Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part I   7 comments

Dawn mist lifts over a small fishing lake high in the Montana Rockies.

I like to do black and white (B&W), landscapes but go through long periods where it isn’t much of a priority.  Lately I’ve been doing quite a few.  By the way the terms black & white and monochrome are roughly equivalent.  Monochrome is a more inclusive way to describe them, because it includes those where you add toning like sepia or bluish tones.

In terms of the creation of monochrome images, I divide them up into two basic categories.  There are those where, at the time of shooting, I think about how the scene may look in B&W.  And then there are those where I realize after the fact on the computer that it would make a nice B&W.  Both are valid ways to go about shooting in B&W.

The Hoh River and Olympic mountains, cloaked in rainforest.  106 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50.

The Hoh River and Olympic mountains, cloaked in rainforest. 106 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

Black and white processed in Silver Effex, no toning.

Black and white processed in Silver Effex, no toning.

Of course you should always shoot in color then convert later.  To do it this way you need to shoot in RAW.  If you have a good reason to shoot Jpegs, you’ll need to decide color or B&W before capture.  Here are a few things that make certain pictures better for black and white conversions:

Textures:  One thing I always look for is texture.  It’s something that nearly always shows up better in monochrome.  Fine texture or larger textural patterns, it doesn’t matter.

Layers & Other Patterns:  I know these are universally good for landscapes, color or B&W, but they just seem to jump out more in the latter.

Lack of Color:  Be careful with this one.  Monochrome conversions of wonderfully colorful images can be spectacular.  But I happen to love color, so if I’m in love with the palette in a certain photo I’m less likely to want to convert it to B&W.

Shot along the Hoh on the same hike as the above, springtime in evidence.  121 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 50; tripod.

Shot along the Hoh on the same hike as the above, springtime in evidence. 121 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 50; tripod.

In Silver Effex, I added a light cream tone.

In Silver Effex, I added a light cream tone.

Shadows & Local Contrast:  This sort of belongs in the category of textures, but when the sun gets low and there are plenty of interesting shadows, that’s not just a nice time for color landscapes, it’s great for B&W too.  Of course as always you need to check your histogram to make sure the contrasts aren’t making it impossible to capture detail for all the tones you need to capture.  Make sure your blinkies (the warning for blowing out highlight detail) are turned on.

Moody Light & Compositions:  When the opposite is true and you’re dealing with low-contrast, foggy or misty scenes, monochrome can also work well.  Really any scene that’s moody or atmospheric may look good in B&W (image below).

Panther Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.  47 mm., 10 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

Panther Creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington. 47 mm., 10 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; tripod; processed in Lightroom.

Old-Timey Subjects:  Some subjects lend themselves to processing that is “vintage” in some way (image at bottom).  Black and white is an obvious choice, though processing that simulates old color film also works well.  Sepia or yellowed antique tones, various grains, or cracked and flawed film looks, it’s all available through software.

We’ll continue next time with the actual shooting and processing of black and white images.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Capitol Reef, Utah. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; Processed in Lightroom with dark sepia tone.

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7 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part I

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  1. I’ve started doing more black and whites this year, especially with this nearly monochrome winter stuff (and I heard Cole Thompson speak, an exclusively black and white photographer, he planted the thought of doing more b&w in my head). I’ve been using the Silver Efex software since they made that thing available for free. Getting that morning light doesn’t seem so critical with black and white, would you agree with that? I like that because I’m usually a zombie until about 7 or 8 am every morning, so getting out for a sunrise is a horrible ordeal for me (well, I don’t like it anyway).

    • Yes I’d agree in general. It’s very hard for me to get up before the sun does, always has been. But once I’m up and the light is breaking I love it. I’d say shoot B&W anytime the mood strikes, but try to hit magic hour either evening or morning. What you don’t really need is the “magic minute” that so many nowadays think is the only time to shoot (it’s just popular b/c of all the deep oranges & reds).

      • Magic Minute, that does describe what a lot of photographers seem to be going for. In Colorado it seems pretty hard to get those sunrise photos. Sunrise is around 5:30-ish in the morning in the summer, anything you want to photograph seems to be a few miles up a trail, that’s really an early start, then you get up there and the sun is behind a ridge anyway. Well, that’s my excuse for not getting out there too often in the morning in the summer.

  2. Wonderful set!

  3. Eine tolle Landschaft!

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