I was messing about a bit with how best to process several pics from South Africa, in particular a number from a long driving trip through the interior. It reminded me that I often get asked when I decide to shoot black and white, and the answer of course is that I never actually shoot B&W these days. I simply shoot in RAW, a digital negative of sorts, and then process to B&W as required in Lightroom or Photoshop.
There is no in-camera B&W converter that I've ever seen that even comes close to what the best editors and plugins can do for your images on a proper computer. I use the Silver Efex II plugin which adds into Lightroom to convert my images, and with a tool that powerful I really never need consider anything the camera might do itself. My assumption is always that the camera really isn’t all that intelligent despite the various auto-settings, and that it is always better to make these choices oneself. Silver Efex offers a large number of preset styles, and the ability to modify them, recreating nearly all of the old film B&W techniques from dodging and burning to using various color filters in front of your lens, without actually having to filter anything!
The key then becomes when to convert something, as I start with a big stack of color shots, and need figure how best to take each one forward to its ultimate conclusion. Usually I find that converting two major types of images works best. One is converting already stark images, those with perhaps little color or saturation where there isn’t much to work with in the first place, and secondly converting those with a lot of detail, where isolating that detail by removing distracting colors enhances the results. Regardless, it’s very much an art in figuring what might look best when developed in a certain manner, and it does require a fair bit of trial and error.
When still shooting film I once popped in a roll of B&W slide film on my first trip to London, and went on a memorable walk through Hyde Park in a wintery fogbank. While there were some misses…this was film after all…most of the resulting shots told exactly the story of the memories I had in my head and the experience was an excellent reminder in the power of doing more with less.
Here then are few stories from driving through the interior of South Africa. I would pull over and shoot the moody skies and vast plains that reminded me a little of the interior of the US in its raw beauty and vastness. At one point I had discovered a secret road that led up to some kind of closed military base, it all felt very Area 51ish… These shots look decent enough in color, but in B&W I felt they really pop and show the scale of the place and the often distant mountain ranges.