Both of my primary digital cameras now have the ability to save a full-sized JPEG image along with the corresponding RAW file. So I’ve taken to setting them both up the same way: with the JPEG stored as B&W, high contrast, and the color balance set to “AUTO” or “Daylight.”
This buys me a couple of things besides the obvious one: B&W photos that are B&W out of the box. It gives me the option of later tweaking the B&W conversion from the RAW files, but also — and I’ve found this to be genuinely useful — a strong, contrasty image on the preview screen that reads well in bright or dark conditions — even if I’m shooting in color.
The punchy B&W preview is useful as a strong litmus test about the immediate readability of an image. Not that all pictures need a crisp graphic style, but when they do, the B&W preview shows it.
When I worked a lot on TV commercials we would keep a bad B&W TV set around for previewing. There was a $3000 13-inch color studio monitor next to it. The B&W set was placed there by our postproduction color timing expert, who always wanted to preview everything on it to be sure the results of his work were truly readable.
In January and February of each year the light here in the Valley breaks in a consistent and spectacularly unique way. In the morning, on somewhat overcast days, the morning warm breaks-open a slot in the cloud cover to the East, above Mount Hamilton near San Jose. The light pours through the narrow opening at a shallow angle, aboveSan Jose to strike us here, in Santa Clara.
In the evenings, the cloud cover cracks against the Santa Cruz mountains to the west, above Saratoga and Cupertino, and the light, again, beams through the slot to strike right here.
Low, direct sunlight, shining on an otherwise overcast day. You couldn’t buy this kind of light, and it’s here every year.