Creative Options: In-Camera Monochrome Capture

by | Jan 19, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I previously wrote about coping with color balance problems when working under challenging lighting conditions. Well, here’s one way to make all of those challenges disappear; shoot in black and white.

Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer a monochrome capture mode and you can always convert your original color file to black and white, after the fact, using Photoshop or your favorite digital imaging software, I’d like to give you a few reasons why, in some instances, direct capture may be a better option:

  • Aesthetics: Sometimes too much color confuses a viewer distracting from the true subject of the photograph. Shooting directly in black and white impacts how you see when you’re actually making new images by getting instant feedback from the LCD screen and this helps focus your vision; it’s already there in black and white!
  • Workflow: There are many ways to use software to produce black and white images from color files but if you want to make prints fast on-site using a PictBridge-based printer or drop your memory cards off at a local Target or Walgreens, capturing the file in black and white saves time.
  • Quality: Sometimes (and this is a big sometimes) the quality of the camera’s black and white conversion may exceed what’s built into Photoshop, including using Channel Mixer or the Black & White (Image > Adjustments > Black & White) command. Trivia: When you capture using a camera’s monochrome mode the file will look like “real” black and white even though it remains an RGB file.

How I made this shot: I photographed this whatever-it-is car at a previous SEMA show using the same RAW+JPEG that I use for my studio portrait shoots. The camera used was a borrowed Canon EOS 7D that I was testing for the former print edition of Shutterbug. Lens used was my own EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (at 88mm.) Exposure was 1/160 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 1250. I placed the color RAW file on a layer atop the in-camera monochrome image and then erased everything but the Union Jack, anglophile that I am. Lastly I applied the Sunlight filter from Color Efex Pro to warm up and add a nostalgic touch to the photograph.

Mini-contest: If anyone emails me the name of the marque of this particular car, I’ll send them a nice prize. This site’s normal contest rules apply.

OK, I know what you’re thinking… what if you shoot in black and white and then change your mind later wishing you has made that image in color? Almost all DSLRs and mirrorless camera offers simultaneous color/monochrome capture using the RAW+JPEG option. Cameras with two memory card slots, like my new Lumix G9, usually let you to capture color RAW files on one card, while recording monochrome JPEG files on the other!

All of this is not to say that the best way to capture black and white images is in-camera. Direct monochrome capture just another tool for creating black and white images and, as such, you need to select a method that works best for any given shoot, so ultimately it’s your call.

So is in-camera monochrome capture that perfect capture solution? Nope. In an upcoming post, I’ll give you a few reasons why color capture and conversion later in the digital darkroom may be the best option. Or maybe not. In the meantime, you’ve got a few things to think about.


Ilight.bookf you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that’s now out-of-print but new copies are still available from Amazon for $21.88 with used copies selling for around five bucks. For some reason, the Kindle price is really high.