Thinking in Black & White

Thought I’d throw a few thoughts together regarding shooting landscapes in black & white.
I don’t claim to be an expert by any means – this is more a summary of what works for me & to give you a few ideas to try if you’re not sure where to start.
It is more aimed at those who are newer to DSLR, as those of you with more experience will probably have your own approach to this.

Monochrome photos are not something people always think of when taking landscape shots – Most shots we see are in vibrant colour.

Why shoot landscapes in mono?
Without colour, you tend to focus more on the subject, you notice the small things – textures, shapes, patterns
You can create dramatic scenes and intense moods.  Clouds and water in particular can work really well in mono.
If the scene is dull and colourless, mono can actually breathe a bit of life & energy into it, bringing contrast and more defined
…and of course if you really make a hash of the white balance, this can help you hide it!

Thinking in black and white
Learn to think in black & white….I normally have an idea of which shots will be mono when I take them.
We say it is a black & white shot, but really, most monochrome photography is more like many shades of grey  (no, not 50 shades like you are thinking ! ).
The number one rule for photography is that it is all about the light. And for monochrome photography, that is especially true
So I try & picture in my head what a mono version of what I am seeing will look like. Where the shadows and light fall, what textures are interesting and will stand out. Will detail be hidden in the shadows?

A few mono tips
Composition is the key – with no colour, the composition becomes even more important to engage the viewer


Keep it simple – If there is too much happening, the shot can be confusing to the eye. The strongest images are usually the simplest ones.

Watch your highlights – This should be something you do anyway in colour – blown highlights can ruin a great colour photo, but in mono they can become too intense. Unless of course that is the look you are after. Sometimes intense backlight is what you want


In general, don’t shoot mono in-camera. You are locked into the camera’s processing preferences, which may not be the best solution for you.
But if it helps your creativity to shoot in mono, make sure  you shoot in RAW + JPEG, your jpeg will be mono, but your RAW file will still have all your colour information,
Use the colour filters in your processing software creatively. Most of your software eg. Lightroom, Photoshop, Paintshop pro etc have a black & white conversion where you can adjust the colour filtering. You can make the sky lighter or darker grey to contrast against the foreground, or , bring out more detail in foliage.
Learn to edit levels and curves – playing with levels & curves is where you can make your photos pop.
Be creative – Sepia tones work well with old things like buildings, farm machinery etc – gives you a vintage look. But like selective colour and HDR, I’d suggest to use sparingly. You can have too much of a good thing.


Vignettes (white or black) can help draw the viewers eye into the shot


For interesting clouds, experiment with a GND filter – it will control highlights and give you more detail in the clouds, and can make them ominous looking


Finally, think outside the square – . Be ready to recognise opportunities for something different.
This last shot was very opportunistic – was a bit of a fluke really  – just had to straighten the canoe to suit.
It breaks the rule of thirds, but rules were meant to be broken on occasions.



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