Best camera settings for black and white photos

Black and white photography: the ultimate guide

Contrary to what some online photography gurus might have you believe, shooting in black and white isn’t as simple as switching your camera to Mono mode and then applying a few filters and effects in Photoshop. You can’t just convert any old picture to black and white and expect it to be a masterpiece. Below we’ll show you how to set up your digital camera so that you have the best foundation to work with when you go to convert them to black and white photos.

For more on how to shoot black and white photography, check out our in-depth guide Black and White Photography: what you need to know for perfect mono pictures

Digital camera tips: choosing file format

1. File format

For the best-quality mono conversions shoot in RAW. RAW files not only capture more data that JPEGs, but they can also withstand more fundamental mono image-editing techniques, such as dodging and burning.

What’s more, you get to fine-tune the sharpening, contrast, saturation and white balance in your photo editing software instead of fixing these in-camera.

2. Black and white mode

If (like most DSLRs) your camera has a creative black and white mode, try switching it on while shooting RAW. This gives you a handy mono LCD preview that you can refer to in the field, while keeping all your RAW colour data intact.

If you shoot JPEG, avoid Mono mode because it reduces image quality and limits your editing options.

3. ISO sensitivity

Many traditionally black and white photographers use fast, grainy film stock for creative effect.

Unfortunately, the noise created by digital cameras at high ISOs doesn’t quite have the same aesthetic quality as film grain, tending to muddy colours and degrade details rather than enhance images (find out how to reduce noise at high ISO settings).

It is better, therefore, to keep your ISO down to 100 or 200 where possible, you can always add more authentic film grain in software.

4. White balance

Colour casts affect mono conversions because they shift the grey tones onto which the colours are mapped.

It’s therefore important to ensure that your white balance is correct during shooting, although with RAW files you have the safety net of being able to correct white balance inaccuracies in your RAW software before converting to mono.

5. Exposure bracketing

The types of extreme lighting conditions that often make for great black and white photos are often the trickiest to meter for.

To ensure you get at least one perfect exposure, bracket several exposures up to a stop either side of the metered exposure, either using exposure compensation or your cameraís autobracketing feature (find out how to use your digital camera’s auto-exposure bracketing feature).


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