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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

As Simple As Black And White

Shoot in B&W or convert in Photoshop? That is the question...

treesWhen I think about great landscape photography, I dream in black-and-white. Fortunately, re-creating the delightful richness and depth that monochrome offers doesn’t have to be a nightmare. There are many different ways to produce images that are without color. Which is best?

One painless way is to capture the scene directly in monochrome by using the Black and White setting on your digital camera. Digital SLRs and many compact cameras offer various in-camera preset black-and-white options. Some HP cameras even allow you to shoot in color and then create a black-and-white copy right in the camera so that you have both, right on the scene.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the in-camera option. Clearly, this is the easiest way to create a monochrome image, and it doesn’t require any knowledge of Photoshop. No postprocessing of any kind is necessary. The biggest benefit, even for advanced photographers, is the ability to preview the image in monochrome. Especially when shooting landscapes, architecture and other geometric forms, it’s more accurate to preview the final monochrome outcome without the distraction of color.

CanonUsing the in-camera setting on a D-SLR opens the door to using glass photographic filters in front of the lens, just like in the film camera days. Use a deep red filter to severely darken a blue ocean or a green forest, or use a green filter for the opposite effect. Glass filters transmit (lighten) their own color and absorb (darken) their complement, so you can darken a blue sky to varying degrees by using a yellow, orange or red filter. In the case of many D-SLRs, you can choose a simulated filter effect from a menu. The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi, for example, has the electronic equivalent of yellow, orange, red and green filters that can be chosen from the Picture Style > Monochrome menu.

As Simple As Black And White Personal preference plays a role. Some people simply prefer the way an image looks when it’s captured directly using the camera's monochrome setting. "Many photographers have told us that they prefer the look of black-and-white images they’re able to get directly from their Canon camera," says Chuck Westfall, photography expert and Director of Media & Customer Relationship for Canon U.S.A. "There’s a richness of tone and a pleasing contrast that may be difficult to match in postprocessing."

The disadvantages? Color information is something that can't be restored later. If you shoot in black-and-white, you’re stuck with black-and-white. Of course, you could shoot the exact same scene both in monochrome and in full color—but that’s not always possible, considering subject movement and subtle lighting changes. On the other hand, if you shoot in color, you’ll always have the choice, even years later.


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