My best methods to produce Black and White files

There is something about creating Black and White images that has an enduring appeal for photographers. It seems that it is somewhat more genuine and artistic, though that could just be pretension. But whatever the reason many of us continue to do it, despite the difficulties and often, if we shoot on film, the expense. But film is now a niche market, so if we want to create B/W images in a digital photographic world, what is the best way of doing it?

Firstly I would say, from my experience, unless you are a dedicated darkroom worker and your prime intention is to create prints, shooting on black on white film with a film camera is NOT the way to do it. If you enjoy developing film and printing it, then sure, it's a fine way to create images. It requires skill, but if you have the patience and expertise the results can be very appealing. But if like me your primary intention is to create digital files then there are problems.

Black and White film, I learned recently, creates more dust and scratches to be removed and there you have the problem. Film Scanners, which by using infra red technology can successfully 'clean up' colour negatives and slides, cannot do the same for black and white negatives. I recently tried some Rollei ISO 25 Black and White film and while it was very sharp and virtually grainless it would take hours to clone out all the dust and scratches. In the past I've tried all kinds of cleaning brushes and cloths to get rid of the blemishes before scanning, but they don't work that well. So if you want to scan B/W negs. then be prepared to spend a LOT of time in Photoshop. So what are the other alternatives?

Well basically there are two. The First is to shoot in Colour first and then convert to B/W in Photoshop or Secondly (and the one I prefer) to shoot with my camera already showing me the image in B/W in the viewfinder or on the screen. Seeing the image already in B/W is a great advantage. It also beats using B/W film because film cameras with their optical viewfinders finders cannot display B/W. In days gone by, B/W film photographers used to use strong red filters to turn the viewfinder image into one colour, but it was always a compromise, because some images 'work' in B/W, some don't and its handy to see that before pressing the shutter. And in many ways digital is actually better for creating successful B/W images these days.

For example, my Leica SL (Typ 601) creates beautiful monochrome pictures. By setting up the camera to shoot both RAW (colour) and a B/W jpg I get the best of both worlds and since Leica know a thing or two about B/W photography the images are always superb. The shot below is the jpg. straight out of the camera which shows just how good it is.

A personal favourite of mine is the Lenke app. for my iPhone. It only shoots B/W jpgs. and has basically two controls - Brightness and Contrast but I like it very much and it creates the punchy high contrast B/W I like. Now this might not be to everyones taste but I love it.

Now there is another method I use which again I personally like, but it's maybe not for everyone. And that is to shoot on 35mm Colur Negative film but to scan in B/W. This 'fools' my Epson V850 scanner to thinks it's a colour film so that the 'cleaning' software works, but it then outputs the image in B/W.

As you can see the images work very well as B/W.

There is of course the option of converting files previously shot in colour to B/T. Using the very useful colour sliders in Photoshop you can adjust the clours in your B/W image to produce the image you want.