Beginners tip: black and white photos


New VrindabanBlack and white images on film have a grainy look unlike that of digital. It’s only a matter of time when old becomes new again. Video-editing software these days have effects that let you add grain to give it the film look. Film shooters who disliked the appearance of grain from high ISO, don’t fret. It’ll be in vogue again soon. This picture was originally photographed on Kodak Tri-x pushed to 1600. Processed with some strange cocktail which eludes me now.

Prior to digital photography, if you wanted black and white images, you had to shoot black and white film, learn how to develop it and then make prints in a wet darkroom.

With digital photography, anyone who wants to play “fine art photographer” can easily do so without all that hassle.

But before you change that setting on your camera to capture only in black and white, you need to know this:

Assuming you want the best quality, doing so will tell the camera to dump information from your files especially if you’re shooting JPEGs.

All color images are really 3 black and white images in red, blue and green channels.

When you tell the camera to capture in black & white, the camera dumps digital information because the resulting file you get is smaller.

A Simple Test

You may have to dig out your camera manual if you’ve never done this.

Here’s a step-by-step if you own a Canon 40D. Other models of Canon DSLRs should be very similar.


You’ll be taking 2 pictures.


One with camera set to capture in Monochrome or BW.

The other in color. When you bring the image up on your LCD, you can confirm the color image, in my example with JPEG set in Large, is 1.83 MB.

The Monochrome image is only 1.46 MB.

Don’t forget to reset the Picture Style to default which is Standard (or color) when you’re done.

By all means if you are having trouble visualizing the tones, change the settings for your camera for one shot to give you a rough idea.

But always, always shoot in color for best quality and convert to BW in post production using any of the software like iPhoto, Aperture, Photoshop or Lightroom.

2 thoughts on “Beginners tip: black and white photos”

  1. Shane,
    Thanks for retweeting the post.

    I have to admit to never trying the Faithful or Neutral settings. I’m sticking with default in this instance.

    I guess if you are every concerned you can always shoot RAW and and jpeg to compare the “damage” those settings do.

    New Vrindaban was shot at dawn in BW film. It wouldn’t have worked in color because the sun wasn’t out yet.

  2. I often find myself shooting several pictures of a subject in color and Monochrome. will look closely at them and choose the one that stands out the most or creates a mood.

    I have a Canon 50D and have not ever used the Faithful or Neutral settings. Do you know of a situation where they are needed?

    The picture of New Vrindaban is stunning. I don’t think that a color shot would have done it justice.

    I used the retweet button at the top and it works great and is a nice addition to your site.

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