Vincent Versace is a purist when it comes to black-and-white photography. He is finishing his third how-to book on the subject, “From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man.” For black-and-white done right, he is the man to go to.
So we went. Here are some of the tips he offered along with some very strong opinions.
Go Monotone “Black and white is the best way to learn photography, and in my experience, it’s the photography we all go back to,” said Mr. Versace. “If I had my druthers, I’d never shoot another color photograph as long as I live.” That is because without color to “distract,” he said, a photographer has to learn composition and the skill of capturing a story.
Get the Knack The way to get good at black-and-white is the same way you get to Carnegie Hall — practice. “Beginners should walk around the house taking pictures of everyone and driving them crazy, including their pets,” said Mr. Versace. Because there is no longer the cost of developing prints, trial-and-error is a legitimate way to become skilled. “The beauty of digital is everyone can become a great photographer because of the LCD on the back.”
Do Black-and-White in Color Shooting black-and-white defies the cardinal rules of photography. “We are taught to get it right in the camera. Which says you should therefore set the camera up to do black-and-white,” said Mr. Versace. But when you set a camera to shoot black-and-white, it loses valuable detail. “You lose two-thirds of the information in the file.” He said. To preserve as much information as possible, shoot in the RAW format.
Make a Convert So how does a color photo become black and white? Mr. Versace relies on a $200 program from Nik Software that requires Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture to work. “If you want to do a black-and-white correctly, the simplest way is Silver Efex Pro, but that is throwing some money at the problem.” There are some more complex ways to get very good monochromatic pictures in Photoshop, but if you are just dipping your toe in, start by using any photo-editing software to completely desaturate the photo. “Desaturating the image will get you 85 percent there, but I wouldn’t recommend that, and I stress that,” said the perfectionistic Mr. Versace, You can improve your desaturated shot more by experimenting with contrast, sharpness and other controls. That can produce a “good enough” effect, said Mr. Versace. “If you are happy with good enough, I will defend your choice to the death,” he said.
Print Early and Often In making a paper print of your shot, you may find that what you see on your monitor looks different on paper. “There will be a tendency for the image to look lighter on screen than in print,” he said. He suggested making several copies of a photo at varying degrees of darkness and printing them all to see which looks best. Use the winner as your template for future prints. Mr. Versace prefers inkjet printers because they can achieve the highest D.P.I., which stands for dots per inch, a common measure of printer quality. “The inkjet has got more color, more resolution,” he said. “Silver paper is the equivalent of 254 or 258 D.P.I., and that’s all it’s got.” A serious inkjet can print at 2,880 D.P.I. or even higher, he said.
Finally, keep your original RAW files for the day when there are better software and printers. “Keep your files forward-compatible for things that don’t exist yet,” he said. For a perfectionist, like Mr. Versace, the picture is never finished as long as it can be better.
New York Times