Saturday, April 20, 2013

In Camera Black & White vs. Software Conversion

Black and white photography was never something I pursued personally - appreciated yes, but until recently not something I had a personal interest in producing. That all changed after being the adviser for a middle school photography club after the black and white assignment. Participating with the students sparked an interest in Black and White photography for me, and I will do a few conversions here and there through out any given year. I also have some ideas for intentionally setting out to create an image meant to be black and white as opposed to converting some of my collection as an after thought for images that look like they will work well as a monochrome.

Now when we look at modern digital cameras, we will always find a dedicated black and white mode where the camera will do all the monochrome processing. This may make it quick and easy to create black and white photos, but this does come with two big drawbacks if you select this mode to create a black and white photograph. The first being the loss of any color information (unless you are shooting with a DSLR on raw or raw+jpg). This may seem trivial, especially if you are looking to create a black and white work, but when going this route you just may loose an image that would be better had the color information been retained. Number two is a lack of control with the overall final image, you may be able to fine tune a little bit with software but the camera has pretty much set the foundation.

When it comes to software conversion, the big drawback is the added time it will take to do the conversion. While its true that you can have some base presets in most software, these presets would typically be image specific and won't always produce the look you are trying to achieve with other images. It may work as a good baseline, but you will likely need to do some more fine tuning. Really a small trade off for having full creative control over you final product.

So, with that in mind, below are some comparisions of an in camera black and white next to an image converted in software. To set up this shot, I placed my camera on a tripod and set it for a monochrome image on RAW+JPG. This way, I will have the full color information in the RAW file as well as the in camera processed monochrome image as a JPG.

For reference and comparison, 1st we have the color image:

Next, we have the in camera processed image:

Then, a black & white converted with the GIMP program:

And lastly, one converted with Darktable:

When it comes to the final product, I think you get much better results with the software conversion and that is what I recommend.  As a side bonus of having a better finished image and full control over the look, you also still retain your color photograph, giving you the best of both worlds.



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