Last month, I performed a study of Black & White Photography.
It’s amazing how much one needs to start looking at their environment from a totally different perspective when shooting in Black & White. It is no longer about the colour that you see when examining scenes or objects, but rather about lighting and contrast.
Our eyes contain a series of photoreceptors known as Rods and Cones. Rods make up about 98% of the photoreceptors, and incidentally only ‘work’ in Black & White. The remaining 2% (which are cones) are sensitive to colour. They, in turn, are further divided into red, green and blue cones.
It only makes sense, when we consider the biology behind it, that our eyes soak up contrast.
Looking at the above two pictures I have affectionately called “Fallen”, one can see that both version work. They work quite well. But when looking at the Black & White version, our eyes get drawn to the highlights in the leaf much more effectively. We aren’t distracted by the shades of red in the dirt, and our subject becomes quite obvious. In my opinion, the Black & White version of this photo is much more effective.
In “Thistle”, while I appreciate the soft tones of green in the grass with the contrasting deeper tones in the trees, my subject tends to get lost. I find my eyes drifting to the trees in the rear of the photo first. In the Black & White version of the photo, the contrast and lighting allows the subject in the foreground (the thistles) to pop and stand out a little more.
When shooting in Black & White, your environment tends to be more forgiving. Sometimes it’s encouraged to overexpose your shots which will add to the variance of contrast you can apply to your photo during the conversion process.
If you don’t already do so, you should be shooting RAW photos when using your DSLR. This ensures that you capture the most of what you are looking at. For example, when shooting in JPG only, your images are saved in an 8-bit format. Shooting RAW will allow you to use your camera to its fullest potential (to a maximum of 16-bit). When considering my Canon 1100D, it has a 14-bit file format when shooting RAW.
When shooting in Black & White, it’s always best to shoot in colour rather than relying on the in-camera conversion setting. The camera will convert the shot to an 8-bit version as it will only provide you a JPG version of the photo once the conversions are done. (Imagine that with my camera, I would lose 6 extra bits of information!) This translates to a big loss in contrast that can really help your photo shine.
Conversion to Black & White can best be performed in post-processing using tools such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro 2 which gives you more control in the quality of your Black & White image.