Recently I was watching an on-line photography seminar about portrait photography. In an answering a question the subject of black and white photography came up in a passing way. She made a statement that really stuck with me. The idea was, if color adds nothing to the photograph, then remove it. That concept reverberated in my brain…if it doesn’t add anything, then remove it.
A few days later I was editing photos for our stock portfolio and came across an image I had shot back recently in Kansas.
It was of a two-lane highway disappearing over a rise on the prairie. This is an image I had looked at before, and even submitted for sale – with no sales, I might add. I looked at the image and thought…the color just doesn’t add anything. I shot the photograph at sundown with a bright sun approaching the horizon and the prairie is brown grass. Why not!
Black and White Photography Landscape Editing
I was trying to capture an open, lonely highway on the Great Plains. I had stopped in the middle of the road when I captured the image and hadn’t seen a car for about 15 minutes on this open stretch of road. There is evidence of civilization in the image, you can see the two driveways entering the highway on each side and the fence lines. I wanted to viewer to sense the fact that despite being on a highway, there still weren’t many people around.
I use Lightroom as my primary editing software and have a couple of presets for black and white. A few clicks and edits later and I had a totally different image. Black and white photography is all about textures, contrasts and composition. In many ways, it forces you to be a better, more critical photographer. The resulting black and white image was very different and one I realized was a much better final product.
The more I work with black and white, the more respect I have for the artists who mastered it. Landscape photography is a genre that benefits from a well composed and edited black and white photograph. This is an art form that I am still learning and have a long way to go.
A few years ago I went hiking in Yosemite with a good friend. We took the bus up to Glacier Point and then hiked the Panorama Trail down to the valley floor. The view of Yosemite Valley is awesome and Half Dome is the center of attention at Glacier Point. The view is iconic and every tourist with an iPhone to a Nikon DLSR was trying to capture it, including me. Ansel Adams made Yosemite a must-see for photographers and I think we all secretly hope we can approach his brilliance.
In looking at this image of Half Dome, ask the question, what does color bring to the party? I think the answer is not much. The focal point is Half Dome, a massive granite formation that has very little color to it. The color image does provide variation and provides contrast from the blue sky and the green trees along the lower ridge line, however, the version of this image that is my wallpaper is the black and white version.
The miracle of Lightroom is that I can edit the photo yet not change the original file. If you are using Lightroom, then play with some of your images and see what you think about black and white. The more you edit with this process you will find that you start to shoot with black and white in mind. You start to look for the textures, the contrasts and the ways light plays with the scene. I find that if I do some of my shooting with the intention of processing to black and white it makes me a more critical shooter.
Oh, when I posted the black and white highway photo to one of the stock agencies, it had a sale in less than 24 hours.