There are not a lot of people who are photographing landscapes in black and white. Most of us prefer a nice color presentation of a landscape. Nevertheless, black and white conversion can help a lot when processing a color photo.
Most landscape photos are presented in color. That is understandable, because a sunrise or sunset often comes with a nice palette of colors. It is also one of the reasons why we like to shoot landscapes during the golden hour or twilight. Most of the landscape photographers I speak, find black and white not suitable for landscapes, even when they mention the legendary Ansel Adams as one of their favorite photographers. You could wonder if Adams would have chosen color if he had the possibility.
Even when we make a choice for landscapes in color, a black and white conversion can be helpful. As I have mentioned in a previous article, colors can be distracting. By removing all color information, a landscape will have a very different look. It is much easier to see the contrast in a photo, to find out where the points of interest are.
When we look at a photo, the first thing that attracts our attention is the lightest part. At least, most of the times. A subject has to be in the lightest part of the photo. That way it gets all of our attention. It does not necessarily mean the subject has to be the brightest. You can also place a dark subject in front of the lightest part as a silhouette. This way it stands out from the photo due to the contrast. When a photo does not have a bright spot, if there is almost no contrast, the viewer will keep on wondering through the photo in search of a point of interest.
We often mistake color with brightness. The color red is a good example. It can stand out from the surroundings but is does not necessarily the most bright color. By transferring colors into black and white, just in the example below, you can see how bright the color red is, compared to other colors. If there is a real bright spot in the photo, it will receive a lot of attention also.
Let’s return to our color landscape photo. When we remove all color information during post-processing, we will remove any possible distraction from those colors. The image only consists out of brightness, contrasts, light, and dark. This way it becomes much easier to find the points of attention in the picture. It can be used to determine how the post-processing can be done. Dodge and burn can be used to guide the attention, and a vignette can be added to capture ones attention. Any distracting bright spots can be removed completely, if needed. If the contrast is to our liking, we can add color again, and continue post processing the colors if necessary.
Using black and white is very easy with programs like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. With Lightroom it is just by clicking the Black & White button in the Basics panel. There is no need for adding special filters or profiles, because it is only temporary. The photo will be transferred back to color afterwards. For Photoshop it is possible to create a black and white layer on top of any consisting layers you already have created. The layer can be deleted again when you're done.
This way of looking at the photo, and post processing the raw photo material, can also be used with other kinds of photography. It is not limited to landscape photography. Of course, it is mandatory to pay attention to the composition, and to play with light and dark when we are photographing. After all, this method is not a way to make a less interesting photo interesting. But using black and white in post processing can help to determine which part of the photo gets the most attention. And who knows, perhaps you find the black and white result much more attractive than the color version.
Have you ever considered using black and white in post processing your color photo? If you have never heard about this technique, would you consider it? Please let me know in the comments below.