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How-to's

Black and White “In Your Own Backyard”

Darryll Schiff (DSchiff)


Keywords: bw, dschiff, darryllschiff

Every so often I like to go out and try something different and “shake things up” a bit.  I find it takes me out of my normal routine and definitely adds to my creativity.  It might be an idea I’ve played with a few times, maybe something cool I saw in a magazine, or just returning to the basics when I started in photography.

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B&W ©Darryll Schiff
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All the photos shown here were shot in my “backyard”.  Chicago, my home town is on the shores of Lake Michigan, a never ending source for photography.  But I’m willing to bet that you can find worthy subject matter wherever you are, whether it’s a street scene, a park, mountain, or you name it.

I was lucky enough to be able to study photography at the Institute of Design here and had very distinguished figures in the fine art photography world as teachers.  My main influences were Aaron Siskind, Garry Winogrand, and especially Arthur Siegel, head of the photography department, who took me under his wings and became my mentor.

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B&W ©Darryll Schiff
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At that time photography, almost all black and white,  was finally starting to gain firm ground as an art.  Gallery and museum shows were becoming more frequent.  Color photography  was making incursions but yet to get wide recognition and primarily you would see color pictures used for commercial applications like advertising.

Although I had a couple of classes shooting color, the emphasis was by far on black and white.  We had a year of the history of photography starting with

Niépce and Daguerre all the way through to then current photographers, including my above teachers and others like Ansel Adams, of course, and Diane Arbus.  We shot and developed our own film and made our own black and white (or grayscale) prints.  I can’t even remember how many rolls of Kodak Tri-X and Plus-X film went through my trusty Nikon FTN and how many pictures I printed on Kodak Kodabromide and Agfa photo papers.

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B&W ©Darryll Schiff
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Flash forward many years to now, and for the most part, its overwhemingly color that we see.  But sometimes black and white is a great diversion and you would be surprised how good the right pictures can be in black and white.  Not only that, but its very easy to convert your color photos to gray scale and you can do it more than a couple of different ways, which I’ll talk about in a few seconds.  Also, the way to approach this, deciding which pictures should be in color and which you would like in grayscale, can be decided using a few options, and, better yet, you can decide later to try your photo and see how it looks in black and white.

Here are two easy ways for getting black and white out of your Nikon.  I primarily use one, but sometimes the other, and sometimes both.  With both options I am shooting color through my D800 or D300 first (yes, I still use the D300).  Later I am making the conversions to black and white.

The first way is to take the picture and then go into your camera’s Menu to the

Retouch Menu and then scroll down to Monochrome.  There you should have three options, Black-and-white, Sepia, and Cyanotype.  You can try one, two, or all three choices.  Basically the Sepia and Cyanotype mimic toning black and white prints like you can in a darkroom and all the choices can be good.  What the camera will do, when you save your picture is also save the black and white photo the way you choose while also keeping your original color shot.

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B&W ©Darryll Schiff
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If you choose this method you can convert the pictures one at a time, on the spot, while shooting, or do them later.  One thing to note is that unless you plug your camera into a TV/monitor, you are looking at the pictures on the small screen on the back of your camera.

The other way is to take your photos, download them onto your computer, and then use software to convert the pictures to black and white.  You can do this with a few techniques in both Photoshop and Lightroom and other programs, and you can get a lot of control this way, I would say much more than converting in the camera.  Some of these are plug ins, some independent software, and some can be either. Here are a few names, Silver EFX, Alien Skin, On1.

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B&W ©Darryll Schiff
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Normally I use the second way, but sometimes use a “hybrid” approach, shooting a few pictures and then going to my Menus to get a quick check if the color photo seems to look as good in black and white as I expected and save it. 

I try to schedule specific shooting days.  Then I’ll take one of those days  to “shake things up”, in this case, go out thinking its going to be a “gray scale day”,  shooting everything with the intention that the final pictures will be black and white.

Like I said, take an hour, an afternoon, a day, go out in your own backyard and shoot away.

(11 Votes )

Originally written on February 16, 2018

Last updated on February 16, 2018

Darryll  Schiff Darryll Schiff (DSchiff)

Chicago, USA
Gold, 18 posts

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2 comments

Martin Marchyshyn (MartyD800E) on April 8, 2018

Very nice article. Your words and your images have given me some ideas to try when I'm just not that inspired by the gloomy weather we get this time of year on the Wet Coast. Thank you.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on February 16, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Good article. Monochrome is one of the most wonderful experiences in photography that can be intensely rewarding. I am glad to see your article to introduce folks here at Nikonians who don't already experience it to start experiencing it. Nicely presented. Thanks.

G