Black and white photography is often seen as some of the most pure forms of the art. Removing the color and only dealing with the composition and contrast and how it relates to brightness in the shades of gray, black and white can often show an image in a whole new way. Since digital photography has allowed us the luxury of shooting in color and converting to black and white we as photographers can always choose how we want to convert them. A few digital cameras offer a black and white mode but the results are mediocre at best, and converting yourself can be the more rewarding while yielding the highest results. There are however a few mistakes you can make while doing the conversion.
Don’t use the Convert to greyscale option in Photoshop. This conversion strips so much data from your photos and yields some of the worst conversions available. Avoid this at all costs.
Poorly exposed photographs make poor looking black and whites. Don’t assume that because you over or under exposed your image that converting to black and white will fix the problem.
Black is needed to make an attractive photograph, it says it right in the name, black and white. If you’ve grown into the habit of using the histogram in Photoshop or Lightroom to show you the black and white highlighted areas don’t adjust the exposure or increase the fill light to the eliminate all the flashing area. Solid black in some portion of the image is not only acceptable, it’s needed.
White is needed in the same way black is. Again, don’t over-use the recovery tool in post processing if some areas appear to be over exposed, it’s OK to have some pure white in your image.
Grey tonality is what will make your black and white conversions truly magical. There are hundreds of Photoshop actions and Lightroom, each slightly different then the other. In addition to the actions, you can further tweak the levels and curves of your converted black and white file, but in the end, you’ll have to do them one by one. I have yet to find one way of converting a file, or one specific action that works on every single type of photo, so try a few on each and choose which one best fits specific photo.
Not having a properly calibrated monitor will cause you nothing but headaches. Nearly every computer monitor and laptop comes with the brightness level set to 100% and the contrast all the way up. This makes everything pop and look bright and amazing, but the reality is that the color representation to the real world is drastically off. If you edit your photos with the default monitor settings when you make prints or look at them on someone else s computer you could be extremely disappointed. That’s because with the brightness set to 100% you’ll be more likely to add contrast to the photo and the shadow area of the black and white will be edited incorrectly. It’s like trying to edit with a blindfold.
Avoid in-camera black and white mode. As mentioned in the opening, some digital cameras offer a black and white mode, it’s not great, it’s not even that good. The processor in your camera is but a spec of dust compared to how big the processor in a computer is. Shooting in color actually gives you more range in the photo for the conversion process.
Bad composition is not fixed with a black and white conversion. Black and white photos are often seen as more artistic and pure a form of photography, but having a badly composed photograph does not mean it’s instantly artistic by making it black and white.
The digital world means we can change the output of our photographs after we shoot, unlike film when we had to shoot with the intended purpose of whatever roll was in the camera. As beautiful as black and white can be, it can often be frustrating to achieve the perfect photo. Hopefully these tips will help eliminate your mistakes.