Processing a standard iPhone image into a pleasing monochrome photo involves a simple but powerful workflow as well as attention on getting the best possible image you can at the start.
First, there’s the camera app. I seldom use Apple’s native camera. Instead, I use ProCamera to capture photos. It’s just about perfect: ability to select preferred ratios, independent exposure and focus with ability to lock each, burst mode, image stabilization, and so forth. The key to a good finished photo is taking the best possible image you can. No amount of editing can overcome a badly taken photo. Period.
For people who do use Apple’s camera, and want to instantly improve their smartphone photo, tap on the screen to set focus and exposure beforesnapping the shutter. I know a lot of people who think that box on the screen is focusing or expos using their shot. It’s not; the box is for facial recognition. Also, when shooting in challenging, low-light situations, monochrome is far more forgiving than color.
Second, shoot with the intention of converting to black and white or shoot with an app that captures in monochrome. I prefer Vint B&W MII, when I want to capture in monochrome or several of the Hipstamatic bw filters. Now, Vint BW also features the ability to import via the camera roll. Treating monochrome as an after-thought or a filter choice isn’t sufficient. Pay attention to form, structures, patterns, and always, the light. In photographing people, it’s their expressions that will come through, rather than apparel for example. Pay attention to gray tones, shadows, mood, etc. as you’re observing the scene.
Captured in ProCamera and post-processed with Vin B&W MII
I use 3 apps for processing: Film Lab, Photo FX, and Snapseed. These apps have independent adjustments for their features, which is a must. Each does something very well that the other, in my opinion does not. I happen to prefer the look of film photography, so I’m less concerned with sharpness. That’s me. I like strong tonal contrast: inky blacks and bright whites most of the time. So, I my editing goal is to achieve my aesthetic “look.”
I also take notes of what I choose, the degree of the settings, and more or less stick with these. The reason for this attention is I want to replicate the style. It can be disappointing to place your monochrome photos together and realize later that you haven’t a consistency in tones: some bluish, some brownish, and so forth. Repetition is a form of cohesion, helping photographers to achieve a a discernible style across a body of work.
In Film Lab, I desaturate the image, stripping it of color and leaving a monochrome image. I select one of many bw filters to apply. Then, I import into PhotoFX to fine tune and adjust tones. I’m trying to increase contrast most of the time, without blowing out or overly darkening any important information in the frame. In Snapseed, I adjust brightness, sometimes crop or level, and others depending if something is needed. Often, the image doesn’t go into Snapseed at all.
It takes me about 5-10 minutes to edit. I’m less interested in post-editing work, so I try to keep what I do after image capture to a minimum. My interest as a photographer is in observation, composition, and framing.
I’ve reduced my share spots to Flickr, Google+, EyeEm, and Facebook. I don’t always share the same photos in the same places. Of these, it’s mostly Flickr that gets all of the publicly shared images, both from mobile photography and other formats. Partly, this is because it serves as a kind of “off site” back up and also because its the engine for images on my blog.
Let me know what your tips are for shooting/editing monochrome photos.