Why You Should Try Shooting in Black and White In Camera

It won’t be for everyone, but I think it’s something everyone should try at some point: shooting in black and white (monochrome) mode in camera. 

We've covered this before, but here's a short video that might help some people out. In it, photographer Kevin Mullins explains how and why he sometimes shoots weddings and other things in monochrome mode in his camera. This allows him to see everything in black and white before he gets into post-production. Of course, the trick to this is to be shooting in raw. When shooting in raw, all of the color information is retained, but when you see the preview on the back of the camera, the images will be in black and white. If you have a mirrorless camera, this technique is especially useful, as the image you see in your EVF will also be in black and white. 

The short story on why he shoots this way is this: without the colors distracting you, you’re more able to quickly assess the light itself and will end up with better images. Unless you’re shooting something where color composition is vital, it could be a cool way and try and improve your photography and think a little differently about light. I don’t shoot in monochrome mode often, but I do occasionally, especially when I know the end use of the images will be in black and white. It’s handy to be able to envision that much more clearly what the final product will look like but still retain the color information in the raw file in case it’s needed for some other reason.

Mullins also goes into some detail about how to set up monochromatic mode on his Fuji cameras and a little bit on how the editing process works.

Do you shoot things in black and white in camera? Do you think it helps your technique or the final product?

Stephen Ironside's picture

Stephen Ironside is a commercial photographer with an outdoor twist based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. While attempting to specialize in adventure and travel photography, you can usually find him in the woods, in another country, or oftentimes stuffing his face at an Indian buffet.

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"Do you shoot things in black and white in camera?" Yes, often. I like the visual representation.

two shay

Good thing I don't listen to him

When I do street photography in B&W, I shoot B&W in camera Jpegs. I like the idea of capturing a moment and have limited editing afterwords. Kind of like a live musical performance vs recording each instrument/track individually.

Why not shoot in raw + jpeg so you have the option for color later just in case you want/need it? In either case, the raw file would give you more leniency when editing, even if you make it black & white in the end.

This is actually a surprisingly useful practice when you're learning to assess the quality of light in a given scene. I also find this to be a key reason that people should take up black and white film photography before color film photography (and why many photographic education programs were set up that way).

I shoot film only and BW is my default setting. I think it suits my style better and it allows me to focus on light, shadows, lines, shapes, etc, without the distraction of colors. (Also, it's easier to develop at home). I shoot color only if it brings something more to the picture. Therefore, it's 99% BW and 1% color for me.
I even shoot fireworks in black and white... :)

Hmmm something to try I guess.