It’s as close to a law in photography as anything that photographers interested in producing the best possible black-and-white images should capture in color. Thanks to digital, shooting in color maintains image information that’s basically thrown away when you capture directly in monochrome or hue modes. Saving this information gives you a lot of flexibility during the conversion process, including such perks as enhanced tonality and the ability to return to a color image if so desired or needed.
Obviously, the problem with shooting in color for post-conversion is that it isn’t convenient. Modern black-and-white modes in cameras are becoming more and more sophisticated, and they provide decent black-and-white images without any time spent in front of a computer. While there are batch-process presets available in most popular image-editing programs, comparatively, a click of the shutter on a good camera sounds enticing, especially since batch-processed conversion methods often follow a similar desaturation process and end up throwing away information, too.
Another big advantage to capturing in black-and-white is that it’s pretty hard to see a black-and-white world with color eyes. It takes years of experience to previsualize how palettes will translate once they’ve been stripped of their saturation and hues. The world of black-and-white is a graphic one, and the interplay between tones, contrast and other factors isn’t an easy thing to imagine. By capturing in black-and-white, you get a preview on the LCD or monitor, and you’re able to adjust as needed on the fly, which can be a big help on location.
Myth: Always Capture In Color
All this being said, we have a hard time recommending monochromatic capture as the way to go. Convenience at the expense of quality isn’t a trade-off that professional photographers should make. Thankfully, there’s an answer to these problems. It’s called JPEG + RAW mode.
Remember, whether you’re shooting RAW images or JPEGs, you’re first producing RAW data. If you selected JPEG format, that RAW data is processed by the camera per preset parameters, converted to an 8-bit JPEG image and saved to the memory card. If you set the camera to shoot RAW format, the RAW data is saved to the memory card without processing, and you can process it into a TIFF, a JPEG or whatever you want later at your computer.
This means you can set the camera to shoot RAW + highest-quality JPEG, in monochrome mode, and you get the best of both worlds. You’ll have a black-and-white image on the LCD monitor to check for tonal mergers, a good black-and-white JPEG processed in-camera, plus a RAW image that you can process to color or monochrome as you wish at any time in the future. Digital cameras can provide many things that no film camera ever could, which may sometimes make things confusing, but the possibilities of digital also can be freeing if you know how to use them correctly.