Why Photographing Landscapes in Black and White – Part 2

Click Here to Read the Part I of the Article.
The Tana waterfall on Blue Nile in Ethiopia is a perfect landscape for black and white photography.
The Tana waterfall on Blue Nile in Ethiopia is a perfect landscape for black and white photography.

Watch Especially the Mass Balances

In a photograph, a mass is an area that is rather dark. We talk about mass because looking at it we feel that it weighs heavily in a photo. A mass can for example be a rock or a bush of dark color.

A dark-colored photographic element can lean a photo from one side to the other. This effect can be compared to that of a Roman scale. That's what I call a mass imbalance. In general, I do not find this effect very aesthetic.

All dark-colored photographic elements do not create mass imbalance. Everything will depend on their respective volume.

If an element has an important surface in your landscape photography, it will say that it occupies a large volume even if a photo is a two-dimensional media. If it occupies a small surface, it will be said that it occupies a small volume.

Managing the balance of mass is very important in photography in general. But for black and white landscape photography, it's absolutely fundamental.

Indeed, as you only have shades of gray, black and white, if you compose your scene with a big dark mass on the side, the viewer goes on the one hand to be attracted by this mass and other apart it's going to feel like being shipped down because of the imbalance you're creating: your photography is not harmonious.

The balance of the masses in a photograph of black and white landscapes is not only to be watched on the right and left parts. You should also be careful to balance the bottom and top of the image.

Choose Your First Plan Carefully

In landscape photography, the foreground gives a scale to your image. As the foreground must be sharp, it will allow you to set the beginning of the sharpness area (the depth of field).

If you choose a foreground in a black-and-white photo, make sure it is not too dark. On the one hand you risk creating an imbalance of pass and on the other hand, you will close access to your photography. The viewer cannot go beyond this foreground because you block his view.

The first plan should be like a step to make the viewer go where you want to take him. This step must be easy to climb with the eye. It acts as a springboard to other photographic elements of your composition.

In general, the foreground must be in midtones. It must occupy little space. If it is textured and graphic, it is a plus because you immediately set the tone for the photograph and therefore the message you want to convey.

Look After Your Background

In landscape photography, the purpose of the background is to highlight the photographic elements.

To build a picture of a landscape in black and white, you have to be considerate. If your photographic elements are clear, you should choose it rather dark. If your photographic elements are dark, you must choose it clear. You must think in terms of contrasts. The more contrasted your picture is, the more attractive it is to a human eye.

Your background should not cause a mass imbalance, or it may interfere with the playback of the photo.

The Post Processing Allows You to Strengthen the Reading of Your Photo

The development of a black and white landscape is certainly the most important step in the construction of photography.

The development of a black and white photo is not simply about desaturating the colors. In this case, you will have a flat photo without volume and without texture. The first step is often desaturation, but it is completed by other more creative steps.

If you shoot in RAW with your camera, you have the possibility to directly generate a JPEG photo that will be in black and white. But you have to use this function just for testing. Blacks and whites are generally unflattering and rather flat compared to a black and white developed with a computer. This feature available on many cameras allows you to get a general idea of the photo. But it will not be exploitable for a paper print.

I always recommend shooting in RAW to create a photo in black and white because you will be able to adjust the white balance and especially the exposure. The white balance will allow you for example to accent blue or green which are two interesting colors in black and white.

Adjusting the exposure will allow you to start adjusting the contrast.

Developing a photograph of black and white landscapes is simple and complicated at the same time. This sentence may seem paradoxical, but it reflects the truth.

If you have made an excellent high-contrast photo with photographic elements that have textures and graphics, you can use a specialized black and white software and choose a predefined template. With some simple adjustments you will already get an excellent photo ready to be printed on paper.

If the scene you chose was a little complex and you clogged blacks or burned whites, selective zone development is required. In this case, the use of Photoshop is essential because you will need to use the merge masks and adjustment layers to adjust area by zone.

But whatever method you choose, the general idea of black and white development is to accentuate the properties of photographic elements.

In the first place, you will accentuate the details of the textures. Then you will play on the sharpness of certain elements to better define the shapes.

And finally, you will accentuate the contrast to better guide the viewer watching your photo.

For your landscape photographs, think about working the blues of the skies, the warm colors of the minerals or the green of the foliage.

Finally, I recommend you always add vignetting that is dark or clear. The purpose of this treatment is to direct the eye towards the area of photography that is of most interest.

Always Print a Black and White Photo

I think a photograph only exists from the moment it was printed on paper.

In black and white photography, it's mandatory. It is at the time of the print that you will realize if blacks and whites are detailed. It is at this stage that you will realize that the photo speaks for itself.

But you cannot print a black and white landscape on any paper. The paper should be thick and textured. For my part, I always use 310 grams Baryta paper. Different brands exist on the market.

You will realize that several prints will be needed to find the right compromise.

Not All Landscapes Are Suitable for Black and White

You must choose the landscapes you are going to photograph to develop in black and white. Not all scenes are suitable.

Rather than give reasons that will lengthen this article, here are some color photos that would make no sense in black and white.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.


Although composing and framing a photograph of landscapes with the technique of black and white requires a reflection that begins well before the camera is triggered. Photography is well thought upstream.

Once in the field, do not forget to contrast your scenes and to choose graphic and textured photographic elements.

Do not forget that the development has a considerable impact because you will reinforce the contrast and better guide the viewer using vignetting.

Creating a beautiful photograph of black and white landscapes is a special alchemy where the dosage of each ingredient must be precise and meticulous. Take your time and be patient. It takes time to achieve the creation of landscape photos that have a real meaning.

The black and white in landscape photography is above all developing a real look and a real artistic approach.

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