“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
— Ansel Adams
Contemporary landscape photography is dominated by digital images of saturated and vibrant color. The popularity of this style is obvious and it oftentimes overshadows the traditional and subtle effectiveness of just using black and white. However, by no means is black and white photography passe. Today, we’ll discuss some of the most important processes involved in capturing and presenting your images in black and white.
Having a Vision
One of the most critical steps for the photographer to think in terms of black and white. What I mean is at the time of capture you should be envisioning a black and white finished product for your photograph. While this doesn’t always have to be the case, it certainly does help. You may be wondering, how does one go about developing this type of mindset?
One key is for the photographer to focus on finding black and white compositions when they are in the field. A prime way of accomplishing this is through the careful examination of subject matter and light. Black and white photography is most effective when there is a full spectrum of tone between white and black with many different shades of grey. Two common means of illustration are the primary colors of the subject and/or the light during the time of capture.
This is an image of Yellowstone Lake taken at the beginning of October as the area’s lovely fall weather was deteriorating into the freezing grip of winter. The water level here was low thus exposing many of the rocks in the lake. During capture, it was very cold and windy and a huge snow storm was moving in. The colors were fairly mute and because it was in the late afternoon and extremely overcast I knew this would lend well to black and white.
Once again, the key with black and white is to offer the viewer the full spectrum of tones so the eye can easily differentiate between the shades. Form is also accentuated in black and white. The effective use of contrast to emphasize form is often a key to the aesthetic success of your image. Here I like the forms of the rocks in the water. I also like the powerful U-shape formed by the exposed bank in the lake.
Stylistically, several types of prominent landscapes translate well into black and white photography. Here is a short list to keep in mind next time your are in the field: aspen trees, dead trees, raging creeks, sand dunes, barns, and snow capped peaks.
While this blog post was not designed to get into the specific technical aspects behind black and white processing, I will briefly discuss a couple important factors. How and when you convert your image to black and white is a subjective call. I’ve experimented with it several ways and I don’t particularly have a preference. It can be done at the beginning or end of your work flow and by a number of different ways in the same programs. (There are also third party plug ins that effectively facilitate the conversion too). If you are looking to have a finished product in both color and black and white I suggest just convert and tweak at the end of your work flow, unless you want to completely edit the picture twice.
Finally, the white balance you choose will also affect your image’s final appearance. What color tone do you want? A neutral grey? Blue? Or maybe slightly yellow? Those are subjective calls and a lot depends on personal preference and what you are trying to communicate…
For example, look closely at the image below and then compare to the one above. Notice the difference in the tone? The Yellowstone Lake shot is bluer, while the image beneath is more of a neutral grey.
Hopefully this post provided you with a little creative inspiration and approach to capturing and presenting your images in black and white, until next time have a great weekend!