Creating Compelling Back and White Images

Creating black and white images can be quite rewarding. Many times when the weather is less than ideal for creating great color work the conditions are ideal for long exposure black and white images. An overcast sky with fast moving clouds will translate into beautiful textures in your images.

1) Using a wide angle lens, (in this case 24mm on a medium format camera) will allow you to get very close to subject while bringing in the textures and movement of the sky and perhaps water.  

2) Next you will need a filter system, I use the NISI system and specifically a 10 stop ND filter. This will allow you to shoot in the middle of the day and have a 1 minute or more exposure time.  A long exposure creates textures in the sky and smooths out the water.  From an artistic standpoint the effect is minimalistic and focuses your viewer to just the main subject.  It is most important to be sure that no light is leaking in from around the filter or from your viewfinder/lens.  If that happens you will get a large light streak across your image.  Be sure to have a medium size towel with you to wrap around your lens and around your filters to block light.  I use the NISI system because it is designed to keep the light from leaking around the filters, allowing me to focus on my image.

3) The ideal compositions are near or around the coast or lakes with isolated docks or piers or rocks for long exposures.  Those type of compositions will look dramatic in black and white using long exposures creating very few visual distractions and focusing the eyes on your subject.  However, great black and white images can be made virtually anywhere.  Andy Biggs has gone to shooting over 70% of his images of African wildlife in black and white with a medium format camera.  Clyde Butcher has shot large format film images throughout Florida and the entire US using exclusively black and white film images.

4) Look for patterns in the landscape.  Color will distract from patterns in nature, while black and white images will highlight them. James Bourett is a very well known fine art photographer in Idaho and has a beautiful Gallery in Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho.  Some of his most popular images are black and white, for expample this specific image shows a repeating pattern that James captured elegantly with his skill in this medium.

5) The last BW tip and probably the most importtant.  When fine tuning your image in post processing use the HSL panel in lightroom and tweak the colors. The color adjustment will create drama and contrast specific to colors in your raw file.  This will dramatically improve the imapct of your image and is a must.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.


David Knight 561-676-0611