How to Shoot Black & White with Digital Cameras, Part 2

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By Steve Russell

In my previous article about shooting in black & white I talked mainly about shooting (saving images) in Camera RAW and then converting them to B&W. As a follow-up to that article, today I’m also going to include an image that was shot or saved in JPEG and compare it to a series of RAW images that have been post processed in Photoshop and Silver EFEX Pro, the same post processing software I used in the previous article.

On Monday morning, I returned to the same location and shot the same building that I had shot on Sunday morning. This time I arrived 3 hours earlier (around 7:00 am) so the lighting is somewhat different. Otherwise, everything was the same; camera, lens, location, photographer, etc. Again, I wasn’t attempting to create a fine art architectural image, only a demonstration. I selected this building because of its architectural style it looks old and I thought it would go better with B&W. Unfortunately, the tanning sign in the window kind of takes away from the “old” look.

This is the image captured in RAW – again cropped to approximately the same image size and content as the one used in Monday’s article.

This is the same image saved by the camera in JPEG. The only post processing was to crop the image. No other adjustments were made.

Just because I was having fun, I took the RAW image and converted it to B&W using Silver EFEX Pro and selected the default image the software produced.

The same image but I selected the “soft sepia” pre-set of the image.

This is the “antique plate” pre-set. I think it looks like an old daguerreotype image from the mid-1800′s.

Again, the same image but here I selected the pre-set that replicates push-processing. Those of you that have shot and processed B&W film will be familiar with the term “push-processing.” If you’re not familiar with the term and are interested in reading a short description about it, Wikipedia has this one.

So what have I proven?

Not much but let me start with an important difference between RAW and JPEG images. When I took the photograph my camera saved both a RAW image and a JPEG image at the same time. The file size of the JPEG image was 6 megabytes, the file size of the RAW image was 28 megabytes. What’s the difference? For the RAW image the camera saved all the data it could “see”. For the JPEG file it compressed the data into 6 megabytes and discarded the rest never to be recovered. The result is that the JPEG image, while a good image, isn’t as clear and sharp as the RAW image. Granted, you have to enlarge the image to about 200% of the original pixel size to really notice a difference but it’s there. Think about it this way. If you have a TV that can display full HD (1080i) programs look at the same program on an HD transmission and a non-HD transmission. There’s a huge difference in the two. Granted, today’s digital non-HD broadcasts are about 10 times better than the old analog broadcasts, but they’re not nearly as clear and sharp as full HD. The same is true with JPEG and RAW. JPEG just isn’t a sharp and clear as RAW.

The original question was whether it’s best to shoot B&W in JPEG or shoot in RAW and convert to B&W. As I said in Monday’s article, the correct answer is whatever works best for you. Here are some things to consider:

• If the only camera you’re going to use is a point & shoot or a smart phone then all your images will be in JPEG whether you’re shooting color or B&W

• If you don’t own any post processing software or aren’t interested in spending time downloading images to a computer and working with them in post processing software, then you’ll want to shoot in JPEG.

• If all you’re going to do with your images is look at them on the computer or post them online, then shooting in JPEG is fine. To me this is clearly supported by how little difference there appears to be in the images used today and Monday even though there are very noticeable differences when I view them on my computer or in the images I printed.

• If you want to capture all the image data available and decide for yourself what to keep and what to discard then you’ll have to shoot in RAW.

• If you want the sharpest, clearest images possible, then you should be shooting in RAW.

• If you want the flexibility to make dramatic changes to the look and feel of the image as I’ve demonstrated with the images in this and the previous article, then you should be shooting in RAW.

• If you plan to print some of your images, especially prints larger than 8X10, you definitely should be shooting in RAW.

If you’ve never shot in B&W I urge you to give it a try. If you like to shoot in B&W from time to time but aren’t always happy with the results, I recommend you play around with the images in post processing software, especially Silver EFEX Pro or other similar software products available on the market.

All Photos by Steve Russell

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  • digital inks

    Great tutorial. Very nice effect. Now I just can’t stop myself to try this.
    Thanks for the post.