Recently I found out about a camera feature that’s making a big difference for me: “Monochrome Picture Control”. I’m probably not the only one who didn’t know about it.
I’m not a big ‘feature’ guy – my cameras never leave ‘M’ mode. I don’t shoot bats flying at night, or dogs on water skis catching frisbees, so the current hype about autofocus just passes me by. I shoot RAW and don’t use any of those impressive in-camera post-processing options. And don’t get me started on video.
I’d seen “Picture Control” (Nikon’s term) mentioned, but never paid any attention because I misunderstood what it does. I thought it was just processing of in-camera JPGs, like the filters in smartphones, and didn’t apply to RAW shooting. But I’d missed a couple of things. One, that – on a mirrorless camera – it changes what you see in the EVF, but not the RAW data. And two, one of the picture modes is monochrome; enable it and you’re seeing the world in grayscale while still capturing all the color; and getting the full dynamic range of the RAW file, not a cooked-down grayscale JPG. This is a Very Big Deal.
When you review the photo you just took, it will be in grayscale; but that’s just the in-camera JPG processing creating a preview, the raw file is no different than ever. You just can’t see it until you edit it later outside the camera. Then you can decide what you really want to do: convert it to b&w, or not.
I love black and white and intend to do more of it. When I look back I feel like so many of my best images are b&w. And I’ve learned that if color isn’t adding something to an image, it’s probably taking away; it’s a distraction from what is really interesting. Removing the color leaves what I call the “psychological truth” of a photo: what your subconscious is perceiving, and reacting to, at some level.
And if color in an image is just a distraction to the viewer, it also distracted you when you did the shot. You might have been chasing after brightly colored objects rather than framing light and geometry. Or you might not have realize that a photo, which looked ordinary in color, is really a lot more interesting in monochrome.
When you’re looking at the world in grayscale you’re less aware of buildings, trees and people , and more aware of patterns and shapes, brights and darks, lines and textures. I think photos should be about those things first of all, in addition to a ‘subject’. These are the elements I want to arrange and balance in the frame.
On my Nikon Z6 and Z50 it’s in the menus at “Photo Shooting/Set Picture Control”. I liked it so much I set one of my programmable buttons to bring up that option.