.. Anyway, I usually take my in camera B&W shots, I used photoshop just if I want to turn a shot into a more classic or dramatic one.

  • gfahey

    February 5, 2009 01:27 pm

    I think it depends on the camera myself. I recently purchased a Lumix DMC-LX3 and it gives me the B&W shots I have admired from Leica's for years. I know what you're thinking but, really, in the "Dynamic B&W" mode it gives me superb shots that need very little, if any, PP work. I have used it more than my D300 lately as it is always with me, and makes me work a bit. It pays off and I highly recommend it.

  • Jess

    February 5, 2009 01:16 pm

    Well, I can't make much of a call on this, since i'm relatively new to digital photography, but I'm definitely going to try this. If you have a camera that can do RAW and show B&W on the LCD, awesome. I'm jealous. But for those of us who can't afford a high-end camera, I think this is a great idea. I fiddle about with lots of photos in GIMP, and most of the time, the B&W looks pretty average because of the lighting. I can certainly see where many of these comments are coming from, but if you want an end result of B&W, shoot in B&W. The worst that can happen is you get a shot that would have looked better in colour... and a dud shot? That's not going to hurt anyone. The only way it could negative effects is if you were getting paid for the photos

  • Mahree

    February 5, 2009 01:00 pm

    I don't like the way my Olympus converts to BnW or Sepia. The colors look "wrong" I use the viewfinder and not the LCD to compose shots and like others shoot in RAW. After I convert in Photoshop or Gimp.

  • Jody

    February 5, 2009 12:00 pm

    Nat I just Love your advise and work; so anything you say is gospel to me lol. I will try shooting in BW!

  • daniel

    February 5, 2009 10:32 am

    In camera black and whites is like shooting with a P&S compared to a DSLR.

    Sure it will do the job and in many cases it is a lot easier and will give a just as nice result but if you want more control and better results ALWAYS shoot in colour and convert to b/w after.

  • John

    February 5, 2009 09:56 am

    RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!RAW!

  • Alain

    February 5, 2009 09:32 am

    Just shoot RAW and have the picture style of B&W as others have said. Same thing if you want to shoot with special white balance settings: while the picture on the screen looks corrected, the RAW is still just a RAW...

  • johnp

    February 5, 2009 09:08 am

    I agree with Chas.
    I've never done it but I think if your original intention was to take a B&W image, for whatever reason, and you had a high quality LCD, it would make sense (if it is possible) to shoot in RAW + B&W. You could immediately review your image to see if you have achieved what you had set out to do. You'd also then have the option of post processing the RAW image to B&W while still retaining the colour data.
    I'd be too worried that if I shot only a B&W JPEG and it turned out to be the shot of a lifetime that I would only have it in B&W.

  • Bill Scherer

    February 5, 2009 08:57 am

    I shoot my Canon 40D in b&w all the time. Of course, I 'm writing RAW + small jpgs, so I still have all the color to work with should I want it, and I can do my conversion to b&w in Silver Efex Pro. It's really nice to have the b&w review in the lcd.

  • Eric M

    February 5, 2009 08:14 am

    Ya, not sure i agree with this either. Shooting in color and switching in PP gives you SO much more control in the end.

    This technique may give you a chance to think outside the box but in regular practice? Not likely.

  • Jesse Price

    February 5, 2009 06:08 am

    Fabulous idea Natalie. I am actually really excited to try this out tonight.

  • Tom

    February 5, 2009 05:46 am

    I think at least with RAW, you should be able to shoot B&W in camera, but be able to switch back to color in post, that way, if you want it in color, you have it!

  • Patch

    February 5, 2009 05:45 am

    I just checked my documentation to be sure, but id does say that when shooting in RAW format, the color information is retained in the RAW file, and can be converted to color post processing. That being said, it is advantageous for a photographer to shoot in B/W and review the images with an eye for the light/shadow/tone/contrast and all those other things that get distracted when you shoot in color. We see color, we look through the viewfinder in color, we process our world in color, with the exception of the colorblind few of us, so - it can only further our understanding of our craft to begin to shoot, and compose, and understand our world in B/W. The digital camera gives us the ability to do this in the moment, with immediate feedback, so we can say - i did this wrong, i should have composed this like this, etc.

    Having nothing to do with post processing workflow, understanding WHAT to shoot in B/W can only improve your eye as a photographer, both in B/W and color.

    That being said, i need to start trying it!

  • jeffrey byrnes

    February 5, 2009 04:50 am

    Id much rather shoot in color and post edit the photographs in Photoshop regardless. My D-SLR has the ability to change an image to black and white in camera but I much rather use photoshop and get a much better conversion and have true blacks and whites.

  • Alvaro

    February 5, 2009 04:17 am

    I agree with Natalie's approach, it forces you to plan the shot in B&W instead of converting later "to see if it looks better". If you are using a dslr just shoot RAW (or any RAW enabled camera for that matter). You exercise your creativity while planning B&W shots and view the result right away, but you retain color information so you have more flexibilty in post processing if you want to change anything.

    But if I were shooting JPEGs I'd still shoot color and post-process. ;-)

  • Amandalynn

    February 5, 2009 04:09 am

    I think that shooting exclusively in B&W is a good practice tool to use for self-teaching purposes. Being able to "see" things in B&W when they're actually in color is something that can be invaluable both, artistically and technically, because without the distraction of color you're forced to focus on light, composition, line, shape, etc... and having a good understanding of these things is the key to taking a good photo... And frankly, sometimes it is fun to just mix things up a bit, limitations can be a good thing because they do make you think your way around problems differently.

    HOWEVER, as far as the work in post processing to making a colored image into a good "organic" black and white, the tweaking required to do that is still far less time consuming than the work required to turn a black & white photo into a colored one. And there are quite a few excellent PS actions available that will quickly do all of the level adjustments for you in order to rapidly make your B&W post processing easy and perfect.

  • Danferno

    February 5, 2009 03:52 am

    dSLRs let you shoot in B&W and still have a colour image (I think it only works in RAW). I did it once, when making an image of my grandma at her anniversary and DAMN it looks superb. The colour version couldn't match it and neither could the Sepia-overlayed one.
    B&W, Sepia and Colour all from the same shot - power to RAW.

  • cristiano007

    February 5, 2009 03:13 am

    Ansel Adams', Cartier-Bresson's and Lartigue's viewfinder were in color, so I think I can survive using the same and my imagination. To use in-camera B&W (and RAW) is a good exercise to do sometimes but not to use the files. Digital sensors are not meant to do monochrome photos... Sorry.

  • NormMonkey

    February 5, 2009 02:45 am

    I think readers are missing the point:

    In-camera B & W helps you visualize in real-time (or for dSLR users shooting through the viewfinder and reviewing on the LCD, in near-real-time) what the results are.

    Highly experienced photogs can probably look at a colour image and 'know' what it will look like in B & W, but for the rest of us, seeing the B & W results while we're shooting helps us adapt our shooting to meet our B & W goals during the session.

  • Brian Auer

    February 5, 2009 02:41 am

    I don't know... I'm sticking with b/w in post rather than in-camera. You do get more options and creative control when you convert via Lightroom or Photoshop. When you shoot b/w in-camera, you get one option -- and that's whatever method the camera uses to remove the color. In Photoshop, I can think of at least a dozen methods for converting to b/w, each of them offering various different controls.

    If I really want to shoot strictly b/w photos (which I do quite often), I load up some film and go nuts.

  • dcclark

    February 5, 2009 02:19 am

    I think a lot of folks here are missing one big point: shooting in B&W is a good teaching tool! As Victor said, forget the colors -- focus on the light. Shooting in B&W forces you to do that more. Once you've learned a bit more about using light and finding interesting light, maybe go back to color or convert to B&W later. But for now, why not give it a try in-camera and see what you learn?

  • Alex

    February 5, 2009 02:12 am

    I do agree but only to certain extend.

    When I am shooting for Black and White I set my camera as B&W... this gives me a mental click that I am "working for B&W" and somehow drives my whole thinking towards a different kind of photo.
    Works wonder as well for reviewing in the LCD.

    Yet shooting in RAW so always have the change to develop in colors.

  • Leah

    February 5, 2009 01:57 am

    I don't typically shoot in B&W, because I like having the option of still having a color shot to work with as well. But when I do get the urge to shoot in B&W I tend to take the same shot twice - once in color and once in B&W, so I still leave all my options open but get to play around with in-camera B&W shooting a little. I don't think choosing to simply convert to black and white with a photo editing program means you are "cheating" or taking "sloppy" shots - in most cases I'd guess people who do that feel the way I do - they want to be able to have a color shot to work with, not strictly black and white. There've been a few times when I shot just B&W and later on wished I hadn't so that I could have the full-color image. But I've never regretted shooting in color and then converting a copy to B&W when I feel the shot would be nice as B&W as well as color.

  • Ilan

    February 5, 2009 01:54 am

    I disagree. Why limit yourself, especially when you can use RAW, which leaves you all the freedom in the world to convert the image later?
    It feels like saying - Don't use the viewfinder - It makes you WORK HARDER - same, same.
    There are many limitation one can enforce on himself in order to work harder, but I think it's better to THINK HARDER before you shoot. It may benefit more than ignoring those privileges a good RAW can give you.

    Am I wrong?

  • NormMonkey

    February 5, 2009 01:52 am

    For dSLR shooters, obviously you'll still be composing and shooting in colour through the viewfinder (unless you're using Live View) but you'd still have the option of reviewing shots in B & W on the viewfinder and allowing that to drive your creativity as you adapt your next few shots.

    Even more interesting: if you shoot RAW and set up for in-camera B & W, then you'd have the above advantage AND have the option to do the conversion in post.

    I wonder how the colour versions of photos taken in a B & W mindset would look? RAW with in-camera B & W would be an interesting experiment.

  • Rob

    February 5, 2009 01:47 am

    I like B&W in camera - mostly because seeing the preview in B&W helps me - but always shoot RAW+JPG when I do it. On a Canon camera, the preview is B&W and so is the JPG file but you have the RAW with the colour if you want it.

  • Victor Augusteo

    February 5, 2009 01:47 am

    last year during my trip to sydney, i actually turned my camera setting to black and white just for the heck of it. i had so much fun! to ignore color and just focusing on the light is just awesome.

    but later on, i went back to shoot raw again. just cant let that baby go.

    so yea, if you are shooting raw, this post is irrelevant.

    regards,

    Victor.

  • John Huber

    February 5, 2009 01:42 am

    Numbers 1 and 2 in the post get the idea. I am not a digital user (sadly - anyone got any extra D3 or 30D's hanging around?) but like shooting black and white. Now that DSLR's are being produced with on-screen view-finding it might be beneficial to use in camera B&W. Things look different and the eye is attracted to different plays of light and shape. It is important to learn to think in black and white to make effective photos in black and white. I hear it said be cinematographers and photographers alike.

  • melee

    February 5, 2009 01:42 am

    I'm with marcus. Shoot in Raw, with white balance set to B&W in-camera, and you get the best of both worlds. You see B&W in-camera as you shoot, but you have the option to convert to color in post.

  • Rowan Lamb

    February 5, 2009 01:34 am

    Well, after so many tutorials, and advice from almost everyone on the forums, and from my own experimentation, and just because of common sense, I shoot in Raw, and therefore all the images that are uploaded to my computer are in colour, just as Marcus suspects. Of course, I have the camera set to black and white, and the images that show up on my screen are in b&w, and I always visualise shooting in black and white, because almost all of my shots end up that way...

  • rhermans

    February 5, 2009 01:27 am

    Somehow this also translates to other way's of taking a picture.
    *Why would you spend money to get a lensbaby, you can always blur a bit in postprocessing, and you always have a focused shot you can use for something else.
    *Why would you use a different focus point in your camera, you can always crop till you've got something that fits the rule of thirds.
    I know the analogy isn't completely correct, but it has the same background Idea.
    When you limit yourself you are pushed to preform better to get the same result.

    One of the things I normally don't do is B&W because I always end up with a color shot that I have to convert to ....

    This might be the solution for me to really get to work in B&W, although a lot will say that I'm acting stupid.

    Thanks for the article.

    Ronny

  • Chas

    February 5, 2009 01:26 am

    Maybe you could do double: Raw + BW. Save you post time and you have the color raw if you need it. Never tried that so I don't know if it's possible.

    Chas

  • marcus

    February 5, 2009 01:23 am

    I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're shooting RAW, the above post is completely moot, since the RAW file is recorded in color and is only converted to B&W during the in-camera processing.

  • LisaNewton

    February 5, 2009 01:20 am

    I just started experimenting in black and white. I love the different feel of it compared to color. I recently did a blog post featuring a few pictures I took in black and white. These were all taken as black and white, not changed after the fact.

    I'm just learning how to make the changes via Photoshop.

  • Enrique Vidal Vijande

    February 5, 2009 01:09 am

    I personally like to keep all of the options open so sometimes, when I know I want the result to be a B&W image, I will use the in-camera B&W function but shoot RAW (I always shoot RAW). This way, your previews on the camera's LCD screen are in B&W, hence you get the feel for composition, form and tonal contrast, but once you import them into Lightroom (or other) you still have all the colour information for more flexibility.

  • MeiTeng

    February 5, 2009 12:59 am

    Guess I need to try this out and see for myself. Thanks for sharing!

  • Bob

    February 5, 2009 12:56 am

    While I prefer to shoot color and convert (for all the reasons stated above), my daughter uses the in camera B&W setting often and produces some exceptional shots. The B&W setting inspires her creatively - which is really the point of Ms. Norton's article. A little variety in shooting is a good thing, being dogmatic about one's approach to photography can lead to stagnation. Live a little, try something different!

  • Fletch

    February 5, 2009 12:54 am

    One problem with shooting straight to B&W is that the method used by the camera's processor to convert to B&W (as all the sensor data is in colour) is not that good or flexible. I would not have been able to get this shot if I had gone straight to B&W but I did shoot with the intention of going B&W.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesfletcher/3250859389/

  • James Hodgson

    February 5, 2009 12:50 am

    With my Canon 350D, I shoot RAW, but have the "Custom Parameters" set to B/W.

    This gives me the best of both worlds in that the review picture on the screen on the back of the camera is in B&W, but the RAW file still has the colour information in it, should I change my mind later.

  • tyler

    February 5, 2009 12:46 am

    It's a neat gimmick, but I always start with the most info possible and then edit down. Shooting real b&w film in not the same as a conversion. Film has qualities that a digital image will not have. Seeing so many people come into photography without learning to print a photo with wet chemistry sort of irks me personally. Black and white is not a gimmick or trick, it is history.

  • brian..

    February 5, 2009 12:46 am

    I sometimes do this as well.. shooting in camera bw feels almost to me how film photography did. It forces you to slow down and really think about the shot before you press the shutter. We are all guilty of shooting tons of images in hopes for one good one that we can salvage in photoshop. I am a heavy user of photoshop myself, and do not have a problem with post processing as long as it improves the final image. But in this overly complicated and tech world we live in.. it's nice in a way (whatever way we can with a digital camera) to step back to the roots of photography. For those of us who can't really afford the expense of film.. shooting in -camera bw is one small way to enjoy the true art of photography, the way it was originally intended.

  • John Douglas

    February 5, 2009 12:43 am

    I also do not agree. If I select RAW and pick a B&W option on my Canon 40D, the preview shot on my camera's LCD is in B&W, although all of the color information is preserved in the RAW file for later work in post production. I find myself at times getting shots with great subject matter and composition but with issues that can be corrected - if I have RAW to work with. If not, I'm pretty much stuck with the choices the camera and I made at the moment the shot was taken. I understand that's part of Natalie's point, but it doesn't work for me.

  • Baldur Pan

    February 5, 2009 12:26 am

    I don't think this is entirely true. Unless you are not shooting in RAW of course.
    When you shoot in RAW you will just see the photo in Black & White on the LCD screen but the color information is still all there when you go and process the RAW file. :)

  • Will

    February 5, 2009 12:22 am

    I think that it also makes a difference shooting in BW, because once you SEE your photo in colour, even if you photoshop it to BW, it'll look off, because you KNOW what it looks like in colour. Does that make any sense? Part of the mystique of BW is that you CAN'T imagine what the shot would look like in colour, and that's what makes it special.

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