I was recently challenged to try switching gears and creating black and white images instead of colour. It inspired me to take a closer look at what kind of black and white landscape photos I like. After studying the work of others I discovered that the images I find impactful share some common elements.
Element 1 – Strong Contrast
Very black black’s and very white whites are perfect for giving the image real pop. Without colour to provide the vibrance, strong contrast steps in to provide that umph!
Photography Tip: When working on a black and white image in Lightroom, did you know that if you hold the ‘alt’ or ‘option’ key down while sliding the black or white slider it will give you a visualization of how your image is being adjusted. You can then adjust the slider until just enough true black or pure white is showing in the image. I also watch my histogram carefully when I play with the adjustments and I have noticed that with black and white landscapes I prefer to have it skewed to the left or on the dark side. Ahhh yes… the dark side is powerful.
I’ve always thought that impactful black and white images skewed to the dark side but the image I made today proves this is not always the case. Sometimes the exact opposite can be just as impactful.
Element 2 – Texture
Monochrome is perfect for highlighting textures. The contrast of the smooth white space surrounding the rough base of the trees creates visual interest. In the original photo above, the snow was littered with little bits of dirt which I carefully erased so that the eye would travel smoothly over the snow and linger on the coarse ridges in the cedar bark.
Photography Tip: There are many ways to clean up spots on an image – be it from dust on your lens or small bits of dirt or debris on the ground. I like to start by removing any easy spots in Lightroom with the spot removal tool. Sometimes this tool won’t work on a particularly tricky spot so I then move the image into Photoshop give the Spot Healing Brush or Patch tool a go.
Element 3 – Simplicity
High impact monochrome images are often simple. The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed. Many photographers will tell you when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for clear subjects and isolate them in the composition. But interestingly, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying. As is the case with the image below that I call “Winter’s Icy Grip.”
For this image I isolated one branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and setting the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred. The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped. The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version of this image tells it best.
Element 4 – Patterns
It seems that pattern plays a very big role when colour is absent – providing interest and helping to move your eye through the frame. Repeating patterns are often found in architecture and nature and without colour to distract us their beauty really shines in black and white.
So the next time you are considering trying something different… why not put these elements into practice and give black and white a try. You might be surprised (as I was) how doing something completely different from what you usually do can boost your creativity across the board.
Bringing subjects to life, beautifully.
Elle is a Canadian photographer, artist and visual storyteller with a passion for landscape and outdoor life. Focused on creating impactful images, Elle also shares tips and writes on the topics of photography, creativity, and art. Elle’s vivid images and photo based art are available online for personal purchase and commercial licensing. Elle also welcomes commissioned work.