B & W vs. Color


TPF Noob!
Mar 23, 2009
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What are the benefits of shooting B&W vs shooting in color and converting it in post?

None, except saving more memory card space since it won't be saving color data. This really only applies to digital though. B&W film is win.
i always convert in post...although, when i set the d40 to mono it appears mono in preview mode, but then in raw all the color data is there...hmmmmmmmmmmm

and yeah....as far as film goes...B&W fo sho.
You can adjust tones in the black and white version by adjusting the colors. Plus it always leaves your options open with all the data present. You can shoot rar+ jpeg and set the jpeg to monochrome so you can see it on the LCD.
shooting in color and converting later leaves room for going back to color if you desire.

Once you have shot in black and white that options is not available.

ALso, converting generally makes for a better black and white full grayscale image.
I do this by shooting in RAW + JPEG using the Monochrome setting, Filter Effect>Yellow Filter, Toning>Sepia Tone. (This is with a Canon camera).

The benefit is that you can literally SEE what the lighting and composition looks like as a monochrome image, right on the back of the camera. B&W is about lines, shapes, textures, and tonal values. Since they are formed without color, B&W images depend more on lighting ratio and lighting direction to show the viewer what a subject looks like; in B&W portraiture for example, higher lighting ratios are necessary to reveal textures and shapes. Without color cues, lighting for monochrome needs to be "different" than for color. For example, portraits done with a big softbox often look pretty flat and dull when shot in monochrome, so using smaller umbrellas or smaller, harder-lighting softboxes can look better when capturing for B&W.

Shooting in RAW + JPEG gives you an out of camera JPEG for evaluating, but the full RGB color information is contained in the RAW file. If you want to end up with B&W, you might just as well SHOOT that way, light that way, and review your work in the field or studio the way you want it to actually look. Those are the advantages of shooting B&W in-camera.
shooting in color and converting later leaves room for going back to color if you desire.


I think the quality of a photo taken in color and converted later is better than a shot taken in B&W with the camera... I could be mistaken...
I never shoot Black & White, simply because 95% of my shots are destined to use color. However, I do the occassional B&W conversion using a) the conversion feature of Lightroom 3 or b) PS5 with Nik Silver Efx.

The primary difficulty I've noticed when converting my color photos to B&W is the appearance of noise. In the process of converting a color photo to B&W, the levels of various colors sometimes must be heavily tweaked and the contrast values pushed higher than normal. This severe tweaking can sometimes create a noticeable "grain" in the final B&W that is neither attractive nor easy to get rid of.

This doens't always happen, though. The factor that plays a large role is the degree to which the levels of brightness and color must be tweaked in order to acheive the desired B&W result. Derrel already covered criteria for a good B&W photograph as opposed to a good color shot. In my experience, the original levels of brightness, contrast, and color in some photos work very well in Black & White... in other cases, achieving the result means heavily modifying the original such that, were it left as a color photo, you'd see tons of luminance noise (also color noise, but usually less so). That luminance noise becomes the unattractive granularity in the B&W conversion.

A quick example: some B&W photos look great when the sky, originally blue in the color photograph, is tweaked to be very dark in the B&W version. But this generally requires tugging and pulling the blue color data so far that posterization occurs and/or edges around clouds become unrealistically grainy.

On one hand, it would seem that shooting Black & White would eliminate this problem by creating a photograph in which the blue sky would be nice and dark as desired. I don't think this is really the case, though. I'm pretty sure that when you shoot Black & White, you are simply allowing the camera to do the post-processing for you... it is STILL going to "see" a color image. You'll always be afforded more flexibility if you do your own B&W conversions from color.

I would say that the best thing to do is continue shooting in color, but use whatever color filters you would desire for your B&W shot. So, for instance, you would shoot with a red filter if your goal was to achieve a "dark" sky. Then run the B&W conversion digitally as usual. That dark sky should be much easier to acheive without having to tweak the original color data so much that it begins to degrade the image.

Of course, as Derrel mentioned, the benefit to shooting Black & White is that it would give you the ability to verify that you achieved a capture which will look close to what you desire as a B&W photo.

If, as SrBiscuit mentioned, your camera will display a B&W preview but record the full-color RAW data... that would really be ideal.
Thanks for the responses!
If I want black & white, ill grab some ilford HP5

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