Black & White … HELP!!!
“Moose, help … I suck at B&W!” That email came in this past week and echoes what many others ask seeking help with the most romantic medium available to us. The help these folks are asking for is not so much in the post-processing, but “Seeing” B&W when they are looking at a scene and through the viewfinder. There are many ways you can TEACH YOURSELF to see in B&W, here’s the current method I’m suggesting to folks.
Standing up on Steptoe looking over the spectacular Palouse, the pallet of colors is, gorgeous! Taking in visually all those colors and condensing them down to just shades of black and white mentally when we see ALL colors is the challenge. Having done this process for nearly fifty years and having an amazing teacher when I started out, it’s real easy for me. You can get yourself there by providing yourself a visual guide you can look at real-time.
Head into your Picture Control settings and switch to Monochrome. This is NOT FOR THE FINAL capture but to help you pre-visualize the final capture (shoot a B&W to remind you of the look you liked, but I do my B&W conversion in post from full spectrum image). You can see the settings I’ve dialed in. The most important is the last menu above where you have the Filter effects. I suggest you put the camera in S Advance firing mode and take one photo for each color filter. Then look at the images on your LCD. Hold the camera up so you can see the LCD and the REAL scene and start to compare what you see in both views. Look at highlights and shadows and the tones in between. Keep doing this over and over again whenever you’re out shooting and the thought comes across your creative conscious, “Would this work in B&W” and start to teach yourself to see the answer. Then, take it one step further.
Head into the digital darkroom and launch Nik Silverefex II and start clicking! Yep, you’re just playing while at the same time looking at the effect your playing with has on your image. Click on the prepackaged recipes on the left and look at the Global Adjustments being changed on the right. Then when you get it basically dialed into what you like, click on the Color Filters below (from the old Polycontrast days of the wet darkroom) and watch the changes in your image. Do this over and over again, teaching yourself to SEE how the shades of black and white change and YOUR preferences, likes and learn them. I wish this was the last step in the process, but this is just the first and most important to learning B&W. It will take out much of the struggle and make the rest of your learning easier. The one setting and slider though you’ll never find which is the most important, romance, is something you must apply from the start and carry it through until the very end!