The Technical Side Of B&W

Shoot Monochrome Or Convert Later? • Filters For Digital B&W • Best Choices For IR Conversions IR: Fake Or Real? • Printing Digital B&W

The colored image of the koi and sparkling highlights was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105mm L IS USM lens. Exposure was 1⁄750 sec. at ƒ/19 to render the highlights on the water as stars. The image was converted to black-and-white using Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2.

Shoot Monochrome Or Convert Later?
Q When I want the final results from my DSLR to be black-and-white, should I set the camera to shoot in black-and-white or continue to shoot in color (RGB) and convert later?
G. Blackmore
Via the Internet

A Some digital SLRs do have the capability to shoot a black-and-white image, and if you’re shooting JPEGs and relying on the camera to do the post-capture processing, that’s a reasonable way to work. But the best thing about the digital realm is the expansion of possible interpretations of every subject. I never want to limit those options at the outset, so I always capture in full-color RAW format to get the maximum detail and quality my camera and lens can muster. Then I make my final decisions about the image when I’ve converted the RAW file and I’m working with a full set of optimization tools in Photoshop, including black-and-white as an option. Photoshop does a good job of black-and-white conversion and is improving all the time. Several plug-in software programs facilitate the conversion to black-and-white in Photoshop. My favorite is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 (, which offers a number of darkroom-like tools to allow the photographer to fine-tune the final black-and-white image.

When you work this way, every image you take is a potential black-and-white image of excellent quality, with a full range of tones. But when capturing images that you intend to finish in black-and-white, keep in mind that color will no longer carry the photograph, so composition and tonal range are even more important.

Filters For Digital B&W
Q I want to convert some of my digital captures into black-and-white images. When I used black-and-white film in earlier years, I added filters to the lens to gain contrast or change the tones of certain colors. I regularly used yellow, orange and red filters. What filters should I use when capturing digital images for black-and-white?
J. Crider
Via the Internet

A In the digital age, I no longer use colored filters for black-and-white capture, but I continue to use polarizing and neutral-density filters to achieve certain exposure and compositional effects. A polarizing filter adds contrast and darkens skies in the color image, which will carry over into the black-and-white conversion. I most often use neutral-density filters at capture to lengthen exposure and change the properties of water.

Those colored filters we used with black-and-white film aren’t usable with color digital capture, and if you’ve read the preceding question, you know that even if you’re anticipating black-and-white rendition, it’s best to capture in color. Now we apply the filters to the image after conversion to black-and-white in Photoshop using adjustment layers and color channels. Remember that a color filter on black-and-white lightens the same color in the image and darkens opposite colors. Thus, a red filter darkens blue skies, emphasizing white clouds, but lightens the tones of red rocks.

A digital image is composed of the colors red, green and blue (RGB). Even after you convert a color image to black-and-white, those color channels are still accessible to you. Increasing the percentage of the image composed of any of the colors gives the effect of a filter of the same color.

The latest versions of Photoshop offer a Black and White Adjustment Layer that facilitates the use of channels to optimize black-and-white conversions, allowing the photographer to easily change the percentage of six colors (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta) that make up the image, so you can take individual areas of color in your image (rocks, foliage, sky, water) and darken or lighten them. And in Photoshop, you can further select the area of the image to be affected by the color filter (as in just the blue in the sky, not the blue in the water), an option never possible with film and filters.

So leave those old colored filters behind. Because you now have the power to apply effects selectively in post-conversion processing, you can concentrate on capturing the best quality image from the outset—and carry a little less gear.

Best Choices For IR Conversions
Q I want to get into digital infrared photography. What camera should I choose for my conversion to IR?
K. Neilson
Via the Internet

A When making an IR conversion, most photographers choose an available camera they’re not using anymore. Let’s say you were using a Canon EOS 5D before upgrading to the EOS 5D Mark II. The 5D sits in a cabinet as a backup. But if you converted the 5D to infrared, you’d have a very useful 12-megapixel IR camera!

I’ve been shooting digital infrared for quite awhile, and as I’ve upgraded my DSLRs over time, I’ve converted a Canon D30, a D60 and a 1Ds. A 1Ds Mark II is my current IR machine; it’s an excellent camera, but it’s big and heavy, so it often gets left behind when I’m already hauling a 1D Mark IV, a 7D and a 5D Mark II. Frankly, I’d like to convert Kathy’s 5D, which is smaller and lighter than the 1Ds, but so far I haven’t been able to convince her to give it up.

If I was to start from scratch with an IR conversion, I would choose the Canon EOS 5D Mark II because of the 21-megapixel, full-frame sensor and smaller size. Nikon users might want to consider the D700 for the same reasons—full-frame sensor, 12-megapixel resolution and smaller size than the D3X and D3S.

My company of choice to do the IR conversion is LifePixel at Expect to pay from about $250 for the conversion. The price use to be around $350 to $450, so the time is now to move into a whole different light.

IR: Fake Or Real?
Q A photographer can duplicate the look of infrared in Photoshop. Why should I invest in converting a camera when I can take any image and make it look like infrared in minutes?
J. Johnson
Los Angeles, California

A Simulated infrared images can look somewhat like the real thing, but usually they fall short. When a digital camera is converted to IR, the cutoff filter that keeps infrared light from hitting the sensor is removed, allowing the invisible IR spectrum to record. So far, after-capture processing of color digital captures to achieve the IR effect isn’t as effective as the real thing because you’re trying to re-
create information (the IR light) that was never recorded at capture. The best you can do is to alter your color file to resemble the visual effect of IR.

To simulate IR in Photoshop, the photographer uses the Black and White Adjustment Layer or the Channel mixer. The best examples of simulated IR are with scenes dominated by green foliage, which is rendered white in IR because it’s relatively easy to change a dark tone to a light one in black-and-white conversion. There are a number of Photoshop Actions available that will make the changes automatically. One is available from Fred Miranda at

Printing Digital B&W
Q Which digital printers are best to get the highest-quality black-and-white prints with great tonal gradations?
J. Kincade
Via the Internet
A First, understand that a typical small inkjet printer with only one black ink won’t give you the tonal range you need to bring off an excellent black-and-white print. So if you’re really into black-and-white renditions, you’ll need to invest, or get access to, a professional-level printer that offers a better range of gray to black options.

It’s all about the inks. When digital photo printers first became available, they offered four ink colors (red, green, blue and black). Later, a medium black was added, but today we have three blacks and a variety of other color tones that, combined, offer extraordinary detail and range in both color and black-and-white images. Some printers offer both a matte and regular black ink. The matte is effective on matte-surface paper, and the regular is designed for gloss papers. The printer that I regularly use is the Canon iPF6300, which has a total of 12 inks, including the four blacks, of which only three are used at any time, depending on the print medium. The same range is available in smaller Canon imagePROGRAF printers.

Another consideration when choosing a printer for either black-and-white or color printing is the archival properties of the inks. Most of the large-format printers use pigment inks that will last 100 years or more with proper display and storage. Dye-based inks don’t have this kind of archival property because the dyes contain various chemicals that aren’t completely stable while pigments are essentially inert compounds. Considering that black-and-white, silver-based prints have always been regarded as the longest-lasting prints available, a serious photographer using the digital process should use pigment inks and archival papers to match these possibilities.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.