Black and White Photography Meeting Notes
by Bruce Switalla

Why shoot in Black and White?  (open discussion)

Almost always, its for artistic reasons, but sometimes for the practical.  Shooting gray scale for the newsletter, for example, shows you what it will look like before printing.  Like PCWorld contributor Dave Johnson says in his free Digital Focus newsletter, "Black and white photography is a technique born of necessity".,aid,110845,00.asp

Its how photography began in the 19th century. And now, for some, it evokes emotions that color can't easily achieve.  It has nostalgic value. Whatever the reason, lots of people like to dabble in black-and-white.

Though color and black-and-white film are very different, to a digital camera and computer, there's little difference between the two. A monochrome image is actually a color image that's been robbed of its saturation. (Hasn't that always been true?)  Its easy to switch on the black-and-white in your camera if you have the option, but if you later want it in color, you will be out of luck.

Its better to shoot in color and then convert to black and white later with some options in your software. In Paint Shop Pro, for example, open the image you want to try, then across the top, click Color > Grey Scale and the image is converted to monochrome, also called "desaturated".  Always save your creativity as another name or your color will be lost.  Dave says that this technique causes the file to convert to 8-bit total (256-colors), preventing further tweaking with filters. So you would then need to click Colors > Increase Color Depth > 16 Million Colors to keep enhancing.

For more control in PSP, you can desaturate using Colors > Adjust > Hue/Saturation/Lightness. Its dialog box has the slider we need called Saturation (and leave the Colorize box unchecked). Dragging the slider down to minus 100 removes the color as before, but only going to minus 30 or 50 allows you to experiment with just a little color for effect. Furthermore, you can use the Hue slider to create special effects, like a sepia (brownish) tone.

For a grainy effect, you can also add grain to taste with Effects > Noise > Add and set it to around 30 per cent. Also set it to Uniform, not Random. To make it look flatter and more old-timey, try the Posterize filter set between 5 and 8 to taste. Thanks Dave for the all the above information. Remember Patty's demonstration of Irfanview 3.97 available free ( with separate free plug-ins (they intuitively know just where to install). In Irfanview click on Image > Enhance Colors to play with the Contrast and other sliders.

I would not attempt to convert certain pictures, like shown at the meeting a flame-painted hot-rod that begs for color or a scene with colors that all have about the same value (light and dark) as they will all convert about the same shade of gray. Another example given in the lecture was selective color in an otherwise black-and-white setting (cat's golden eyes) using lasso-type selection tools.

Get In The Zone ... Not For The Faint-of-Heart

One of the most famous black-and-while photographers of all time, Ansel Adams, developed a system for exposing film and later developing it in the darkroom. His "painting with light" exposure techniques and zone system are taught at photography schools. Since it looks like digital can capture about 6 f-stops (click on the Linear gamma .pdf here: and Mr. Adams discussed 10 f-stops available with film, some conversion and theory needs to be dealt with here. For further reading on Ansel Adams's Zones techniques, here are several clickable references in one convenient place (note the total number of zones varies with each article! Some require lots of clicking through to get to the meat of the subject.):

Also examine your software manuals for standard and special methods to convert to black-and-white. The Photoshop CS2 Book For Digital Photographers, well-explained by Scott Kelby, dedicates a whole chapter to just Black & White techniques. Some of the first special-effects experiments I saw from the darkroom in high school were "2-color" done with high contrast paper and very simple subjects and then re-shooting the print several times. The finished product was like looking at the KFC Colonel's face logo. And darkroom solarization was done by exposing already developing paper to room light briefly. Try both now with your software!

Is black-and-white photography fading away? Well, looking at the Sept. 2005 Popular Photography & Imaging magazine, the article "Bleak & White" laments the passing of Kodak's black and white papers after this year. But have you seen the new K3 pigment ink system from Epson and its full line of printers that use it? Just these 2 examples illustrate black-and-white is here to stay though more and more in the digital realm.

The medium-format Epson R2400 is pictured below. Street price: $850. Note the selective color black-and-white print coming out.


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