Why should you photograph an image you want to be black and white in color? After all, if we know we want black and white, what does it matter?

Photographing in color, converting to black and white later

With most digital cameras, I would encourage you to photograph in color. The reason? Artistic control. I’ll illustrate this using a single photo for a short example.

Converting from color to black and white is easy

In this example, I will use the Black & White converter in Adobe Photoshop. The controls are easy to understand and can be found in many photo processing editors. I usually use Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro 3. This offers a bewildering array of control, including emulations of various black and white films. However, for the purposes of this article, its simple controls will illustrate some of the artistic control of converting an image from color to black and white just fine.

Black and white adjustments Photoshop.
Using the Black & White converter before making any adjustments.

The Black & White converter has color filters, as you can see in the screenshot. Play with some of these. You can see how, despite the fact that your preview is black and white, it changes quite a bit depending on how you move the sliders.

As a side bonus, this makes processing photos considerably easier for those of us who are red-green colorblind!

Darkening the sky a little

For the first example, I will darken the sky a little. To do this, I will darken the blue slider. If I were a film photographer, one of the ways that I could have done this would have been to screw on a red filter to my lens to block more of the blues. Or, of course, I could have done dodging and burning in the darkroom.

Black and white adjustments Photoshop.
One simple adjustment to the blue slider darkens the sky.

Here, however, I can use this slider instead and dial in the exact amount I want easily. I also have increased magenta a little to bring out some detail in the woman’s dress and mask.

Darkening the sky a lot

Black and white adjustments Photoshop.
I’ve darkened the sky quite a bit by moving the blue slider even farther to the left, but also moving the cyan adjust to the left as well.

In this second example, I want to darken the sky a lot. To do this, you will notice that I have pulled both the blue and cyan slider to the left quite a bit. Again, if I had been a film photographer, I could have done this by using a red filter on my lens. I might have had numerous filters, depending on how much of the blue color I wanted to block. Here again, I have moved the magenta filter to the right to bring out more of the details of the dress and mask.

antique photo with darker sky.
Just to show the difference between the two photos after using an antique appearance, this is the one using the darker sky adjustment.

Conclusion

Having the color information gives you more options. Color allows you to have considerably more control over how your grayscale image. In other images, you may brighten flowers, darken the grass, highlight certain parts of a landscape image, bring out someone’s eyes more, and make other creative decisions rather easily. Post-processing, with digital or film, can make such an enormous difference in the appearance of your image.

For almost all digital cameras, you have more control if you photograph in color using your RAW file, and then converting to black and white later. One probable exception might be if you own a Leica M10 Monochrom Rangefinder. However, if you own that camera, you are probably unlikely to be reading this article!