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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Best D-SLRs For B&W

There’s more to getting a good black-and-white image than just shooting in color and doing a conversion. In the field, take advantage of your camera’s settings and you can unleash its inner TRI-X!

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There are two basic ways to produce black-and-white images digitally: Shoot them that way in-camera or shoot them in color and convert them to black-and-white using imaging software. Both offer advantages. Most of today’s D-SLRs provide a monochrome mode. When you use it, the images you see on the LCD monitor will be monochrome, which will help you think in monochrome. The LCD image also will show you at a glance if you have any annoying tonal mergers so you can do something about them using colored filters (more on this shortly). And you can apply in-camera colored filters and toning, too.

Shooting in color and then converting the images to monochrome using your RAW-conversion or imaging software has its advantages, too. For one thing, you’ll have color images as well as black-and-white ones. For another, you can use a wide variety of software and techniques to get a wide range of monochrome “looks.”

But there’s a method that gives you the best of both worlds: Shoot black-and-white (or would-be black-and-white) images in RAW rather than JPEG format. RAW images are better than JPEGs because they contain a much wider range of tones from black to white, aren’t compressed (or are compressed losslessly) and can take a lot more manipulation in the computer without suffering quality loss. And because RAW images are just data until you process them using a RAW converter, you can process them to monochrome or to color. If you shoot a JPEG image in monochrome, you can’t change it to color.

Since memory cards are relatively inexpensive these days, I set my cameras to shoot RAW + best-quality JPEG images simultaneously. That way I have both—a high-quality JPEG image processed in-camera to monochrome and a high-quality RAW file that I can process as I see fit.

Colored Filters For B&W?
When you shoot in color, the colors help differentiate among subjects in the image. Many scenes look great in color but dull in black-and-white. That’s because two very different colors might be about the same brightness and thus record as about the same shade of gray. For example, if your subject is a plant with red flowers and green leaves, in color, the contrasting colors provide interest. In black-and-white, the red flowers and green leaves reproduce as about the same shade of gray.

You can make the flowers lighter or darker than the leaves by using colored filters. Shooting the black-and-white image through a red filter will make the red flowers lighter and the green leaves darker than in an unfiltered image.

Another popular use for colored filters in landscape photography is to make cloud formations stand out dramatically against a dark sky. Use a yellow filter, and the sky darkens while the clouds stay light. Use an orange filter, and the sky darkens more. Use a red filter, and you get a very dark, dramatic sky.

With film, you have to carry a set of colored filters to achieve these effects. And you have to remember to apply the filter factors to your exposures, since the filters block some of the light from the scene. But most digital SLRs that have monochrome capability also provide built-in yellow, orange, red and green filter effects, so there’s less need to buy and carry filters. And better yet, the digital filters don’t require increased exposure.

Predicting The Results Of Colored Filters In B&W
A colored filter will lighten objects in a scene of its own and similar colors, and darken objects of its complementary color. For example, a red filter will lighten red objects, and to a lesser degree, yellow and magenta ones, while darkening cyan (blue-green) objects. This color disk will help you visualize which colors will be lightened and which darkened when you shoot a black-and-white photo with a colored filter.

Colors on the same half of the disk as the filter’s color will be lightened and colors on the opposite side of the disk will be darkened when you shoot with a given filter. The farther along the rim of the disk an object’s color is from the filter’s color, the less it will be affected by the filter; the closer the object’s color is to the filter’s color, the more it will be affected. For example, when you shoot through a red filter, red objects in the scene will be lightened most, yellow and magenta objects will be lightened less, cyan objects will be darkened most, and blue and green objects will be darkened less.

Few real-world colors are pure, so results will vary somewhat from scene to scene and filter to filter, but this will give you an idea of what to expect when you shoot with a colored filter over the lens (or use a digital camera’s built-in colored filter effects). It’s a simple matter to review a shot on the camera’s LCD monitor after taking it to see the actual effects of the filter on that scene.


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