Black And White Landscape Photography

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Landscape photography goes mitt in hand with black and white. It isn’t just because of famous landscape photographers similar Ansel Adams, but also because the intricate shapes that attract our attention in nature oftentimes “just feel correct” in monochrome. Want to take improve blackness and white mural photos? This article explains why such images piece of work so well, including how to make your ain blackness and white mural photography as stiff as possible.

Table of Contents

What Changes (and Doesn’t) in Black and White

At the surface, a skillful black and white photograph is still merely a
practiced photo. Y’all’ll come across many pictures that work well in both color and in black and white. Sometimes, it may fifty-fifty be hard to pick which version is better. That’southward pretty articulate evidence that the underlying elements of limerick are just as important no matter what palette you are using.

The merely thing that really changes with black and white photography is that you are eliminating a pillar of your creative toolset. You’re deleting it completely and replacing it with… nothing. And when colour is no longer a relevant force, your viewer’due south eye is fatigued to different places in the image. In a fashion, the rest of the photo takes on more emphasis and importance as a issue.

Say, for example, that you are photographing sunbeams filtering through a morning forest. Your goal may be to emphasize the gentle path of light, especially how it intersects with the texture of tree trunks. Even if there is a green canopy of leaves overhead, that’s not the disquisitional function of your message. Although I accept no doubt that such an image could await good in color, it’s not what matters here – where you want all your viewer’s attending on the sunbeams.

NIKON D7000 + 17-55mm f/2.8 @ 35mm, ISO 360, ane/200, f/4.0

And, of form, color actively does damage to other images (rather than only being an unneeded element of the landscape). Under hard light, y’all may find that colors are distracting and counter to your message, making the overall photograph look dull or distasteful. If the colors in a photo only don’t piece of work, converting to monochrome is one of the best remaining tools to improve your photo.

Of course, don’t think y’all tin can just convert a bad photograph to B&West and terminate up with something good. If your calorie-free, subject, and composition have fundamental flaws, black and white won’t save the 24-hour interval. This is something nosotros talk about in our larger guide to black and white photography.

Specific Considerations for Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is divers by the following three elements (although not every landscape photo has all of them): foreground, groundwork, and sky. All 3 of these features change when you shoot in blackness and white.

First, landscape photographers often cull a foreground based on how information technology draws the eye. That nevertheless applies in blackness and white, but information technology’s now more than important to discover subjects that stand up out in brightness from their surroundings, especially with potent shapes or leading lines. Information technology’southward why landscapes like rock formations in Utah work and then well for blackness and white work, while something like lupine flowers might not (unless they stand out from their greenish surroundings in effulgence).

Sand Dunes in Black and White
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/sixteen.0

Beyond that are the middleground and background. With blackness and white, I’ve e’er found it catchy to avoid large, uninteresting swaths of uniform gray in a photo. It’south a major reason why I rarely convert macro photos to black and white: their colorful out-of-focus backgrounds would become unending grayness. Past the same token, if the groundwork of your landscape photo has construction only because of small color contrasts, yous’ll lose that subtlety in black and white. I would never convert the image beneath to black and white, for case, since the background is built on the royal/green contrast:

Purple Green Color Contrast
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.eight @ 105mm, ISO 100, i/vi, f/sixteen.0

But the photo below has a middleground and background of athwart shapes, which are equally potent with and without color:

Black and White Photograph
NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1.3 seconds, f/16.0

Final is the sky, an element that can make or break any landscape photo – especially in black and white. At sunrise, a gentle pink cloud against the pastel sky can be a very emotive chemical element. But with monochromatic photography, it can fade into its surroundings and expect no different than a sparse cloud in the middle of the twenty-four hours. It’s non that gentle clouds are e’er bad for black and white landscapes, but yous practise take to scout out more that your heaven has the contrast yous want. This is also why a polarizing filter can be a big help with black and white landscape photography, possibly even more so than in colour.

Black and White Storm Clouds in Icelandic Landscape
NIKON D800E + 24mm f/one.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/three, f/16.0

How to See in Black and White

One of the tricky parts of black and white photography is that it ofttimes works all-time when you
your photos to exist monochromatic from the start. You create your composition with contrast, light, and texture in mind – not color. But nosotros don’t see the earth in black and white, so it’s non a natural matter to do. How can yous discover your way effectually this mental block and envision the earth more easily in shades of gray?

The obvious respond is that yous’ll go better at it over time, especially if you shoot in blackness and white a lot. Does anyone doubtfulness that lifelong B&West moving picture photographers can envision almost whatever landscape accurately in monochrome? There’s nothing stopping digital photographers from exercising the aforementioned mental muscles – although that road takes a lot of fourth dimension before you have a perfectly authentic “monochrome mindset.”

In the meantime, there’s a bit of a crook: prepare your in-camera JPEG manner to black and white, while however shooting RAW. This doesn’t change the RAW data from whatever camera (it’s nevertheless a color image when you open information technology on your computer) merely yous end up with a live blackness and white preview on the LCD or EVF. I’ve e’er institute this to exist the easiest way to envision monochrome images in mural photography. It too comes without whatever real risks, since you tin always revert to the color version back on your figurer.

BW Landscape Photo from Turkey
NIKON Z 7 + 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, ISO 64, ane/40, f/9.0

To Filter or Not to Filter?

Bated from polarizers, which I highly recommend, are there any other special considerations for using a filter in black and white landscape photography? After all, some of them – specifically colour filters – are almost exclusively intended for monochrome piece of work. It seems a bit of a shame to get out all those high-quality red and yellow filters on the shelf of the camera shop. Simply that might actually be the correct motion.

First, here’due south a quick analogy of a color filter’south result on black and white pictures:

Color Filters

As you can see, colour filters lighten objects with their color, while concealment the opposite (complement) color. For example, a ruddy filter darkens blue and dark-green while brightening red areas. In most landscape photos, this increases contrast past darkening the heaven and grass, while leaving other parts of the epitome unscathed. B&W flick photographers unremarkably purchase a filter set of cherry-red, orange, yellow, and light-green, although you can find them in far more colors than that if you expect.

My biggest trouble with color filters for black and white photography is that their furnishings are not really possible to remove if yous later decide you prefer the colour version of an image (a digital-only problem, of course). Yous’re committing yourself pretty strongly to black and white when you apply 1 of these filters.

Non to mention, if you lot
apply a color filter, y’all still have the option to replicate it in post-processing without much difficulty. You tin can but select the “blues” or “greens” and darken/lighten them as you delight. The result isn’t exactly the same, and overdoing it can add noise to an image, just ultimately it’s the more flexible option in many cases.

For that reason, unless you are shooting flick or really desire to get all-out with digital, I don’t recommend color filters for black and white photography. Stick with a polarizer (and ND filters as needed), and you’ll exist skilful.

Rapid-Fire Inventiveness Tips

At that place are a few elements of creative photography that matter more in blackness and white than anytime else. Here are the almost of import of those tips for capturing landscapes in monochrome:

one. It’due south About Shapes (and Dissimilarity)

I’ve alluded to it a few times, only black and white photography doesn’t give yous every bit many elements to work with in terms of separating and defining your subject. You can’t rely on color to do your bidding. Instead, shapes and contrast do that job, because they stand out no thing their color. So, when you’re framing a composition, exist aware that viewers will lock onto shapes and contrast very easily in B&W piece of work, more so than in color. It’s how their eyes motility across the frame.

Iceland Monochrome Landscape Picture
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/two.8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/16.0

2. Lookout man the Shadows

Shadows carry emotion in every photograph. Are they hard-edged and virtually blackness? The photo will look more intense and powerful. Are they open up, with smooth transitions? The photo will appear calmer and gentler. Creative photography is almost
carrying the emotions you want
– and for black and white, that starts with your shadows. Both in the field and in postal service-processing, pay attention to the darkest regions of the photo. The residual of the image will period from there.

3. And Explore the Midtones

It’s a bit of a myth that every black and white photo needs to have both pure white and pure black. No ane will recommend that to you outright, merely information technology’due south a subconscious mode that many photographers adopt because it’s what we come across in other monochromatic work. There’south nothing wrong with the midtones, though; many of my favorite B&W images of all time are depression-dissimilarity landscapes centered on center gray, such as images of aspen trees and sand dunes. High-contrast images work in many cases, just that’south non the but way to create proficient black and white work.

Middle Gray Landscape
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm, ISO 100, one/13, f/16.0

4. Spend Time in Post, Locally and Globally

I see a lot of people convert an prototype to black and white, add together some contrast, and maybe slap on a “noire” preset. To them, black and white is jut an easy way to edit a moody image – a tool defective in subtlety, much like an Instagram filter. But black and white photos demand simply as much post-processing as usual, and
in many cases. That includes both global and local adjustments.

To me, global edits are near emotion, while local edits are about drawing the viewer’s eye. Use basic adjustments to effulgence and contrast to impart the mood y’all desire on a photograph, while you locally dodge and burn objects in the landscape to emphasize or obscure them. Black and white photos often allow more intense processing than color photos before they appear fake, but it’due south just every bit important every bit always to be subtle and not overdo your edits.

five. Learn the Elements of Emotion

Every decision you make in photography – whether blackness and white or not, mural or not – has an touch on on the photograph’s emotion. Are yous composing a balanced or imbalanced frame? Is the image bright and airy or dark and powerful? Are the lines in the photo smooth and curved or rough and jagged?

Be enlightened that each of these choices – and countless others – are the building blocks of a photo’due south mood. Focus your composition on including elements that add to your chosen mood and bulletin, non backbite from them. And it might only be me, only I think viewers often notice these things consciously in black and white more than in colour, since the image is less about realism and more about the fundamental elements of composition.

High-Contrast Black and White
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.viii @ 105mm, ISO 400, 0.8 seconds, f/ix.0

When Black and White Mural Photos Don’t Work

Some objects, we identify well-nigh exclusively past their shapes: tree branches, fences, rocks, sand dunes, and then on. We don’t demand colors to empathise what they are, or to relate to them. For that reason, they oftentimes – though certainly non always – look practiced in black and white.

Other things rely on colour. When I Google “black and white photo with rainbow,” half the images include a
rainbow. Because, really, a bright curve doesn’t strike u.s. equally a rainbow unless it has colors. The same is true with something like a ladybug – so associated with its red colour that it hardly feels like the same subject field otherwise. Sure, you can take black and white photos of either of these subjects successfully, simply it’s far from the norm. And it can feel strange if you endeavour it without care.

No, if color is what gives your subject structure and personality, it’due south usually best to keep it in. I mentioned before that colour dissimilarity is sometimes essential to avert a dirty await in the image, and that remains accurate. Simply in many cases, the true reason to take a colour photo is more fundamental: color is an important part of the subject’s story. Removing color would harm your message, not meliorate it, since the emotion you’re after is well-served past the hues in the paradigm. See also our article on the emotions of color in landscape photography.

Color Image at Sunset
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm, ISO 100, vi seconds, f/22.0


Hopefully, this article gave you some food for idea with black and white landscape photography. There is no rule saying when a particular photo will work well in blackness and white or non; a lot of it is nigh taking a stride back and examining if it just looks right to you. But underneath the “looks correct” impression are the variables I talked about above – things like color dissimilarity, emotion, light, and shapes, all of which modify in bulletin when you make that conversion.

Are there any subjects you prefer for blackness and white landscape photography? I’ve always been a fan of monochromatic sand dunes and forests, while normally preferring color for broad-angle sweeping vistas at sunrise or sunset. And then again, you can take proficient blackness and white pictures at any type of landscape. It just helps to know alee of time that it’south what you plan to do.

Abstract Landscape
NIKON Z vii + 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, ISO 64, 1/125, f/nine.0