The perfect black and white conversion technique will vary from photographer to photographer and rightfully so, because there’s truly no perfect technique. it’s subjective. However, there are three key areas that many photographers will overlook before exporting their files that directly influence how their final image will look.
Beyond what software you use, whether that’s Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Capture One, you should really consider what monitor you’re using to make your conversions on. Every monitor can and will display color, brightness, and contrast differently from another, even within the same brand of monitor. For example, when I’m on the go, I personally always have my Macbook Pro Retina with me at all times. I know that my Macbook displays really vibrant colors and more dramatic contrast than my monitor at home (EIZO CG2420), and that means I have to account for those settings. That means that I’m pretty much making an assumption of what my final image will look like without seeing it beforehand.
And for those of you who will jump down my throat about Apple computers, I love Apple. I wouldn’t go as far to say as I “bleed” Apple, but all my computers and handheld devices have the Apple logo on them. But even with that in mind, Apple isn’t known for color accuracy. It’s a brand known for vibrant color, because that’s what the consumer market wants. Your average consumer wants to see beautiful, vibrant colors. As a photographer, you’re not seeing an accurate depiction of what your final product will look like, which directly impacts it.
Yes, it’s a thing. A color cast is a visual tint of color in your image (usually unwanted) generally due to lighting or bright colors in the room. So, why is that important if you’re photographing in black and white? Well, for those of you who, like myself, add a tinge of blue to your image in order to get that silvery appearance in your digital black and white images, you’ll want to be very conscious of the environment you’re working in.
When you’re viewing your monitor under tungsten light for example, the warm temperature of the light can trick you into adding more blue in the image than actually needed. The same is true for the opposite. Additionally, really brightly colored walls in the room can do the exact same thing. For more information on that, check out my video here on color management considerations while editing:
Believe it or not, I’m still surprised by how many photographers forget about how important their final product is going to be for creating any image. Usually, it’s an afterthought, when in reality, it should be one of the first things that you think about. If you’re printing, remember that every paper type will show color and contrast differently and the final finish of the paper will further accentuate those differences.
In the video above, I show you a perfect example of how the cover of my book, "Photographing Men," looks quite different than the original digital file. Had the original image been used solely for digital use, I would not have needed to retouch the image as much as it was compared to that which was used on the cover. The print used for the cover wasn’t as dark as I had originally intended, showcasing every part of the shadow areas to be seen. This meant that things like blemishes were easily visible. The point is, keep your final product in mind when thinking about converting your image to black and white.