Shooting in black & white, or converting color images to black & white, often allows you to create powerful, moody photos. Black & white isn’t appropriate for every landscape or nature shot, but when the situation is right, going to black & white can be a very effective approach.
Here you’ll find 25 photos from various photographers that should serve to give you plenty of inspiration for your own black & white landscape photography. We’ll also give you some tips and information about black & white photography, and why it works so well – as well as different techniques you can try for yourself.
Black & white photography is also known as monochrome, because it uses just those two colours. In the image above, we can see a really great example of how black & white can work so well.
The human eye is always drawn to the lightest area that it sees, so using a dark image with one bright focal point is a really good way to direct attention to where you want it. In this case, the photographer has placed his subject – the lone boat – off to the side in a single shaft of light, hitting the ocean and the sky.
If this photograph was in colour, it would still be powerful – just not quite as powerful as it is in this format. That’s because the lack of colour allows us to focus more on tone and contrast instead, so we recognise that burst of light more easily. In other words, it makes us concentrate on that focal point even more. This makes for a really dramatic photograph.
If you have an image that feels lacking in contrast, then turning it into black & white could help. You can increase the contrast far further this way than you could if you were trying not to distort the colour.
Mastering black and white photograph requires an eye for shades, rather than colours. When you’re looking at a landscape with your own eyes, it can be difficult to envisage what it will look like in monochrome – but with practice, you can start to see things in terms of light and dark, rather than red, orange, blue, and so on.
In this shot above, we can see that the photographer has used the natural phenomenon of mist to their advantage. Gathering across the landscape, it blocks the view more and more as you look further on, which means that these land formations – all of which are likely to be the same colour in real life – turn into different shades of grey.
Using greyscale gradients like this can really enhance your black and white photography, adding depth while at the same time giving more of an artistic impression for the viewer.
Interestingly, snow is one of the best possible lights to photograph in, according to many of the master photographers from history. This is because of the way that light is bounced back from the white surfaces all around. Black and white photography is used to strong effect here because it enhances the feeling of chill and frost, removing even any hint of colour in the contrast between the snow and the uncovered bark of the trees.
The use of black and white toning on an image with a dramatic sky, such as the one above, can create even more drama for the overall shot thanks to the increase in contrast. Here, the image is one of deep blacks and bright whites, although nothing is oversaturated or undersaturated. This is made possible by the use of desaturation, combined with an increased contrast. Not only does this help the landscape to stand out more against the sky and water, but it also creates a more dramatic shot overall, with the dark clouds rolling in across the sky.
Selective desaturation can help you achieve interesting effects. Try playing around with filters, such as using infra-red filtering in Photoshop or Lightroom, to play with the tones of your image. Even though these edits ostensibly make use of the colours in your original image, they can make huge changes to the appearance in monochrome. This is because you are essentially telling the editing software which colours should be seen as the darkest blacks, and which as the brightest whites, rather than relying on it to choose for itself.
You may notice that not all black and white photography is always pure black and pure white. For example, the image above actually has a warmer tone to it, so that the black appears to have an almost red tint. This is still considered to be monochrome photography.
If you push the toning further, you can move out of black and white and into other colours. For example, sepia-toned photographs use browns and whites rather than blacks. Cyanotypes always produce shades of blue. The toning can depend on the processing method used, and can of course be added manually to digital photography using editing software. It can even be the result of a mistake, as darkroom photographs that have not been fixed correctly can see a shift in tones over time.
No matter what subject you choose for your photography, adding black and white can add plenty of drama, as well as gravitas. While it’s important to know when going monochrome will harm the image rather than help it, there are plenty of opportunities in landscape photography in particular to choose black & white.
There are some photographers, considered the masters of landscapes, who choose to shoot in black and white only – so you will be in good company if you choose to edit your photographs this way. On the technical side, it’s advisable to shoot in colour and then convert to black and white, rather than shooting in black and white, if you are using a DSLR. The reason for this is that you will lose some tonality and a lot of control if you don’t have that colour version available first. This also gives you the chance to make sure that black and white is the edit the photograph really needs, and that it wouldn’t be stronger in colour!
Black and white can be very strong because of the fact that we tend to associate it with historical documentation and serious art. This creates an idea in our minds that if something is in black and white, it must be really important. In turn, your images take on that aura of serious art that will cause the viewer to look more carefully. So long as it suits the image, monochrome can be a great way to bring your work to a more professional level and have it taken more seriously.