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Most of the digital cameras come with the option of shooting in monochrome or black and white picture style. A lot of photographers choose this option for taking black and white photographs, but the in-camera conversion into greyscale is far from satisfactory. Black and white is not just pure black or pure white, is also about grey tones. Ansel Adams and Fred Archer devised the “Zone System” for film exposure and development where zero is pure black and ten is pure white, one to nine denotes different grey tones.
Colours are easily differentiable in colour photography, the art of black and white photography lies in differentiating the grey tones. When different colours are converted into grey tones, the conversion should depict individual grey tones for each colour. This, most of the times, is not achievable when photographs are taken in monochrome picture style, the camera fails to work with individual colours and produce a greyscale image lacking in tonalities.
Here are two examples, one colour photograph taken in standard picture style and another taken in monochrome picture style, both are unedited and SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera).
Red and Green are dominating colours in the colour photograph but in black and white option, the grey tones depicting the individual colour are almost identical and appear flat. This is a major drawback when in-camera processing takes place.
While post processing the colour photograph in the editing software, each individual colour can be worked upon depending on personal preferences. Even while shooting with black and white film, colour filters were attached to the lens to change the tonality of grey in the final output. Same principle is applied in the editing software, where intensity of each individual colour is increased or decreased to get the desired grey tone.
In the above photographs, the red colour is increased resulting in a lighter grey tone and green colour is reduced to produce a darker grey tone, the two grey tones are easily identifiable. Also some colours like yellow and magenta which are not noticeable in the photograph, have also been worked upon to get the desired output.
In the above photograph, Red has become a darker grey and green a lighter one by just playing with the individual colour sliders.
The above colour photograph is in jpeg format, where the image has already been processed in the camera and is compressed. This at times, may restrict in getting the finer tones. Shooting in RAW is always the best option if the photograph has to be converted into black and white.
The RAW convertor in the editing software give better options for converting into black and white, in the RAW the range of tones is much more wider as compared to a jpeg file.
It is time to stop using the “monochrome” or “black and white” picture style in the camera and start shooting in RAW format, if possible. Otherwise shooting jpeg in colour in camera and converting into greyscale using an editing software is a better option any day. Shooting in colour also gives the option of retaining the colour version and creating a separate black and white version, it is not an easy task to add back colours in a ‘monochrome picture style’ image.