Home How-To Shooting Black & White With A Digital Camera
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Black & White With A Digital Camera

Concentrate on tonality for the best monochrome results

Although your images will be black-and-white, it's still a good idea to set the camera's white balance for the lighting being used for the most natural appearance. Auto white balance should work as well as it does for color shooting, but you don't want to shoot in tungsten light with the camera set for daylight white balance, or vice versa. If you shoot RAW images, you can change the white balance after the fact using RAW conversion software. In fact, if you shoot monochrome images in RAW mode, you can even process them as color images using RAW conversion software, another big advantage for the digital shooter over the film shooter.

BarbershopFilter Effects
Black-and-white photographers frequently use colored filters to make their photos better. Colored filters transmit light of their own color and limit light of their complementary color; thus, the effect of placing one over the lens is to lighten subjects of the filter's color and darken subjects of complementary color in the resulting photo. Common uses for colored filters in black-and-white photography are to separate tones of different color but similar brightness and to darken a blue sky in scenic shots so white clouds stand out.

If you shoot a black-and-white photo of a green plant with red flowers, the red flowers and green leaves often will reproduce as about the same shade of gray because they reflect about the same amount of light. If you place a red filter over the camera lens, the red flowers will reproduce lighter and the green leaves darker than in an unfiltered shot, making the flowers stand out better. Conversely, you could shoot with a green filter, which would render the red flowers darker and the green leaves lighter. Either rendition provides some separation between the flowers and the leaves, and will be more interesting than the all-gray unfiltered rendition.

If you photograph a landscape backed by puffy summer cumulus clouds with no filter, the blue sky will photograph too light and the clouds will blend into the sky. Put a yellow filter over the lens, and the blue sky will record darker, helping the white clouds stand out. An orange filter will darken the sky even more, and a red filter will render a blue sky almost black.

You can place colored filters over your digital camera's lens to achieve these effects as black-and-white film photographers do, but this presents a couple of drawbacks. You have to acquire and carry the filters, and colored filters block some of the light, so you have to increase exposure over the no-filter setting; this in turn means opening the lens (and reducing depth of field) or increasing the exposure time (and with it, image blur due to camera or subject movement).

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