Possibly the greatest feature of mirrorless cameras is that they can show you exactly how your picture will appear before you press the shutter (see this column). You should leverage this unique ability to truly see the world in black and white. Set the camera to Monochrome mode, choose the right settings, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.
Choose Monochrome + Filters
Go to your camera’s picture style settings, often in a quick menu, and you’ll see an option for monochrome. You can use this, but you’ll just get gray pictures. Instead, you need to go into the camera menu to your picture settings, which are in the shooting menu (usually a camera icon). then, when you get to monochrome, you need to go into the monochrome settings for more options. On Canon camera, you need to press the INFO button to see more details. On a Nikon, you need to press the right arrow. It varies on each camera, but there is a way to get into the monochrome settings and see more options, like contrast and sharpness.
The option we’re after, however, is the colored filters. The choices for colored filters are usually None, Yellow, Orange, Red, Green and maybe Blue. These don’t tint your picture, though there is an option for doing that. These filters recreate the effect of using a colored filter on the front of the lens while shooting black and white film. These are simply a colored piece of glass that screws onto the front of the lens. It changes the way colors are interpreted into tones in black and white. For instance, a red filter makes anything that has red in it appear whiter, and anything with blue appears darker. This makes skin tones look brighter and creates a terrific contrast in your pictures.
Which Filter When?
You should try all these filters. When I make portraits, I prefer to use orange for a gentle contrast, but I like red when shooting street photography for greater contrast. I sometimes use green when making landscapes, but yellow works well here, too. You should try them out and make them a part of your regular quiver of tools.
You’ll See Differently
One thing you’ll notice when you start shooting in black and white with your mirrorless camera is that you see light more distinctly. Instead of being distracted by all the colors in the world, you’ll notice how light and tone change and grade across a subject. It’s especially powerful to do this when you’re learning to light people. You’ll be able to see exactly where the shadows fall without distractions. Plus, the orange or red filters make skin look smooth and blemishless.
RAW + JPEG
Remember one thing about the kind of file you shoot. RAW files are always completely unprocessed by the camera, but the preview you see in the camera is what a JPEG of that same picture would look like. That means when you shoot RAW in monochrome mode, you’ll get a color picture on the computer. That’s fine, and you can still use your favorite tools to make it black and white again (I prefer Macphun’s Tonality), but if you shoot RAW+JPEG you’ll get two files, one RAW and one the terrific black and white JPEG made in the camera. I find that in certain ways, the camera’s JPEGs are far better than you can do with most software–Lightroom isn’t as good as the camera’s JPEGs, in my opinion.
Everything in this article applies to DSLRs, too, but because you can see the world in your viewfinder in black and white with a mirrorless camera, you’ve got a leg up on seeing the effect monochrome makes. You’ll start seeing tones and light and you’ll make better pictures because of it. I can’t wait to see what you make.
The Mirrorless Camera Maniac publishes each week–check them out right here.