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Friday, 14 March 2014


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I started shooting film in B&W - I couldn't afford color. When I could, I tried carrying two cameras. Clumsy switching lenses, extra load. Bad idea. So I switched to shooting everything on slide film, and in the darkroom making B&W internegs. It worked. And I could use filters to adjust the grayscale, but it was slow, and I wasted a lot of interneg film. Now with digital, I make my B&W using Photoshop's Black and White conversion. It lets me adjust the gray scale, and contrast on the fly, and I don't lose time or materials. Its a great improvement. I love it. Some images require color and some require B&W. If I'm not sure, I can look at it both ways and decide. In fact, I find that some images work in both, giving different 'looks' to the subject. Ain't technology great?

On my EM1 I have made sort of a monochrome Tri-X facsimile "myset" and assigned it to the mode dial. I found that if I just increased contrast, the highlights would blow out too much, but if I used low contrast and then the in-camera "curves" feature to increase the shadows, contrast looked just right. Then I turned off any viewfinder exposure indicators (blinkies, histogram) and I could compose shots more easily based on how the shadows and highlights looked. Finally, I import raws into Lightroom using another black and white preset, and I never have to see the color version if I don't want to. I suppose if I wanted to go farther, I would remove the memory card when done shooting monochrome, and insert a "color" card.


I find that most of my best work with my E-PL1 to be done in jpg, monochrome, & 6x6 aspect ratio modes. I have tried using RAW but I find that my hand converted B&W looks worse than Olympus' in camera conversion so I stopped playing with it.

It is possible (probable?) that if I was making digital negatives for use in something like the Platinum process (sigh... someday I'd like to learn that) I'd go back to working with RAW but for now, in m4/3, I can get better results using what has been given to me and I can concentrate on the square, the light & the dark instead.

Yes, I have done this myself, though not often, because I realized that I had lost the ability to visualize in B&W (and my ability was never that great to begin with when I shot B&W film decades ago).

The Sony R1 worked exactly as described, B&W in the EVF/LCD with RAW capture.

I've tried it using live view on various Olympus 4/3s cameras, including my current E-620 and it works as you described. I suspect, though I don't know, that the micro 4/3s Olympus cameras work the same as the R1.

Do you understand why you "couldn't put on my B&W shooting head"? It seems odd, or at least so much at odds with my experience that it makes me wonder if it isn't the conversion that's letting you down.

No exactly about photo technique but, at least on my Olympus EM5, you don't need to shoot in RAW+JPG to see in B&W.
When in RAW only, just set the Picture Mode to Monotone and that's it, your EVF is color free.

When in LR (or your favorite RAW developer), you'll see the picture in B&W, but the color information will be there if you need it.

"Set the camera to shoot RAW+JPEG. Then set the JPEG to monochrome. With a mirrorless camera (there may be exceptions) this will make the LCD and the EVF (if it has one) show a monochrome display."

This is exactly what I've been doing for a few years now - it helps my previsualization tremendously.

Since I bought the original 5D mark 1 (subsequently replaced by the 5D2, and now the 5D3), shooting Raw, they have been permanently set to BW, orange filter, contrast -2, in order to get them as close as possible to how I used to shoot BW film.

The Canon DPP Raw processor picks up the in-camera settings automatically. All I need to do then is possibly change to red or yellow filtration, and then tweak the contrast curve into a nice S-shape.

I don't shoot much colour.

Oops, yes, what Gaspar Heurtley said. You don't need to set to RAW+JPG on either Sony R1 or the Oly 4/3s cameras, just set capture to monotone.

This works just as well with a smartphone. The fact that there are many photo apps with different strengths and weaknesses helps in this regard--I use one app for BW and another for color.

However, with a DSLR, what finally worked for me (as far as switching between color "head" and BW "head") was turning off the rear LCD entirely. This worked because I was already accustomed to shooting both color or BW film in an SLR; I'd merely gotten rid of the distraction of the review screen. Between the top LCD panel and in-finder indicators, I didn't miss much in the way of data. And this way I could switch between color and BW perception at any time, instantly (or at least as fast as my brain could).

I'm not surprised that many photographers need such a device to visualize in b/w, but I am surprised that Carl Weese is one.

Over on the Leica forum, folks using the Monochrom M (that has no color array) often cite the mental aspect of avoiding colors as the primary benefit of using the camera. My response to them has been that those folks who have spent decades shooting b/w film, as I have, can still visualize b/w without the need for the camera to flip that (mental) switch; rather, that's up to the photographer, who can see in b/w and adjust as if the camera has b/w film in it. And, with that same b/w film mindset, he/she is better off not chimping anyway, using an incident meter if the light is particularly tricky.

Just goes to show that there is no one size fits all, as Carl is far more experienced with b/w than I. In my early large format b/w years, I remember using a hand held 'viewing filter' to assist with the visualization process (for b/w conversion and framing). Whatever works to get the pic.

"I never have to see the color version if I don't want to"

Good idea—I use custom presets in ACR to do the same thing.

Also, thanks to everyone for specifics on doing this with various cameras. I don't use a lot of different cameras so you are filling other readers in with information I don't have handy. One of the great things about this blogging medium.

Granted this is an individual thing, but what I have trouble with is maintaining a mindset for different formats (uh hum... aspect ratios), particularly thinking and seeing panoramics- unless a panoramic (camera) is in hand.

My approach is even simpler—I don't chimp, use live view, or shoot with a camera that has an EVF.

I've reserved certain subjects for B&W, and others for color, and sometimes, the decision about which way to go comes after the fact, when I'm back in front of the computer.

I suspect that your memory of "off-topic" scenes or subjects was reinforced by seeing them in 2D on the camera's screen, and that's why subsequent conversions from color to B&W never "converted well". I'd suggest treating the digital camera like a film camera, but I guess that wouldn't be possible if your only means of viewing the subject (in an M43 camera) was via the EVF or LCD screen…

For me, that's another point in favor of an OVF—the picture isn't converted to 2D in my mind until I'm ready to work on it. I think this ties into recent discussions around how we remember travel experiences—are they remembered as cropped and composed 2D images on a screen, or are they remembered as a broader, three-dimensional, five-senses reality?

...or just buy a Monochrom.

Wow, can I relate to this. I almost always have my Canon 7D and Minolta X-700/Tri-X with me. I usually end up only touching one of them... whatever mind set I get into is hard to change. But when for some reason I only have the 7D with me and I see a good b&w photo I keep walking.... wishing I had the Minolta....

So perception is everything--whether you're taking a photograph or viewing one.

I have been doing similarly for several months with my K20D. Wanting to re-purpose an increasingly dated but still fully functioning camera I noted some ideas about input/output mindset here on TOP by Ctein and set the camera parameters to do exactly this.

I put a thread on Pentax Forums to document this process.


Dear Carl,

While I don't have much of a problem previsualizing in black and white, it's not at all uncommon. Motion picture directors frequently used a viewing filter so that their eye could approximate what the black-and-white film stock recorded (when you see a photograph of a film director holding up something that looks like a monocle it's one of those viewing filters). Even Ansel Adams talks about using one to make it easier to mentally guess what's going to wind up on film.

Your solution is a nice, elegant one. It certainly would make life easier; I may set up a preset for my camera to do that. After all, why work harder than one has to!

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

If you want to look like B&W film , which since sometime in the 40's has been designed to follow the sensitivities of the eye with a pronounces green bias , first set the white balance by using a magenta card instead of a white or gray card.

Then go ahead and

"Set the camera to shoot RAW+JPEG. Then set the JPEG to monochrome. With a mirrorless camera (there may be exceptions) this will make the LCD and the EVF (if it has one) show a monochrome display."

You can also do this with blue card which will darken the sky sort of like using a k2 filter on Plus-X.

Or if you don't care to pre-visualize , set the saturation to zero in lightroom and play with the color temperature and tint controls in the white balance.

If I have money to burn, I would go and get me a Leica Monochrom. Since that is not the case, I'll go and shoot some Tri-X or HP5 over the weekend. I have been guilty for not shooting film for some time now.

Have a nice weekend.

I do agree about the B&W vs the colour "shooting head" - or, perhaps, "shooting eye". It does not entirely have to do with the camera feedback, since optical viewfinders are not necessarily any impediment here.

But I've noticed that the "muscle memory" of using older manual focus lenses, does help engender a slightly different working attitude, than when autofocus is involved.

For me, that headspace seems to be quite strongly associated with making B&W-conceived photos (as I mainly did back when these lenses were new). Entirely arbitrarily, of course - but that's still useful, so far as it goes, so far.

"I'm not surprised that many photographers need such a device to visualize in b/w"

Jeff, this needs to be clarified. It's not at all about using a monochrome finder to visualize in b&w. In fact my approach with either a view camera or a hand camera is to see the picture directly, with the ground glass or finder being almost an afterthought. It's gestalt thinking, not a linear thought process. I don't think about triangles or S-curves to make a "composition," either. But this means that it isn't easy to have my subconscious ignore the fact that I'm using a color camera.

The point is to use the LCD/EVF as a *reminder* that I'm planning to throw away all that perfectly good color data the camera is recording. So, Chuck, shooting with an M Monochrom would probably work like a charm. Not too cost effective though, especially since I do almost all of my digital shooting intending to keep all that color.

One of the things I liked about the Lumix GH2 was the custom presets.

C2: 3:2 aspect ratio, quite a contrasty black&white, bracketing set to 3 shots at +/-1EV, aperture-priority and auto-ISO

C1: square, less-contrasty black&white, bracketing 3 shots +/-1EV, aperture-priority and auto-ISO

C3: 3:2, colour (a bit like Velvia, I think), bracketing 5 shots +/-1EV, manual mode defaulting to lowest ISO and spot-metering.

That gave me black&white live-view, with flip-out LCD panel, all the colour data of RAW to work from, and the ability to flip from closeup woodland nature stuff to long-exposure seascapes without spinning all the dials all the time.

Shame the sensor was so crap, really. The NEX-7 is way better, but I can't get so enthusiastic about its ergonomics.

I changed my LCD on my 5D Mark II to monochrome some time ago. It is a fantastic tool to help me set exposure compensation.

Dear Ctein, yup, my "C3-3" custom preset brings up this monochrome-reminder suite of settings.

So as someone who has always used digital, I find this discussion totally at odds with my mindset when shooting. Having never shot BW film, I know that I can make whatever conversion I want in software. The idea of having my camera only show me one filter of black and white, and then having software auto convert the images so as to never even see the color shot, seems like a complete waste of information and a limit on my ability to adjust the tone to my needs. When I convert an image, I get to choose exactly how to filter the colors and to give that up because it wasn't how it was done in the past doesn't seem true to the technology we're shooting with now.

I prefer black-and-white photography. Usually, I shoot b&w film. When I use my d200 camera, I shoot in color and convert JPEG files to black-and-white images. These images look good to me both as screen images and digital prints. Yesterday, I made a portrait with the d200 and converted it to a b&w image. Today, I made a similar portrait with a 4x5 camera. In my mind's eye, with both cameras, I envisioned a black-and-white photograph. Like another person who posted a comment above, if I money were not an issue, I would buy a Leica monochrom--this very minute!

Way too much to think about. I know almost to a T when Im shooting when something's gonna be Black and White, same with color. Though, not always with color because I try to be more critical about what deserves color. I try. Color decisions are ALWAYS a much bigger challenge..and I would recommend that people think about that much more carefully than they do. The vast..vast majority of images I see have no business being in color..that is, of course..if you're being critical and consciously making those decisions based on a strong Volor Vs Black and White aesthetic.

These days..just get a good exposure and everything happens in Raw and PS (for me)

Pre-visualzing BW with a monochrome chimp? Really? I tried it once with an old Sony R-1 and found it be a waste of time a novelty of sorts.

When you shot BW with a 35mm how were you previsualising ? You came to know what was going to happen after a while. You were shooting black and white and you exposed properly for a good neg and then printed with INTENT...I had BW film in my camera and all I wanted was exposure, composition and sharpness, moment and light...plenty to think about. When I looked through the viewfinder tonality and light became part of the decision process around composition in some sense..it came to happen instinctively. For landscapes..static stuff? Maybe a little bit of previsualzing if the light wasn't moving to fast.. but I generally could print from a properly exposed neg pretty competently. Lots of options in the darkroom.. with a VC cold light head you could do almost anything.

In 4x5 I shot Polaroids to pre visualise other stuff..it was nice to see a Black and White print in your hand, for sure..but I was using Polaroid for other stuff..Shooting to layout with dimensions and copy overlays, composition, sharpness checks via Type 55 negs.., lighting. For my personal work I rarely brought Polaroid out in the field with my 4x5 kit...4x5 is idifferent though..it's a downshift and you need to think about BW a little more carefully..BUT, the big concern for me was light and exposure for that light so that I'd have workable negative out of bracket of 2 or3.

I think people need to open their eyes and evaluate things more carefully. Look..and practice looking when you;re not shoooting..look. When Im out on the street Im set up with a good all around exposure for the period in the day and concentrating on composition, moment and focus..that's enough. In editing the BW vs Color stuff happens. that's really the only diff.

Not that some of this wouldn't be a good exercise but you have to free yourself from it at some point if your shooting living subjects.

I look at the author's picture of a car at an intersection and I wonder about pre visualization for BW in this case. I wouldn't think for one second about these days (digital)..is he pre visualizing for a Platinum print? different, of course....but I suspect that before he creates an Interneg for the printing process..there are lots and lots of digital options available to him..school me if not..ALL of course, IMO

I have my Rx-1 preset so that turning a dial puts me into B&W mode - I think of it as changing film.

And yes I would love a Monochrom to go with my equally fictional M.

I have been doing this Raw+B/W Jpeg thing for some time too for some time, and it helps. One further help to me is setting the white balance on the camera way off to 14000 kelvin. It results in a black and white preview that is more in line with the black and white films I remember (reds darker, blues slightly lighter).
I have never been too thrilled with the standard black and white conversions from digital, somehow they always look a bit blonde, mid- to light tones bunched up to close together. Offsetting the white balance curs that partly.
The settings are just for camera review, in PP I still start from the coloured Raw file, and use the black and white sliders in Photoshop to translate the picture. The big challenge is to get a certain black and white 'punch' that digital does not deliver on its own.

Carl (& MIke):

I just wanted to thank you both. Carl's recommendations for black and white in a digital workflow may well be the most immediately applicable piece of photographic advice I've received in my 7 years practicing as an amateur. I've always loved B&W, but having learned photography through digital capture, have always struggled with color-to-b&w postprocessing as I inevitably saw the photo in color, first. This method has me actually seeing differently.

It's wonderful.

Thank You,

Behind it all, in my mind, is the realization that we don't even see--in the viewfinder or on the groundglass--a black-and-white image when making a black-white photograph (unless we set the camera to show us a black-white image). Still, the mind is a powerful thing, and when I have a black-and-white photograph in mind, I see in black-and-white. It must be what Carl Weese refers to as the b&w mindset.

It's all I ever wanted to do: to make black-white photographs.

LIke Carl I am one of those that still shoot black and white film with large format, camera gear in the digital age. I usually have no problem 'seeing' in black and white in a color world when out with my view camera although I use a spot meter to help me with my zone placement thus giving me a better idea of what to expect in terms of tonal value.

I also shoot digital, color of course, I have never quite had the success of converting color digital files into black and white. I sometimes wonder perhaps, maybe I have the color image 'imprinted' in my mind as soon as I open it up on the computer, making it harder to visualize the said image in black and white.

Others can do this much better then I, Chuck Kimmerle is a good example of a photographer who's beautiful landscape work is in black and while he shoots with digital gear.

Also I have had the opportunity to shoot very briefly with a Leica Monochrom, instinctually I would look for things that were 'black & white' subject matter while using the camera knowing that it had black and white sensor.

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