There’s something classic about a landscape that’s rendered in black and white. Call it the Ansel Adams effect - black and whites just seems to have more drama, more depth, and more interest than a color photo of the same subject.
Granted, like everything else in photography, getting a stunning black and white image is much more than putting your camera in monochrome mode, pointing your camera at the subject, and taking a photo. But just because it isn’t that simple doesn’t mean it has to be hard, either.
Let’s have a look at three easy tips that will help you create more compelling black and white landscape photos.
Cast the Rule of Thirds Aside
The rule of thirds is the most ubiquitous rule in photography. It certainly has its uses and should be part of your typical approach to photographing landscapes. However, it’s not an end-all, be-all, and you should be willing to cast it aside when the situation calls for it. Try placing your subject smack in the middle of the frame. Shift the horizon to the very bottom of the frame. Incorporate circles, arabesques, or incidences to help move the viewer’s eye around the frame. The point is that using the rule of thirds isn’t always the option that will get you the best result. Experiment with other composition techniques and watch your images improve greatly.
Try Luminosity Masks
Luminosity masks are a little like magic - they make images that appear to be dull and boring reveal details that were difficult or impossible to see. Essentially, a luminosity mask allows you to seamlessly blend exposures in Photoshop. The mask gives you the power to select different areas of the images based on their luminosity. That means that if you have two photos of a landscape, one in which the foreground is well exposed and another in which the sky is well exposed, you can use luminosity masks to select the overexposed area of the first image and blend it with the underexposed area of the second image, resulting in a good exposure.
Note that, although you can create luminosity masks yourself, there are some great resources out there with plugins for Photoshop that create sets for you. If you'd like to try them without need to create your own, download a set you like and import them to get a head start. You’ll need some practice using the masks, to be sure. Jimmy McIntyre offers a great tutorial on using the masks in the video below.
Make It Interesting
The postcard shots of iconic landscapes are a dime a dozen. Half Dome in Yosemite, the Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park, and Grandview Point in the Grand Canyon have all been photographed millions of times from the same spot.
This isn’t to discourage you from taking the same photo from the same spot, but the point is that there are an incalculable number of other positions and perspectives from which you can photograph your landscapes. Make your landscapes a little more interesting by seeking out different vantage points to photograph these and other iconic landscapes. Simply moving to the left or right, kneeling down or finding a higher point of view can change the look and feel of the image.
What’s more, by finding a unique spot from which to take your photo, you can eliminate the inevitable comparisons between your shot and the images taken by the greats like Ansel Adams. Not that you can’t be a great photographer too, but when it comes to black and white landscapes, Ansel Adams is probably going to win more often than not.
Use these three quick tips the next time you’re out shooting landscapes, and see how effective they can be on the final black and white image you produce. You might just find that these changes to your workflow help you get the stunning images that have been elusive thus far.