Photographing Black & White Landscapes
A great way to add drama to your nature photography is to shoot black and white landscapes. Most modern digital cameras give you this option; to access this control, you’ll need to go into the menu and find the setting for Monochrome.
With Nikon cameras, it’s found in the Picture Control tab, with Canon it’s the Picture Styles tab. With Fujifilm cameras, you can select one of the monochrome film simulations, and with Sony it’s found in the Creative Style tab. If you’re unsure how to find this option on your camera, check the manual.
It’s fun to channel your inner Ansel. There’s a reason his photos are so popular, by removing the element of color, you reduce your scene to a simple mix of light, shape, tone and shadow. Since we don’t see in black and white, this can immediately add a timeless artistic quality to your imagery.
In the lake photo, I have a very pronounced subject matter (the large boulder in the foreground), and a dramatic background of contrasting ridges, one of which is in the sun, and one of which is in shadow. That shadowed ridge would have been bluish-green in color, but here it’s represented by a much bolder shadow tone. The hard break of light to dark from foreground to background helps draw the eye in much more forcefully.
You’ll find that black and white helps increase the power of most scenes. It can add more drama to landscapes when the light isn’t very good, like on overcast days. However, don’t discount shooting in black an white when you have exceptional light, this will only serve to add even more excitement, as with the picture of the lake above.
Shooting in black and white can accentuate the abstract feel of certain landscapes. Again, by removing color, your viewer will pay much more attention to the shape and texture of your subject matter. Shape, light and texture are the elements that made Edward Weston’s photographs so powerful.
Black and white won’t save every scene, though, you’ll still need to pay attention to the direction and quality of the light and use good compositional skills, or else your image will fall flat, even if was shot in monochrome.
The next time you’re out shooting, experiment with black and white. Try it with subjects other than landscapes. Shoot the same scene in color and BW and compare the two looks. Pay attention to how your eye responds. You may find that certain subjects even lend themselves better to black and white.
In the end, it’s all about what you like and what excites your visual senses. This is just one more tool you can add to your creative bag of tricks, which will make you a better, more well rounded photographer.