Black and white nature photography can deliver powerful and unique landscape and nature photographs.
To become a master of black and white photography, a photographer must learn the fundamental elements of composition instead of relying on the naturally dynamic appeal of color photography.
Adding black and white photographs to your repertoire is an excellent way to improve your overall photography composition.
But how do I go about switching from colour to black and white photography?
Let’s start by discussing what factors to look out for when you want to shoot black and white nature photographs.
Black and white images differ from color images in that they are devoid of the dramatic effects created by color in a photographic scene.
Photographers must learn to see the world around them in natural black and white elements and translate their vision from colour into black and white masterpieces.
Black and white images rely heavily on the fundamental building blocks of composition to make a striking image – form, tonality, lines, texture, and contrast.
Composition is the combination, application, and flow of the fundamental compositional elements within the frame of your photo.
In composing black and white nature photographs, a photographer must learn to see beyond the literal and identify the essential elements of composition that will create masterful black and white nature imagery.
Essential Elements of Composition For Black And White Nature Photography
A combination of or all of the following abstract composition elements is recommended for superior black and white photographs.
Tonality is the range of tones in an image from the darkest point of black to the lightest point of white within your composition and includes the extensive range of greys in between these points.
The above photograph illustrates the tonal range in a black and white image.
A black and white photographer can incorporate the most comprehensive range of tonal contrast within the image composition and should look for photographic opportunities that allow for a wide tonal range when photographing black and white nature scenes.
Form, also known as shape, refers to elements in your composition that create an obvious shape or form in your composition.
An example of the form in black and white nature photography is the predominant shape of a mountain or another natural body or sometimes man-made structure that dominates your photo frame.
The form usually refers to shapes of objects that are the focus of your composition and that take up a large portion of the photo frame.
The photograph above illustrates what we refer to as form in a composition.
We can refer to the shape as the subject or focus of the image composition.
The form in the photograph should entice an emotional, elevated response in the viewer.
Lines move the viewer’s eye around the image and can “manipulate” how the viewer experiences an image.
Lines are abundant in nature and can be easily found for your black and white nature photography when you have trained your compositional eye to spot them.
When applying lines to your composition, you want the eye of the viewer to move around the photo in the direction of the lines to hold the viewer’s attention. A good composition will keep the eye-rolling, and a lousy composition will get the eye stuck.
Repeated lines in your image then they can form patterns, and patterns can become textures.
Photographically speaking, textures are found everywhere in nature.
Trees, flowers, grass, mountains, rocks, water, sand, and animals provide various captivating textures that you can include in your black and white nature photography composition.
Texture can be a part of your composition or the focus of your composition, depending on how you interpret your black and white nature scene or what mood you wish to create in your photo.
Textures are often associated with the ambient mood in black and white photography.
Mood plays a vital role in black and white nature composition.
Moody black and white nature images appeal because they connect to the viewer’s emotions.
Seek conditions that can create more mood in your composition, such as clouds, mist, and rainy weather.
The images above demonstrate how weather conditions along this mountain and the mountain itself elevate the overall ambient mood of the picture.
Bright and clear conditions, however, may tell a more encouraging story and appeal to the not-so-dark emotions of the viewer.
Either way, learn to seek out elements of your composition that tell a story and combine mood with compositional features such as texture, lines, and contrast when shooting black and white nature photos.
There are high contrast tonal ranges and low contrast tonal ranges.
High tonal contrast (where you have a range of tones from the darkest to the lightest in the composition that opposes each other) works superbly in black and white compositions.
The contrast in black and white photography is achieved by increasing or decreasing the image’s tonal range. The tonal range is the variation in brightness and darkness through different parts of the image.Crowpix Media
The above image shows a high-contrast image where the full range of tones appears in the photo.
A photographer can also compose for low tonal contrast.
Low contrast images are not as punchy as high contrast images, and some viewers may find low contrast images dull.
Low contrast black and white images do not create a strong separation between the tones of grey.
Some compositions suit low contrast black and white tones, as shown in the image above.
Consider the tonal range of your composition when shooting in black and white.
Look for texture when considering the tonal spectrum.
Textures often present natural contrasts within their structural makeup and parts.
Some examples of textures could be long grasses, wood, trees, rocks, mountains, oceans, and other natural and manufactured structures.
Further Considerations to Improve Your Black And White Nature Photography Techniques
- Neutral density (ND) filters
Neutral density filters are a valuable companion to a black and white nature photographer when in the field.
I recommend investing if you don’t own a set of ND filters.
ND filters give your images a competitive edge and put your photos alongside the best landscape photographers.
Neutral density filters are dark glass pieces covering the front of your lens and reducing the light reaching your sensor, thereby darkening the exposure and allowing you to manipulate light for various landscape image outcomes.
The ability to lengthen your shutter speed (i.e., slow the shutter speed down) will enable you to blur water (like in a waterfall composition), stretch clouds, and other unique photo effects that help create intriguing black and white nature photos.
Sometimes, an ND filter can make such slow shutter speeds possible even in the midday sun.
- The role of colour in black and white nature photography
Ironically, colour can have an essential effect on the outcome of a black and white photograph.
Colours can be manipulated to alter black and white tones through the conversion process in Photoshop and Lightroom.
Converting colour to black and white involves matching colours to their equivalent in tones of grey during the conversion process.
Contrasting colours in a photograph, such as pink and green, can create high contrast in a black and white version.
Similarly, colours such as green and red might create low-contrast black and white versions when converted.
An aspiring black and white photographer should develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between black and white tones and colour in a composition and how to capitalize with the conversion tool to maximum creative effect.
Another consideration is to shoot in black and white mode on your camera instead of the usual colour mode.
Cameras with an electronic viewfinder will display in black and white mode, enabling you to see your composition through black and white eyes directly.
Create Your Own Beautiful Black and White Landscape Photography Vision
Perhaps more important than learning the technical elements of photography is the quest to discover your vision as a photographer.
My interpretation of the vision is your unique, creative attempt to define your independent photographic approach whereby you are free to express your photographic desires.
Vision is an interpretation of your visual message that makes you independent from the crowd.
It is the understanding of genuine self-expression.
Vision results from your personal, spiritual and artistic journey to derive your most incredible composition.
A photographer who wishes to innovate should concentrate on their unique photographic expression – seek your unique message, style, and approach to your photographic endeavours, no matter what they may be.
Strive to be original with your black and white photography.Crowpix Media
Black and White Nature Photography: Final thoughts
Black and white photography brings a fresh approach to your nature photo stories.
Seeing the world through black and white eyes will bring an alternative perspective to your images while enjoying the creativity and challenge of black and white image creation.
Learn to express another side of your content-creating ability through black and white nature photography.
What are your thoughts on black and white nature photography? Please tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.
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