Why and How Photographing: Landscapes in Black and White

You may photograph landscapes. If so, you are probably wondering whether you should develop 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 the original scene.

In this article, I will 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.

Creating an Interpretation of What You See

Creating a black and white photograph of a landscape is an interpretation. You do not present the complete image of nature as it exists, rather you interpret the reality.

Black and white landscape photography allows you to convey your emotions and/or personal messages in a more direct and artistic way. Since it is an act of interpretation, you are not accountable to anyone for the reality. You can let your imagination and your creativity wander, which truly is the essence of the technique of black and white.

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

You will move away from this, approaching a new representation of reality. This artistic approach of black and white is not easy to implement. Not all landscape scenes can be 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 that the technique is specific, so is the image’s development. You must respect certain rules.

Contemplate Your Black and White Landscape Photo Before Shooting It

Before you take a black-and-white photograph of a landscape, you have to prepare your mind through contemplation. In general, an interesting and creative photo must always be planned before being shot. This is especially 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, and perspectives to translate your emotions and convey your messages through the image.

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

When facing a landscape, you must contemplate your final print.

With a digital camera, the picture displayed in the screen on the back of the camera in color. You keep in mind that 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 greatly 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 large differences between dark tones and light tones, hence, the contrast.

Photographing an image 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 be straight to the point to present your message immediately.

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

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

Consider Choices of Photographic Elements

Once on the field facing the landscape to be photographed, you must 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 the mass of 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 various points of respect in your black and white landscape, 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 night had fallen.
  • A green filter brightens foliage but darkens red objects.

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

Look for the Best 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 create deep shadows and illuminating highlights. Your goal is to highlight the photographic elements. Look for shadows, because the brightness of light only exists if it is present alongside shadows.

The shadows in a landscape scene adds volume, accentuating forms and creating a 3D effect in the image.

Search for High Contrast Scenes

The more contrasted your scenes are, the more successful your black and white photographs will be with your audience.

Contrast is the difference of light between dark shadows and bright lights in your photograph. The denser your blacks are without clouding the image of course, and the brighter your shades are without blurring details, the more impact your photo will have. This is because the human eye loves contrasts. To analyze a scene, the brain always looks for contrasts to decipher meaning.

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 details, and textured photographic elements.

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Seek Textured Photographic Elements

Textures in the photographic elements provide details of what is needed to create the photos in black and white. They allow the viewer’s gaze to notice certain areas of the image without the use of color. Black and white contrasts 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, it can attract attention by focusing on textures. For example, stone, tree bark, clouds, etc.

Focus on Graphical Elements

Graphic elements are formidable to create good black and white photos. In landscapes, graphics are everywhere: treetops, drawings on the ground, forms on rock faces, waves, etc. 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 it.

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 by its abundance of textures and patterns.

The human eye is always attracted by details and graphics, but it especially attracted by the repetition of a motif. If you want to catch the eye of a viewer, keep repetition of motifs in mind!

Keep Mass Balances in Mind


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