Why and How Photographing Landscapes in Black and White – Part 2
The Tana waterfall on Blue Nile in Ethiopia is a perfect landscape for black and white photography.
Keep Mass Balances in Mind
In a photograph, a mass is an area that is rather dark. We talk about mass because when looking at it, we feel that it weighs heavily in a photo. A mass can, for example, be a rock or a bush of a 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. It is what we call a “mass imbalance”, and in general, we do not find this effect very aesthetic.
Not all dark-colored photographic elements create mass imbalance. Everything depends on their respective volume.
If an element has an important surface in your landscape photography, we say that it occupies a large volume, even if the photo is a two-dimensional media. If it occupies a small surface, we say that it occupies a small volume.
Managing the balance of mass is generally very important in photography, however, 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 is attracted by this mass and yet feels like the image is chaotic because of the imbalance. The photography will lack harmony.
Balancing masses in the right and left areas of a black and white landscape photograph is not the only thing to keep in mind. We must 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 the image. When the foreground is sharp, it allows the photographer to establish 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. While you may risk creating an imbalance of depth, you may actually create a closer bridge between the viewer and your photography. The viewer cannot go beyond this foreground because you shape his view.
The first plan should be like a step, allowing the viewer to follow wherever your gaze lands. This step must be easy to climb with the eye. It acts as a springboard to other photographic elements in your composition.
In general, the foreground must be in mid-tones, and should occupy little space. Being textured and graphic is a plus because it immediately sets the tone for the photograph and therefore quickly conveys messages.
Examine Your Background
In landscape photography, the purpose of the background is to highlight photographic elements.
To capture a landscape in black and white, you have to be considerate. If your photographic elements are clear, you should choose a rather dark background. If your photographic elements are dark, you must choose a clear background. You must think in terms of contrasts. The more contrasted your picture is, the more attractive it is to a human eye.
Nevertheless, your background should not cause a mass imbalance, or it may interfere with the playback of the photo.
Post Processing Strengthens Initial Perceptions 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 colors. In this case, you will have a flat photo without volume and without texture. The first step is often desaturation, which is completed through other 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. This function should only be used for testing. Blacks and whites are generally unflattering and rather flat compared to a black and white post processed photo developed with a computer. This feature available on many cameras allows you to establish a general idea of the photo, but it cannot be used to acquire 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 the exposure. The white balance allows you to adjust many features. For example, it can accent blue or green, both of which are two interesting colors in black and white.
Adjusting the exposure allows you to control 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 that allows you to choose a predefined template. With some simple adjustments, you will have an excellent photo ready to be printed on paper.
If the scene you chose was a little complex, or if you overwhelmed the image with heavy blacks or extremely bright whites, selective zone development is required. In this case, the use of photoshop is essential. You will need to use the merge masks and adjustment layers to control each area or zone.
Regardless of the 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 shapes.
And finally, you will accentuate the contrast to better guide the viewer of 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, this is 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 if the photo speaks for itself.
You cannot print black and white landscapes on just any paper. The paper should be thick and textured. For my part, I always use 310 grams Baryta paper, although 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 carefully select the landscapes you are going to photograph and develop in black and white; not all scenes are suitable.
Rather than providing reasons for having caution, which would lengthen this article, here are some color photos that would not make excellent black and white photos.
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.
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 a contemplative process.
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. The incorporation of vignettes will better guide the viewer as well.
Creating a beautiful photograph of black and white landscapes is a special alchemy where the precision of each ingredient must be meticulous. Take your time and be patient. It takes great experience to achieve the creation of landscape photos that possess a deep meaning.
The black and white in landscape photography is above all developing true class through its authentic artistic approach.