Why Photographing Landscapes in Black and White – Part 1

You photograph landscapes. You're probably wondering why developing your photographs in black and white rather than color.

The answer to this fundamental question is that black and white allows you to give a true artistic interpretation of what you have seen.

In this article, I give you keys to allow you to apprehend this particular photographic technique.

This photograph of bald cypresses is perfectly adapted to black and white photography.
This photograph of bald cypresses is perfectly adapted to black and white photography.

You Will Create an Interpretation of What You See

Creating a black and white photograph of a landscape is an interpretation. You do not give an image of nature as it is. You will interpret the reality.

Black and white photography of a landscape allows you to convey your emotions or a personal message in a more direct and artistic way. As it is an act of interpretation, you are not accountable to anyone for the reality. You can let your imagination and your creativity wander. That's all the interest of the technique of black and white.

Only color photography and under certain conditions can show the reality of a landscape.

You will move away from the representation of reality. But this artistic approach is not easy to implement. All landscape scenes are not adapted to the technique of black and white.

You will have to be very careful in the choice of your compositions and your framing.

In the same way the development is particular. You must respect certain rules

Think About Your Landscape Photo in Black and White Before Triggering

Before you take a black-and-white photograph of a landscape, you have to think about it and prepare your mind. In general, an interesting and creative photo must always be thought before being shot but it is even more true in black and white.

The technique of black and white does not compromise. You must never forget that black and white is the basic language of photography. You will have to use shapes, textures, lines, perspectives to translate your emotions and convey your messages.

You only have black, white, and grayscale colors. You cannot do any digression.

When facing a landscape, you have to imagine how your final print will be.

With a digital camera, the picture displayed in the screen on the back of the camera is always in color. You must have in mind a color photo will not necessarily make a good black and white photo.

For example, on a color photo a focus of red will contrast a lot with a green background. But once transformed into black and white, red and green will appear in similar gray levels.

A simple rule to know if a color photo would be beautiful in black and white is to have contrast. Indeed, in a black and white photo, there is no color. One of the ways to guide the eye to go to the centers of interest of the image is to have big differences between dark tones and light tones: the contrast.

Seeing in black and white implies choosing simple subjects, clear negative spaces, and soft compositions. You must take care not to add disturbing elements. You must go straight to the point to get your message out immediately

Seeing in black and white means choosing the right lighting for the best possible light contrasts. Do not forget that the differences between the bright and dark areas will help the eye to move towards the centers of interest of the photo.

To see black and white in nature is to look for shadows to accentuate contrasts.

Think about the choice of photographic elements

Once on the field facing the landscape to be photographed, you must look at and analyze each photographic element to see if it will be well suited to black and white. For example, the bark of trees must be gnarled and marked. Clouds must be present in the sky to create the right balance of masses with the ground.

Once you have defined your photographic elements, you will be able to compose and frame.

Color Filters Are Your Precious Allies

Before developing the various points to respect to create a photo of landscapes in black and white, I recommend you learn how to use color filters in shooting and development.

Color filters are very useful in black and white photography.

In black and white, the colors disappear. They are replaced by gray levels. The light intensity becomes the only important data.

The use of a color filter makes it possible to lighten the areas that have the same color and to darken the areas that have the complementary color.

Color filters allow you to edit, correct, and balance contrasts in a photo.

  • A yellow filter absorbs the blue light. It darkens a blue sky. If there are clouds in the sky, they are densified.
  • A red filter also absorbs the blue light but also the green color. The skies become very dark as if the night had fallen.
  • A green filter brightens foliage but darkens red objects.

Today, many photographers that use a software filter is enough to achieve beautiful contrasts in black and white. This is an error because nothing replaces the optical filter. The software makes it possible to reinforce the filter but does not replace it.

Look for The Right Light

To create a good black and white photo, you must first look for a good light. Your goal is to look for the strongest contrasts to have deep blacks and highlights. Your goal is to highlight the photographic elements. Look for shadows because the light only exists if they rub shoulders with the shadows.

The shadows in a scene of landscapes allow to create volumes, to accentuate the forms and thus to give a 3D effect to your photographs.

Look for High Contrast Scenes

The more contrasting your scenes are, the more successful your black and white photographs will be.

Contrast is the difference of light between dark areas and bright areas of your photograph. The denser your blacks are without clogging and the brighter your shades will be bright without being burned, the more impact your photo will have because the human eye loves contrasts. To analyze a scene, the brain always looks for contrasts to decipher the meaning of a scene.

The more contrasting a black-and-white photograph is, the more impact it has on a viewer.

The ideal is to have scenes of landscapes with great contrasts of light, graphic and textured photographic elements.

Look for Textured Photographic Elements

Textures in the photographic elements provide details of which you will need for your photos in black and white. They allow to hang the gaze of the viewer. They act like a magnet. The human eye loves looking for details in the analysis of a scene. Even if your composition is minimalist and has few photographic elements, focus on showing textures. For example, stone, tree bark, clouds, etc.

Search for Graphical Elements

The graphic elements are formidable to create good black and white photographers. In landscapes, graphics are everywhere: treetops, drawings on the ground, forms on rock faces, waves. All graphic forms are excellent.

If the graphic shapes you choose are more textured, your photography will have a lot of impact because you combine two essential properties of the photo in black and white.

Some Examples of Landscapes Photographed in Black And White

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.

Look for Pattern Repetition

An interesting black and white photograph is based on masses and shapes. If you can find graphic and textured elements, also try to show elements that are repeated like clouds, fields, trees. Nature is abundant in forms. You will be spoiled for choice.

The human eye is always attracted by the details, the graphics but also by the repetition of a motif. If you want to catch the eye of a look think about it!

Watch Especially the Mass Balances

The rest of this article is available on another page. Click on the link below.

Click Here to Read the Part II of the Article.


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