Why Shoot for or Convert to Black & White?

Turning you colour photos into black and white can give you some great (and sometimes unexpected) results. It doesn’t matter if they are portraits, landscapes or even flowers/macro.

Quite often I change the settings on my Nikon D90 to shoot mono.  The beauty of shooting in RAW is that I can see a ‘preview’ of the photo in mono, but when the files are imported into Lightroom they are automatically converted back to colour.  The preview is great as it gives me some kind of idea of what I can achieve when processing the image.

HDR and black and white work together really well too!  Take a look at my photo below of an old shipwreck at Redcar Gare (Teeside, UK).  The original HDR looked good, but it worked even better in mono.  I used Silver Efex Pro to convert the HDR image.

HDR Landscape Converted to Black & White

HDR Landscape Converted to Black & White using Silver Efex Pro 2

Why convert your photos to mono/black & white?

Well for starters, you can create some dramatic photos when shooting in mono that look totally different from the original colour version.  Secondly, you’ve been out for the day and downloaded your photos to your computer, and more than likely, press the delete button when you’ve come across something that looks terrible when viewed in colour.

For the latter, hold off!!!  Before you hit that delete button, try converting your image to black and white and see what you get.  Promise you, you will get a surprise.

It was a spur of the moment thing when I  thought, I wonder what kind of shot would I get if I turn the camera on an angle, waited for the right moment and press the shutter? On camera it looked OK.  Back home and once on the computer it looked terrible!  Before resigning the image to the Recycle Bin, I did a mono conversion and was pleased with the final result.

The final photo looks more moody (it was a bit of a drab day), and simply by experimenting with different sliders, colour filters I decided to keep the photo.

Don't Hit The Delete Button - Convert to Black & White First!

Don’t Hit The Delete Button – Convert to Black & White First!

Street photography is great for black and white – it adds a sense of drama.  We walk around every day seeing things in colour, but often forget to look at things in black and white.

My next two photos are of a guy doing the Coast to Coast Cycle event for charity. This event starts off on the West Coast on England, and finishes over on the East Coast. It was a hard slog (for them!) but they did good.

The first photo is straight from camera, and the second is a mono conversion.

Coast to Coast Cyclist in Colour

Coast to Coast Cyclist in Colour

Coast to Coast Cyclist - Converted to Mono

Coast to Coast Cyclist – Converted to Mono

Personally, I prefer the mono conversion but that’s just me.  What do you think?

Sometimes its good to set yourself a challenge and say: “Right – today I am going to shoot for black and white only!”  It may sound easy enough, but some scenes do not benefit from converting your photos.  You need to step back a bit, think about what you need to look for.  A good example is textures, like the example below.  This is another HDR I did, but I still wasn’t satisfied with the final outcome.  Again, I converted it to mono and preferred the conversion over the original HDR.

Mono Conversion of an HDR

Mono Conversion of an HDR

Bad weather, especially fog, snow, frost can be great for creating very atmospheric black and white images.  The next two photos show the colour version and the final edited black and white conversion.  Again, I prefer the mono conversion, but everybody sees things differently. I like the way that the mono image gives of the sense of the cold, brings out the mist/fog in the distance producing a more eerie look.

A Winters morning – Colour Photo Straight From Camera

A Winters Morning - Black and White Conversion Using Silver Efex Pro 2

A Winters Morning – Black and White Conversion Using Silver Efex Pro 2

The long exposure scenes on the coast always appeal to me, especially when they have been converted to black and white.  I took this one over the weekend at Blyth (North East Coast of England).

To get the motion of the sea and the clouds I used a Hitech Pro 10 stop filter.

Incoming Tide @ Blyth

Nikon D90 | Sigma 10-20mm | ISO 100 | 15 secs Exposure | F11

Black and White works great on people too.  Again, by converting a colour photo of a person into mono, it can (an mainly does) show a whole new character.  This next photo example was taken a few days after my Portrait Photography with Flash workshop I attended.  When I showed Dave the colour version he said, “hmm yeah, its ok” and laughed.  I did a quick black and white conversion on my iPad and showed him.  “Now that’s a lot better!  I prefer that one”.

Black and White Photography with People

Nikon D90 | Sigma 50mm Macro | Nissin di866 MK II Flash | Silver Efex Pro 2

I’ve done a few weddings for friends, and I always convert their final photos to black and white to have along with the colour versions. For the photo example below, I used one of Lightrooms Black and White Presets.

Kelly: A Bride in Waiting

Nikon D90 | 18-70mm Lens | f4.8 | 1/125 sec | Nissin di866 Pro MK II Flash


It doesn’t matter what photo software you use, they all can convert your photos from colour to black and white.  Below are some links for further reading, tutorials etc into having a go with black and white.

Black and White Conversion using Gimp : This is a great article by MuddyBoots Photography Blog that uses Gimp software which is a free download.  There a different ways of converting your photos, and this blog takes you through a few of them.

How to See in Black and White (and How HDR can be a Powerful Tool….)  This is a great article on Digital Photography Schools blog written by guest Joseph Eckert.

7 Black and White Photoshop Conversions – Another great article from the guys at Phototuts.com.  It’s a lengthy article, but certainly worth a look.


There are many many more articles out there, which is why I haven’t written a tutorial as such.  Either start of with the links above, or search Google for Black and White Conversions.  Most of all….



One thought on “Why Shoot for or Convert to Black & White?

  1. Pingback: Why Shoot for or Convert to Black & White? « Mark White Photography

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