Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking black and white photos
What to look for
All your camera sensor does is measure varying levels of incoming light. It doesn't intrinsically understand colour -- that's handled by filters, prisms or multiple layers that filter out unwanted tones. The results are recompiled in the form of your finished picture.
If you're going to remove all of this colour information and concentrate solely on the different levels of light in the frame, thus creating a monochrome image, it pays to consider this fact at the point of choosing your camera.
The only dedicated full-frame monochrome camera is the Leica M Monochrom. It costs over £6,000, without a lens. If that's too rich for you, there are other options.
Check that your chosen camera has a monochrome setting. Almost all compact cameras do, but if you're serious about achieving the best results in-camera, then look for one that also offers a range of contrast settings or film simulation, which replicates the look of analogue photography using a variety of well-known film brands.
Monochrome modes use the colour information in the captured image to create a simulated greyscale photo. For best results, you'll need to capture as wide a range of tones as possible. A gently clouded sky with little difference in the level of light between clouds and the blue behind them could look featureless and boring.
Therefore, make sure the camera you choose gives you easy access to its exposure compensation settings, preferably via a dial on top or a dedicated button on the back, or at least by means of a shortcut menu. This will let you knock down the sensitivity for a better chance of capturing more texture. Alternatively, use a camera with a built-in neutral density filter or a thread to accommodate an external filter, such as the ones found on most dSLR lenses. These will help reduce burn-out in the brighter parts of your image.
If neither of these options appeals, you can still perform the conversion to black and white in post-production using a tool like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Both have excellent monochrome conversion tools.
To give them the best chance of producing punchy results, try to work with raw data wherever possible -- choose a camera that can save shots in a raw format. All dSLR cameras, most interchangeable-lens compacts and many high-end compact all-in-ones offer this feature. Bear in mind that if you're using the combined raw and JPEG shooting option to save raw and monochrome images at the same time, the raw files will still contain all of the relevant colour information, which you'll need to remove in post-production.
If you can't afford a camera that saves the raw sensor data -- or can't find one you like -- look for a compact with an HDR setting. These take multiple exposures of the same scene in quick succession and overlap them in a single frame. This increases the level of detail as it extracts more information from both the shadow and highlight ends of the spectrum. Converting to black and white from one of these images will contain more texture and detail for a more satisfying, impressive result.
Black and white photography wish list
- Monochrome film simulation
- Easy access to exposure compensation
- Raw shooting option
- HDR mode