In this technique guide, we show you how to improve your black and white photography skills. Black and white photography is all about translating a coloured world into black, white and tones of grey.
There’s something special about a beautifully produced black and white landscape photograph, as the enduring popularity of the work of greats such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston continue to testify. The technology may have changed since Ansel’s day, with digital capture and inkjet printing, but the aim is the same: to produce great photographs.
Seeing in black and whiteFew things in photography are as impressive as a great black and white landscapes. But if you want to create masterpieces worthy of hanging on your wall there’s a different mind-set for shooting b&w compared to colour, which you’ll need to key yourself into. Whereas colour photography relies more on how different colours are juxtaposed and complemented by each other, b&w’s intrinsic nature, which pares every scene down to a palette of shades of grey, lends itself to a different aesthetic – one which is more about tone, form and texture. Being able to see a scene in these terms, and to pre-visualise it as your final b&w print, will give you a greater chance of success than simply running random images through the desaturate feature of your software to see what happens.
Tonal rangeBlack and white photographs are composed of a tonal rangef greys that fall between black and white. In general, a well-exposed image will give you the widest possible range of tones between these two extremes, but it will depend to a great extent on the subject and on the lighting conditions. In order to record the maximum spread of tones from the darkest to the lightest, without losing the detail in either, you must get your exposure right.
Too much and you’ll lose the highlights; too little and you’ll lose the shadows. Post-production can amend exposure inaccuracies to a degree but if you fail to make a good initial exposure you’re restricting the potential quality of your results, as there will be less recorded information to work with. With digital capture it’s harder to get detail back from overexposed areas than from those that are underexposed, so it’s best to expose for the highlights. With landscapes, you do have time to consider your settings and bracket your results. Shooting in Raw mode will help because it offers a greater range of tones – being 8-bit there are only 256 possible shades of grey with a jpeg, but 12-bit Raw files can record 4096.
Below: This picture has been reduced to just black and white, with virtually no shades of grey at all, to striking effect.
Seeing In ZonesTonal ranges are often referred to as zones or a ‘zone system’. This is a reference to the system devised and mastered by Ansel Adams. In his system, pure black was represented by zone 0, middle grey (18% grey) at zone 5 and pure white at 10. Two of the most important zones are zones three and seven – zone three represents a shadow area with texture, and zone seven represents highlight area with detail.
Not all landscapes look as good in mono as they do in colour. This scene looks great in reality, but in b&w those contrasting bands of colour reproduce as the same shade of mid-grey, resulting in a boring image
read also Amazing landscape photography from Ian Moran