What is the best way to make black-and-white photos?

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December 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm  •  Posted in Q&A by  •  1 Comment

Now that I finally have a printer that can make completely neutral black-and-white prints without any colour cast (the Epson R3000), I’ll want to start doing more with black-and-white images. What is the best way to make the photos? Should I use the Monochrome picture style with my Nikon D300s, or keep shooting in colour and convert the images to black and white with Photoshop CS5?
—Karissa J.

You’re right, Karissa, it’s worth printing from an image that you have perfected if you want to make gallery quality prints. While the Stylus Pro R3000 can provide very nice monochrome outputs from a colour image, it is better to start with one that you have converted to black and white and modified until it provides the subtle or dramatic effects that you want. I would not shoot JPEGs with the Monochrome picture style; sometimes, a scene will look great in both colour and black and white; a monochrome JPEG will have no colour.

I'm not aware of any letter size printers that can make pro calibre black & white prints, but some of the 13" wide format machines are perfect for this purpose, including the Epson Stylus Photo R2880, R3000 and the Pixma Pro 9500 Mk II. Of course, they can also make fabulous colour prints.

I'm not aware of any letter-size printers that can make pro-calibre black-and-white prints, but some of the 13" wide-format machines are perfect for this purpose, including the Epson Stylus Photo R2880, R3000 and the Pixma Pro 9500 Mk II. Of course, they can also make fabulous colour prints.

Use the Raw capture mode for photos that you might later convert to black and white; any picture style is fine since even a monochrome Raw photo retains all of the colour data. The NRW file offers several benefits over JPEG, including great latitude for modification using a non-destructive process and slightly better image quality (and even better at high ISO). After fine-tuning the colour Raw photo in a program such as Nikon CaptureNX2, convert it to a 16-bit TIFF and then convert that to black and white using the very versatile tool in Photoshop CS5 (or the Channel Mixer in earlier versions).

Software such as CS5—or a plug-in like Nik Silver Efex Pro 2—provides much greater versatility in modifying the look of a monochrome image than any Raw converter. These, and other high-end software programs, allow for modifying the monochrome TIFF file to create various effects, including adding a colour tint, intentional vignetting, selective lightening and darkening, adding “grain,” and so on. I find that Photoshop CS5 works well although the Nik software makes it much, much easier to achieve a really stunning black-and-white image, with some unusual effects that you might not even think to use.

Although Photoshop CS5 and other high-end image editors can provide numerous types of effects, Nik Silver Effex Pro 2 can jump start the learning experience re: adding stunning effects to a black & white photo.

Although Photoshop CS5 and other high-end image editors can provide numerous types of effects, Nik Silver Effex Pro 2 can jump start the learning experience re: adding stunning effects to a black-and-white photo.

It’s certainly possible to create striking results with some expertise with the options in CS5. I don’t own Nik Silver Effex Pro (compatible with Photoshop, Elements and Apple Aperture) but I was impressed with a recent demo provided by a friend who is a true wizard with black and white. Since you already own Photoshop and the best available printer, perhaps you’d be willing to make an additional $240 investment. The Nik software can help to make you look like an expert in black and white within a few days. Devote some time to learning about its features, plus some experimentation, and you should soon be making gorgeous monochrome prints.

One Comment

  1. Wayne Elliott / December 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm / Reply

    I have been using Silver Efex Pro for some time and would recommend it highly. The black and white conversions can be stunning and as Peter has said, this software can make you look like a b&w genius in a short time.

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