Monday, April 25, 2022

Digital Black and White Photography, a lesson on using Canon color processing with RAW files.

There are several ways to explore black and white photography these days in both film and digital. While I will be concentrating on Canon cameras and software today, other platforms have additional options with black and white. This discussion will also be using RAW files and it is important to do this if you intend on trying this yourself.

First a few background rules for those that wish to try some of the ideas in this article. Firstly, even though we will be working with black and white, the camera captures and records a full color image in the RAW file. This means we shouldn't be using color filters in front of the lens and that we need to keep white balance in check, although that can be changed in post-processing if you wish.

For black and white photography we set our camera up in the same way we do for color photography, except for one major settings change. On Canon we change our picture style, similar settings exist for other platforms, Fuji cameras can even do Acros film emulation. We again want RAW as we want to change things later. On Canon you select a the Monochrome Picture style and we have a few additional options in the monochrome mode. You can set the sharpness and contrast to taste or leave them at the defaults. We want to set the filters and toning to none. We will work with the filter setting a bit later, all of these options can be changed later in the editing software as well.

Now we need to go out and take our pictures, you can do this just any other photography exercise you perform, you can also change the picture style if you want to capture a color photo or two, but this isn't strictly necessary as we can restore the color information by re-processing the RAW file. You can also skip this step if you have some existing RAW files you can pop into your photo editor. For Canon users, I am recommending Digital Photo Professional at least to follow along with this discussion. If your editing software has similar options, you can use that instead.

With our photos on our computer, we can then take a look at them in our editing software. In my case I'm using Canon's digital photo professional. When we double click on an image we will get the image and a few other windows including our tool pallet. First, if you did not shoot as monochrome in camera make sure the white balance is good and then select the Monochrome Picture Style.

Now, we have a monochrome image we wish to edit, we can make several edits after the fact. You may want to tweak the contrast, shadows, and highlights, but first, let's try out the filters effects. With these filter effects you can re-process the image to virtually place a Yellow, Orange, Red, or Green filter in front of the lens. Yellow filters are used to dim the sky slightly and bring out the clouds in the image as this dims the blue in the image. The orange filter does this as well, but also provides some dimming in the green spectrum as well. A red filter dims out the green and blue spectrum increasing contrast of grass and other plants by dimming them down. A green filter will dim out the red and blue spectrum while brighting the greens in the image. Green will also slightly dim any exposed soil in the image from trails for example. Try the filters out to see what you like best for a particular image. There is also plenty of additional information that better describes how to use color filters for black and white photography.

Lastly, I want to cover, reverting to a color image. Since this exercise involved shooting RAW, we can adjust out picture style to revert back to a color image and make the appropriate color adjustments. If you have a landscape, you can simply select the Landscape picture style and make the appropriate adjustments to taste, you can also revert to monochrome if you want to keep the image Monochrome.

RAW images give us a lot of flexibility in black and white as we capture and record a color image. More advanced editing software can provide even more options such as putting in grain or even film emulations. Remember, that Fujifilm cameras have some film emulations built in to the camera and their RAW processing software, but other options are available in software such as Adobe Lightroom.

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