Try BW to improve your composition

This image originally shot in color while I was on a visit home had muted colors.

At the risk of sounding ‘old-school,’ I really believe shooting images in BW can help your composition.

No, I’m not suggesting you set your camera to capture only in BW jpegs.

See this explanation why not to shoot BW jpegs.

Actually what you should do, if you have access to a raw image processing software, is to set your camera to capture in RAW but set the camera to display BW on your LCD monitor.

That way, you’ll retain the color information captured in the full resolution file of your camera’s sensor whether it’s 21,18, 16 Megapixels etc.

Should you change your mind about BW, you can process the image as a color image.

Why this approach?

Well, truth be told, color can be a big distraction especially for beginners.

Since many of you have never processed BW film and made prints in the darkroom, you may have difficulty visualizing how a scene would look in just shades of gray.

Gone are the distractions of the colored flowers, the shirt, the blue sky, the bruise on a hand or face etc.

In its place is your image expressed in shades of grey.

Thanks to the ability of most cameras to capture images in RAW proprietary format and software for processing that format, you can now ‘simulate’ how early photographers captured their world.

The key thing to remember is this:

  1. set your DSLR to capture in RAW. Nikons use have their .NEF files, Canons calls theirs .CRW.
  2. then for the preview on your LCD monitor, you can have your camera display the image you just shot in BW.

Obviously camera RAW should not be used indiscriminately.

If you only have a limited number of memory cards and without means to download, obviously you don’t want to do this.  Here are 2 other instances why  you might not shoot RAW:

  • If you have a prosumer grade camera and are shooting lots of sequences like your kids in sports, don’t do this. The burst rate will be crippled and you’ll miss the action!
  • If you have an older computer, it is not going to like it. Mac users, you’ll be seeing a lot of the spinning beach balls like the one on the left.
I photographed Grace originally in color but I like the tones in BW. The late evening sunlight backlighting her provided very important separation between the background and her dark hair. 1 Speedlite into a Lumiquest Softbox on the right (telltale catchlight in her eyes). Â Canon 5DM2 with a 100mm lens
I've included the original color version just for the sake of comparison. You can see the original doesn't have a lot of distracting colors.Â

Once you get accustomed to seeing in BW, you will start to notice colors that are distracting.

That means when you’re looking in the viewfinder, you will be spotting these and either physically changing camera position and height or  changing lenses to exclude them.

You should also consider moving your subject if you’re using available light.

If it’s a portrait and you want to emphasize say, the eyes of your subject, keeping the darker tones to the  the edges of your picture helps.

Likewise, if you are supplementing available light with a flash, be subtle. Don’t introduce light indiscriminately onto your subject’s face. It will only ruin the ‘feel’ of the pretty light already present.

Software for processing RAW files

It used to be capturing your images in RAW meant a drastic slow down in your workflow but these days even iPhoto will allow you to edit your RAW files.

Even Google’s free (no such thing as a free lunch, see section #11) Picasa has support for RAW format. Here is their list:

  • Adobe (.DNG)
  • Canon (.CRW, .CR2)
  • Casio (.RAW)
  • Fuji (.RAF)
  • Hasselblad (.3FR)
  • Kodak (.DCR, .KDC)
  • Leica (.DNG and .RAW)
  • Minolta (.MRW)
  • Nikon (.NEF, .NRW)
  • Olympus (.ORF)
  • Panasonic (.RAW, .RW2)
  • Pentax (.PEF)
  • Ricoh (.DNG)
  • Samsung (.DNG)
  • Sigma (.X3F)
  • Sony (.SRF,.SR2)

Peter Phun Photography

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