Upper Ammonoosuc Falls

Seeing in black and white.

For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve been on a black and white kick lately.

The problem is that I don’t “see” in black and white, never. Rarely am I able to look at a scene and recognize its potential as a black and white image. Sometimes I get lucky and I do see the B&W potential, but mostly it’s purely accidental, with images converted to black and white on a whim, after the fact once on the computer. It shouldn’t come as a surprise because I never shot black and white film “back in the day,” in fact I’ve never shot film at all, not in a serious manner anyway.

Lately though I’ve been putting more and more effort into improving my monochromatic visualization skills.

Here’s how.

In camera.

Winter Wood

The beauty of todays digital cameras is that not only do you have instant feedback via the cameras LCD, you have the ability to set them to black and white white, thus seeing a preview of the images potential as a black and white photograph.

As simple as it sounds, with your camera set to shoot in monochrome, if the image looks good on the LCD it’s pretty likely it’ll look good as a finished image. There are of course a few ways to do this. You can go all in, setting your camera to shoot jpegs only in using your favorite in-camera monochrome settings, giving yourself a black and white image, and only a black and white image. Or, you can shoot in RAW, with your camera set to monochrome, where you’ll be able to see the monochrome image on the LCD yet have the full benefit to the original RAW file as a safety net.

Then there’s a third, and my preferred method which is to shoot in RAW + jpeg. I’m a HUGE fan of Fujifilm’s Acros film simulation built into their X-Series cameras(the relatively newer ones that is). I’ve made several black and white images that looked great straight out of the camera using this film simulation. Yet by setting the camera to RAW + jpeg, I’ve still got the full RAW file to work with for either a color image or if I choose to create a more creatively enhanced black and white.

I’d like to mention that the RAW only method does have one major drawback and is my least favorite way of shooting for black and white. Most RAW image converters, such as Lightroom(what I use) don’t recognize your in-camera settings – film simulations, etc., so no matter how good the black and white preview on the LCD may look, you’re left with just the color RAW file leaving you to figure out how to replicate that wonderful black and white image you saw on the LCD before you pressed the shutter.

The Beauty of Crystal.

After the fact.

Another way I’ve been teaching myself how to better “see” in black and white has been to go back through my archives, trying to find images that might work as monochrome.

The hope being that recognizing images I’ve already made that may also work well in black and white, that knowledge will carry over into the field. By focusing not on the subject itself, but on the contrast and textures within an image that may lend themselves to a black and white conversion I’ll be able to develop an eye for black and white.

I do believe this is helping me to better see in black and white, as the more time I’ve spent looking for images that might be good candidates for B&W, the more successful I’ve been in choosing photos that at least to my eye “work” as black and white photographs. By that I mean there are more and more false starts, where an image I thought might work turns out to be a failure once the color is gone.

Autumn Fallen

I’ll leave you with this, half of the images I’ve included were visualized as black and white images at the time of capture, the remaining image were converted from the original color image using Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Can you guess which ones are which?

farm house with a Mountain View in winter.
Mountain View
Natural Lines

12 thoughts on “Speaking of Black & White.

    1. Thank you! I too am mostly a color kind of guy, bunt every once in a while (usually after I’ve seen some amazing black and white imagery), I get the mood to see what I can create.

  1. WOW. Your black-and-white work is GOBSMACKINGLY brilliant. I tend to do a ton of B&W in winter, when a lack of colour makes monotone an obvious choice. Also love how it often increases the drama in photos.

    1. Thanks Frank! I also find that when shooting B&W in the winter works really well when you don’t feel like getting out of bed before the crack of dawn to go make photos. Then again, the sun stays so low in the sky during the winter months there’s almost never any truly “bad” light during the day.

    1. Thank you very much, and apologies for the much overdue reply. It’s funny to me how some scenes really do jump out at me as potential B&W images, because it is a very rare occurrence. Admittedly I sometimes cheat by setting the camera to monochrome. Because I shoot in RAW, or sometimes RAW+jpeg, I see a B&W preview on the cameras LCD at the time I’ve framing the shot. By doing so I have a pretty good idea if the image may work as monochrome, but I also still have the color RAW file as well. Sometimes too, even when I’m not looking for monochrome images I’ll still set the camera to monochrome when composing a photo. Sometimes color can be a distraction, and eliminating it helps get the best composition.

  2. #1, 3 and 6, I believe were converted from the orginial color. I venture this guess because I loved the fern green version sooooo much it feels odd to see it in B&W, even though I also find it absolutely gorgeous.
    Big fan, any which way, as always ! 😉

    1. Wow! I just realized how long ago you commented. I have to admit that until recently Ive been feeling less than inspired to get out and photograph, and even less inspired than that to write about it. I’m trying to relight the inspirational fires though.

        1. I hope so too! I can feel it coming back, slowly but surely. More and more I’m seeing things that have inspired me to grab my camera. Recently I had the pleasure to get back to photographing mountain running races(after a year off due to COVID), and while standing alone on the forested mountain ridge, waiting for the runners, I was inspired by the light filtering through the trees and made some halfway decent photos.

          The more I think about that day in the mountains, the more I think I should write something… 🙂

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