Today’s Question: A photographer can let the camera convert to a black and white image or shoot in color and then convert it to black and white during post-processing. What are the pros and cons of each method? Which do you recommend?
Tim’s Quick Answer: If you’re capturing in raw, you’ll end up with color even if you set the camera to black and white. If you’re not capturing in a raw format I suggest converting to black and white after the capture.
More Detail: While a black and white photo only contains shades of gray, creating a black and white image from a color photo provides greater flexibility in terms of how you interpret that image. Therefore, I recommend capturing photos in color and then converting to black and white after the capture.
As noted above, for raw captures the photo will be in color even if you set the camera to black and white. The preview on the camera will appear in black and white, but when you process the raw capture on the computer it will be in color. Setting the camera to black and white can be an advantage in terms of having a basic black and white preview of the capture, rather than having to try to imagine what the black and white version of a color photo might look like.
If you’re capturing in a non-raw capture format such as JPEG, setting the camera to black and white will truly produce a monochromatic image with no color. That reduces the flexibility for interpreting the black and white image later in your workflow. Therefore, with a non-raw capture I suggest shooting in color and converting to black and white later.
If you capture a color photograph you will have more flexibility when later interpreting the image in black and white. You can, for example, adjust the individual brightness values for pixels based on their source color. You can darken all the blue pixels, for example, to darken the sky, and brighten the yellow and green pixels to brighten foliage. This translates into great creative flexibility in terms of using color information to better convert the image to black and white.
So, for raw capture you can set the camera to black and white if you prefer, as you’ll still have color images for processing. For non-raw captures I suggest capturing in color and converting to black and white during photo processing later.