Shoot vis­tas full of monochrome majesty

Practical Photography (UK) - - Mono Masterclass -

THE GREAT OUT­DOORS CAN BE A riot of colour, with a pal­ette that changes through the sea­sons. It might seem odd, there­fore, to choose to present a land­scape image in black & white. Of course, prob­a­bly the most fa­mous land­scape spe­cial­ist in the his­tory of pho­tog­ra­phy – the great Ansel Adams – shot al­most ex­clu­sively in monochrome, and no­body could ac­cuse him of pro­duc­ing im­ages that lacked im­pact. Any land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher who sets out to shoot in mono must learn a new way of read­ing a scene. Colours of­ten ren­der as al­most iden­ti­cal tones of grey in a black & white shot and, where a colour image can rely on the dif­fer­ent hues for com­po­si­tional power, mono land­scapes are only de­fined by dif­fer­ences in tone.

It is the separation of light and dark that drives the com­po­si­tion in a black & white land­scape, and as­sess­ing a scene for a po­ten­tial mono ren­der­ing re­quires an eye for tonal separation. In the days of film, a handy trick for ‘see­ing’ a land­scape in black & white was to use an or­ange or red fil­ter on the lens, which also dra­mat­i­cally dark­ened the sky. With the colours muted it was pos­si­ble to pick out dif­fer­ences in tone through the viewfinder. With a dig­i­tal cam­era you can go a step fur­ther and set up your Live View to dis­play in black & white. But while this is a use­ful aid when start­ing out, the se­ri­ous mono land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher should train them­selves to judge the tonal separation in a scene be­fore even set­ting up a cam­era.

Take a fresh look at light

The good news for any land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher think­ing of shoot­ing some mono im­ages is that some of the light­ing con­di­tions that are un­suit­able for pro­duc­ing a good colour shot can work won­der­fully in black & white. Many land­scape artists favour the golden hours just af­ter dawn and just be­fore sun­set, when the shad­ows are long and the sky has a blan­ket of even lu­mi­nes­cence. While these con­di­tions

can work just as well in mono, black & white land­scapes can also look fan­tas­tic when shot un­der the harsh­est of light with the sun at its zenith. In these con­di­tions the strong separation be­tween the black­est shad­ows and whitest high­lights strength­ens the in­her­ently graphic na­ture of the black & white image.

Go long for tonal­ity

Any land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher worth his or her salt is al­most guar­an­teed to have some se­ri­ous neu­tral den­sity fil­ters in their kit bag for pro­duc­ing those glo­ri­ous long ex­po­sure shots where the clouds scud across the sky and wa­ter is ren­dered as a dreamy, mist-like layer.

This com­pelling style of land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy works just a well in black & white and ac­tu­ally has some ad­van­tages for any­one shoot­ing in mono. Skies are nat­u­rally im­pres­sive in black & white – es­pe­cially with some tweak­ing in the post-edit – and blurry white clouds against a stark black sky look par­tic­u­larly strik­ing, while the ‘blan­ket’ of tonal­ity that mov­ing wa­ter cre­ates in scene works very well in monochrome.

Fi­nally, when look­ing at a scene and con­sid­er­ing a black & white treat­ment, de­cide if it con­tains a good con­trast of tonal­ity, look for a separation of light and dark and as­sess its graph­i­cal ap­peal.

Above Long ex­po­sures can boost the tonal separation in monochrome im­ages and add ex­tra im­pact.

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