Bl ack & White l and scapes
Bad weather and long exposures are just a couple of reasons why landscapes are made for mono – find out the facts for best results
Black & white photography is rooted in the works of so many great landscape photographers – ansel adams, Michael kenna and Josef holehner, to name a few – that it's no surprise it's still inspirational. their images have helped keep the beauty of film photography alive and inspired countless photographers in their wake to create monochrome masterpieces, ensuring the quality and variety of black & white scenics is still as strong as ever.
like film, digital images should be captured as negatives – in other words raw files – and that's never more important than with landscapes. to capture maximum detail throughout the frame and to retain as much control over your tonal range and quality as possible, shooting in colour and raw format is paramount. when you’ve taken so many careful steps to capture your photograph, where's the sense in surrendering at the final step and letting your camera decide what detail to delete by shooting in Jpeg- only? as we've mentioned previously, shooting raw+ Jpeg lets you preview your converted images in- camera and gives you the digital negative to process at your discretion. it's a win- win! having such power over your processing also means you can exploit what limited tonal range you have at capture.
Not all scenes suit monochrome, but there are some that make a perfect pair. Night- time landscapes, for example, with its inherent high isos and noise; cities with monochromatic skyscrapers, strong lines and abstract shapes; and the coast that's full of opportunities for simple abstracts and creative long exposures. Some landscapes are made for mono once they're subjected to certain conditions, such as fog, mist and backlighting, as it often creates low- contrast scenes with already monochromatic tones, producing amazing mood.
a brooding, dark stormy sky is also perfect weather for great black & whites as you can really exploit the natural contrast in the sky with a strong ND grad filter. however, if it were in colour you’d probably need to wait for the sun to break through the clouds for similar impact. Normally, when shooting in colour, you'd want to avoid flat lighting but with black & whites, the strength of the light is far less important than its quality. Dull, overcast days with little direct light may deliver flat, lifeless landscapes straight out of camera – but they offer far more options in processing. the even, soft light from cloud cover reveals the smallest of details that may otherwise have been lost to deep shadows and bright highlights that can be a struggle to control. instead you provide yourself with the perfect digital negative that enables you to expand the tonal range without the worry of losing detail in the highlights or shadows. you can process for contrast by brightening and darkening midtones to improve dynamic range. the flip- side of flat lighting, however, is a washed- out sky, so you may want to use a graduated ND filter to improve the available tonal range or consider replacing the sky in post- production.
of course it’s not only bad weather that produces great black & whites images: strong directional light from a low setting sun, for instance, can work wonders for revealing texture and adding depth, so it’s still worth heading out during the golden hours to utilise the low raking light. when the light is vibrant and warm, as it often is at sunrise and sunset, you may find it difficult to justify a black & white conversion. But trust us: give it a go. colour often masks the shapes and true tones of a scene, which a change to black & white can bring to the surface, so don’t discount it when you’re processing a raw file – you've nothing to lose.