3 Features That Can Help With Black and White Photography on Your Canon Camera

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Black and white digital photography strongly revolves around the aesthetics of proper planning in the shooting stage, and also creating a proper image file for the purpose of converting it to a black and white or monochrome photograph.
There are numerous advanced black and white photography tipsand techniques, and when you are a Canon camera owner, the Canon product line gives you some distinct advantages to improve your workflow and your end result.
This is especially true when speed is of the essence.
Here are unique Canon features to use when shooting black and white:
The Highlight Tone Priority Feature
The first advantage is the Canon “Digital Photo Professional” (DPP) software package.
Most photographers are locked into the “Adobe Dealership”. However, Canon software offers some distinct advantages, and this is especially true for the black and white photographer shooting in the camera raw format.
All cameras have a set dynamic range. Dynamic range being the amount of detail that they can capture from shadow to highlight.
Dynamic range is of utmost importance to a B&W photographer, because tone detail is what the medium is all about!
The Highlight Tone Priority feature on Canon cameras shifts some of the dynamic range from the mid-tones to the highlights. This produces more detail in the bright highlight areas, and helps prevent .JPEG images from exhibiting overexposed highlights that can’t be recovered: a common problem in digital monochrome photography.
However, this feature is also useful to camera raw shooters who process their images with the Canon DPP software. Third-party raw processing software (Adobe) will not recognize the Highlight Tone Priority feature within the file. However, the DPP software will still recognize the HTP even on camera raw files!
Some other advantages to the DPP are:

  • Fast real-time adjustments
  • Improved camera raw file workflow
  • Better user interface
  • Compatible 64-bit native environments
  • Adjustments for specific color gamuts
  • Dual display support

You can find an entire bevy of Canon DPP video tutorials right here.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer
Another Canon feature, that can be a real timesaver for the black and white shooter on the go, is the “ALO”.
Auto Lighting Optimizer (ALO) performs in-camera processing to help preserve shadow detail in high-contrast scenes. This is a major concern for digital black and white photographers; how to hold shadow detail under high contrast situations.
Granted, if you’re shooting the camera raw format, you’ll get your maximum detail working on those raw files. But, what if you’re under a time constraint? Or, maybe you just don’t enjoy spending hours tweaking all those files? ALO can be quite useful for .JPEG shooters working on a deadline; photographers who simply don’t have the time to manually adjust the contrast of each photo.
ALO also adds a modest boost in contrast to low-contrast scenes. This can be very helpful when shooting foggy landscapes. The amount of the ALO adjustment can be set to: Off (0), Low (1), Standard (2) or Strong (3). Most Canon cameras default to the ‘Standard” setting.
The Canon Picture Style Mode: Monochrome
This final Canon camera hack, for the black & white photographer, is a favorite.
How about having the versatility of shooting, and reviewing, your images in monochrome by using your Canon camera- but being able to do the actual conversion using RGB color image files and conversion software?
You can! Simply download the free DPP software, set your image file format to camera raw, and then shoot your pictures using the Canon Picture Style Mode: Monochrome.
Using this setup allows you to “preview” what a black & white image could potentially look like (a process that back in the day was taking place inside the photographer’s head – a black and white toast to days long gone), while still giving you the opportunity to convert back to a full color image, or a color image file that you can convert to black & white later in post-production.
How It Works

  • If you shoot .JPEG image files in-camera, they’ll be permanent black and white photos.  The ‘Picture Style’ settings are permanent to .JPEG images, and your image files will reflect the ‘Picture Style’ that was chosen – in this case “Monochrome”.
  • However, if you shoot camera raw images, and then process them with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, you can completely change the ‘Picture Style’, with the DPP software, at a later time: even if you originally had set the ‘Picture Style’ to Monochrome – the raw file has stored the captured colors as well!
  • You can revert those raw files back to color images with no loss of quality.
  • If your camera raw images are created, and then you post-process them in third-party software (i.e. Adobe), the ‘Picture Style’ settings will be completely ignored.  Your Monochrome images, that appeared as black & white on your camera preview, will now appear as full color image files in your 3rd party software. This is a slight disadvantage compared to the DPP option, as you cannot evaluate, at full resolution, the black and white tonal range captured by the camera- before doing the conversion process in post. Still, it is an option.

Using the Monochrome ‘Picture Style technique’ is a great way to build upon your black and white photography skills for evaluating tone in a color scene. Shoot in Monochrome. Evaluate the tonal range. Revert to Color. Manually convert to black and white.

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