Landscape Photography in Black & White

There is something almost etherial about black & white images. Perhaps its the stark contrast between the dark and the light. Perhaps its all the shades of gray in between. Whatever it is, you can’t help but be drawn into a black & white landscape image and almost feel that you were there in person.  Color adds depth and feeling to an image but for me, black and white images can transport you to another place and time altogether.

McKinney Falls State Park

McKinney Falls State Park
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/22 for 1/15th of a second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro plug-in. Click on the image above for a larger version.

If you’re like me and enjoy black & white photography then I urge you to check out Derek Shanks work on his blog. Its some of the best black & white work I’ve seen in years!

Black and White Photography – Find the Texture

Ever watch the “Heroes” TV series? They had a mantra on that show “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World”. Black and white photography has absolutely nothing to do with that. I was just checking to see if you’re still awake. Actually, there is a mantra for finding good black and white subjects, “Find the Texture, Save the Shot”.

Whenever I’m walking around looking for something interesting to shoot, I always look for something with a lot of texture, whether its a building, a tree or even a person. Subjects with interesting textures make for some great black and white images.

Cathedral Fountain

Cathedral Fountain
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 18mm, f/9.5 for 1/180th of a second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional UDMA digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Black and White Photography – Shadow Detail

In black and white photography its important to create an image with as many tonal variations as possible while also making sure that some areas are pure white and pure black. In my last post I showed how Canon’s Highlight Tone Priority setting can help achieve this on the “high end” but what about the shadow areas? How do we retain some detail in the shadows without everything else becoming washed out?

This is where your camera’s evaluative metering system needs a bit of a jump start. Take this image for example. This great old oak tree is obviously well back lit and the camera’s meter is working its little heart out trying to make everything look like a neutral gray, which throws the entire tree into shadow.

To gain a little more control in a situation like this, your LCD and exposure compensation control become your best friend and you’ve got two ways to go at this. Let the camera meter off the entire scene like normal but dial in some positive exposure compensation, say +1 EV for starters. Take a few more shots and adjust your exposure compensation as needed. Or set your camera for spot metering, meter off the tree and dial in some negative exposure compensation to prevent the background “blinkies”. Play around with this for a few minutes until you zero in on a good exposure that shows some shadow detail without blown-out highlights. Remember, film is free so experiment to your hearts content!

BTW – If you find your image is still a little too light or a little too dark and you shoot in RAW, don’t sweat it. You can fine tune things in “post”. (Did I just say that out loud?)

Old Oak

Old Oak
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) with highlight tone priority enabled, using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 17mm, f/11 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 200 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Black and White Photography – Highlight Tone Priority

One thing that is crucial in black and white photography is making sure your highlights don’t get completely blow out in your quest for great contrast. Luckily the EOS 40D and 50D cameras include a Highlight Tone Priority setting that “extends” the dynamic range so that gradations between highlight tones becomes smoother. It also helps recover blown-out highlights but in my experience, the effect is subtle. Since enabling this mode limits your ISO setting from 2oo – 16oo (it also changes how the ISO looks in the LCD from 200 to 2oo so that you can easily tell it’s set), you may find this feature creates slightly more noise than you would see at ISO 100.

In my own shooting I’ve found this setting can really help out in high contrast landscape work where the highlights like these clouds below, tend to get blown out. This isn’t a fix for every situation but it will help if you’ve forgotten your neutral density grad filter. The Canon Professional Network site even includes a video “Masterclass” on this feature and it’s a great presentation to watch.

Victorian Grape Arbor

Victorian Grape Arbor
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) with highlight tone priority enabled, using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 22mm, f/11 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 200 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Black and White Photography – Contrast

Rules are made to be broken. Remember the “golden hours” rule? You know, the one that states that any good landscape image has to be taken during those golden hours right around sunrise and sunset? Well, in black and white photography you can break that rule with impunity! (I’m sure this comment will get me flamed)

Black and white photography is all about contrast. Any subject and any lighting that will provide you with great contrast is fair game. And if you don’t believe me, read Ansel Adams’ classic book Natural Light Photography to see how the world’s most famous photographer used contrast in his images taken at all times of the day and night, not just during the “golden hours”.

Town Center Afternoon

Afternoon in Town Center
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 21mm, f/5.6 for 1/640th of a second at ISO 100 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Quick Tip Tuesday – Highlight Alert

EOS 50D Highlight Alert Setting

One great feature available in all current DSLR cameras is a Highlight Alert setting which can help you obtain better exposed images. When this setting is enabled any blown-out (completely overexposed) area in your image will “blink” on the camera’s rear LCD display.

When you see this happen (and believe me, it happens) you can set the camera’s exposure compensation control to a negative amount (-1 EV) and reshoot the image. Its a great “real-time” feedback system built into today’s DSLR cameras that I highly recommend leaving enabled at all times. This is very important for black & white work where a blown out highlight can really ruin an image.

Black and White Photography – Lines and Shadows

Two of the things I look for when shooting in black and white are lines and shadows. Over the years I’ve found that subjects with great lines and interesting shadows really look good in black and white.

Last week I received an email from a reader basically asking what went through my mind as I approached a shot like this. In the days of using black and white film I would have said “f/8 at 1/250th” but with today’s evaluative metering systems, getting a good first exposure doesn’t really enter my mind yet. All I really concentrate on is composition for the first few shots knowing that the camera’s meter will give me a good starting point and the LCD will help me fine tune as needed.

I thank the Lord that the days of counting exposures on a roll of Tri-X are over and I can “play” with the exposure compensation to my heart’s content. I think this one took me about a dozen before I got a shot that looked halfway decent!

Victorian Yard

Victorian Yard
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon 40D set on aperture priority (Av) with highlight tone priority enabled, using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 17mm, f/11 for 1/200th of a second at ISO 200 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.