In-Camera Monochrome Capture

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

On Friday I talked about coping with color balance problems in difficult lighting conditions. Well, here’s one way to make all of those challenges disappear; shoot in black and white.

These days most digital cameras offer a monochrome capture mode and while you can always convert your original file to black & white, after the fact, with Photoshop or your favorite digital imaging software, I’d like to give you a few reasons why direct capture may be better in some instances:

  • Aesthetics: Sometimes too much color confuses a viewer taking attention away from the real subject of the photograph. Shooting directly in black and white impacts how you see while you are actually making images and getting instant feedback with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras helps focus you vision; it’s already there on the LCD screen in black and white!
  • Workflow: There are many ways to use software to produce great looking black & 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, depending on camera) the quality of the camera’s black and white conversion exceeds what’s built into Photoshop, including using Channel Mixer or Black & White (Image > Adjustments > Black & White) function. Interestingly, when you capture using a camera’s monochrome mode the file may look like “real” black and white even though it remains an RGB file.

How I made these shots: Sometimes even a white car looks better in color, although the black and white version minimizes the distracting colors in the background. Some might say that adds interest but that’s up to you to decide. Camera used was a Canon EOS 5D Mark I with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 28mm.) Exposure was 1/100 sec at f/6.3 and ISO 800.

OK, I know what you’re thinking… what if you shoot in black and white and  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 often let you to capture RAW image onto one card and JPEGs on the other. That means you can 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. It’s just another tool for creating monochrome images and as such you need to select one 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 four bucks. For some reason, the Kindle price is really high.