Top tips for shooting black & white landscapes
Want to add new life to your landscapes? Try shooting in black and white, says pro photographer Alfonso Calero.
The next six months is prime time for this rewarding pursuit, especially on those gloomy days which can add drama and 'wow factor' to your images. Sydney-based pro photographer Alfonso Calero has some compelling reasons why you should consider converting from colour to black and white.
1. Bad weather, good pics
Many people believe they should only shoot landscapes on clear blue sky days, but overcast days with some low cloud action can produce added drama and interest - especially to black and white images. Better yet, if the winds are strong a long exposure can add movement to the clouds and create an ambience of mystery and produce interesting effects and shapes.
ND filters combined with slow shutter speeds of around 30-60 seconds will usually help you produce amazing and dramatic results. The perfect kind of weather for this is on days with skies full of fast moving low lying clouds. To help you plan ahead there are a multitude of phone apps available that help you find the perfect time and place. Check weather apps for weather patterns, wind direction and strength, rainfall and water levels of waterfways after storms - particularly useful when shooting waterfalls - and tidal movement for coastal shoots.
Popular apps include: Sun Surveyor for checking angle of sun or moon; B0M (Bureau of Meteorology) to check chance of rain and wind speeds. Willy Weather to check tides; The Photographer's Ephemeris for satellite imagery of potential locations in relation to light and wind direction, moon phase, tides etc.
2. Good gear
A mirrorless or DSLR camera which allows full manual control of your shutter speed, aperture and ISO is preferred. A sturdy tripod tall enough for accessing the viewfinder at eye level and not light enough to blow over in the wind is a must. A wide angle lens in the range of a 16-24mm allows you to capture more of the sky and clouds and anything of interest in the frame's foreground. A cable release, wireless remote or mobile phone app for remotely triggering the camera's shutter and, in the case of the latter, viewing images. Filters - see next tip.
3. Use filters
Filters are vitally important for emphasising the required effects in your images. The proper use of Neutral Density (ND) filters can also take some time to master. ND filters that block up to ten stops of light will allow you to shoot long exposures even in the middle of the day. Most of the movement in the clouds and water in the accompanying photos were taken using a 10-stop ND filter. Most of these shots were taken in the middle of the day using 20-30 second exposures. It's best to manually focus your image first before attaching your filters - every camera works differently when it comes to getting an accurate shutter speed reading.
4. Best camera settings
You can set most modern digital cameras to shoot black and white images, but you’ll get more control over the tonality of your image if you shoot in colour and convert to mono in post using a program like Lightroom, Photoshop or Silver Efex. In post production, try to avoid the simple one-click "Convert to Mono" commands and look for options that let you control the tonal values of each colour channel. In Photoshop, adding a Black and White adjustment layer above the main background layer lets you selectively change the tonal values of the Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues and Magentas individually. Similarly, in Lightroom, the choose the Black and White sliders in the Develop module to alter the tonality of each colour channel.
Shooting in RAW is the best option as it allows you more control in editing when you need to change the colour temperatures. Having your histogram on while shooting can also help you check if you have a good tonal range of light and dark greys. Make sure you don't blow out the highlights as these may be difficult to fix in post.
5. Make a print
This last step I think is usually given the least amount of priority but is probably the most important. Your intent to create a fine art black and white photo should be proven to be worthy, moreso when you have a print in hand. I love the fine art archival quality you can get with Hanhnemeule and Canson paper. You can spend money doing your own printing or use a pro lab that specialises in getting the best results. If you decide to print yourself make sure to calibrate your monitor, printer and match your colour profiles with whatever paper you decide to use.
Try creating your own black & white landscapes, it can add a whole new creative dimension to your photography.
Alfonso Calero graduated from the Sydney Institute of Technology with an Associate Diploma in Photography in 2001 and has been professionally photographing fine art, food, portraits, landscapes and travel subjects ever since. He is the owner of a travel education and tours company that delivers workshops every Saturday morning in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Fremantle. One on one or small group sessions are also available. He also takes groups to Japan, Philippines, Spain and Tasmania once a year for 5, 10 and 14-day photography workshops.