Q) When using a digital camera, is it better to get black-and-white photos by capturing in color, then processing as black-and-white, or by capturing the shot with the black-and-white setting in the camera?
A) There’s no doubt that shooting in color is the way to maximize your options, whether black-and-white or color is your intended final output. You’d achieve the finest quality by capturing a 16-bit RAW image and converting to black-and-white in image-editing software. This will offer you a great range of tonal values, and you can apply filters to intensify particular areas, such as the sky, as you process the final image. If you really want to shoot in the B&W mode, you can do so with Canon D-SLR cameras by setting the Picture Style to B&W. The final image will have the same file quality as if it was shot in color. This setting shows the image as a black-and-white on the LCD, so you can work with that kind of mind-set. The good thing is that by using Canon’s imaging software, you later can return the RAW image to color. Be aware that Photoshop won’t recognize the color portion of the RAW file with these settings and you’ll be limited to black-and-white. Nikon has similar settings on its D-SLR cameras. In my opinion, it still makes more sense to shoot a 16-bit color image and post-process to black-and-white, leaving your options open.
This image was a color capture, but it lent itself to a monochromatic interpretation. The image was converted from its original color by using a black-and-white adjustment layer in Adobe Photoshop CS3. By using this method, I was able to retain the original range of tonality in the black-and-white image. I always capture in color, even when I know at the time of capture that my final rendition of an image will be in black-and-white. This way, all my options are open at the time of processing.