You should be making the decisions – not your camera
I love photographing dogs. They have such a lovely texture in their fur. A friendly dog loves the attention too so you can have fun together with a camera. However, it struck me that this shot might not be that good in black and white. I ‘quite’ like it. But, I am very glad I did not take it in black and white because I prefer the full colour shot. Lets look at the reasoning…
Most cameras these days can directly take black and white photographs. From the push of the shutter button you get a black and white (or greyscale) picture. However, the process that takes place is quite interesting. The digital sensor is just hardware. It takes a full colour shot every shot. Next, the on-board computer does some processing. This processing is controlled by a computer program. The camera manufacturer has worked out what they think is a good black and white picture. The program tells the computer to process the file according to their ideas. It also tells the computer to dump all data from the shot not used in the final picture. The result is an interpretation by a computer program written by someone who was not there when the shot was taken. And, to add insult to injury, the rest of the data is thrown away. The colour can never be retrieved.
It’s possible that the shot is good. However, a lot of personal choice goes into a black and white photograph. The depth of contrasts, the blending of the colours, the tonal variations and the intensity of the blacks and whites are all contributing factors to how my photograph comes out. My black and white preferences are not something that can be accurately reproduced by computer program. And, they certainly cannot be reproduced on every shot.
On the other hand you can take a full colour picture and process it yourself. This gives you the ability to control the factors that make a black and white photograph so potent. And, at the same time, you have also got a copy of the full colour version in case the black and white photo did not work out as you hoped.
In the case of the picture above, I preferred the full colour shot. I would have been very disappointed if I had taken a black and white and it did not work out. Because I would have had nothing of value. Now, I have a full colour shot I like. I also have had some fun doing the conversion to black and white. Nothing lost, lots gained.
One important thing to remember. If you are going to do full colour to black and white conversion it is best to shoot in RAW. This gives you much better colour depth to do the conversion and more control over your tones. If you are shooting in *.jpg files then you will have little control as the camera has already dumped a lot of the data from the picture.
Don’t let your camera make the decisions. Do the conversion yourself and also have the luxury of the full colour version as well.
Doing colour to black and white conversions is fun. So there will be a follow up to this article on doing the processing yourself. In the meantime, here is the full colour version of the picture above.