When to Convert to Black & White—Landscapes

So, what kind of picture makes a good candidate for conversion to black and white (B&W)?

Well, for one thing—when the picture contains a lot of texture, and when the subject is primarily monochromatic already.  The following landscapes were taken in Alaska’s Glacier Bay on August 9 of this year give a good example of this rule of thumb.

The weather conditions were far from ideal for color photography.  The skies were mostly overcast, and many of the mountain peaks were obscured.  Additionally, the vegetation was sparse, and the colors of what little vegetation there was were muted by the indirect, diffused lighting.  Consequently, the resulting color shots were far from impressive and were severely lacking in punch and drama.  What I had were mostly islands of dull green floating in a sea of varying shades of gray.  Dull, dull, dull.

Fortunately, these cloudy conditions are precisely those under which B&W photography can really shine through, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Cloudy, almost featureless skies can be made to pop by filtering to amplify subtle differences in shading.  Vegetation can be darkened to almost black, thus adding apparent contrast to a shot and enhancing the dull grey granite that would otherwise be lost.  And stripping away color in this case helped bring a dream-like, mystical, almost surrealistic feel to the peaks jutting up from behind the intervening misty cloud layers.

We’ve covered B&W filtering effects before in this earlier blog:  Black & White Photography—It’s All in the Color!  And, as in that previous blog, I relied solely upon Google’s free Picasa photo editing program to strip the following examples of color and apply the most appropriate color filter to obtain a higher degree of visual impact.

As previously discussed, warming filters (yellows, oranges, and reds) are those most commonly used to enhance landscapes because these filters darken blues (sky, water) and greens (trees, shrubs) while lightening the yellow through red hues (flowers, brown tree bark and animal fur )  The following pictures are no exception.  The filtering effects used here were mostly dark yellow, dark orange, and red, depending on the amount of contrast and detail needed to enhance the shot.  Gliding you cursor over the picture will reveal what type of filtering effect was used for that particular shot, and clicking on a photograph will increase its size.

Today’s blog entry is geared toward B&W conversion of color landscapes.  If there is a demand for it, I’ll do a follow-up piece on portrait conversions.  Please let your voice be heard on the subject by leaving a comment.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the following photographs:


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2 responses to “When to Convert to Black & White—Landscapes

  1. Pingback: Playing Around with Black & White | R. Doug Wicker — Author

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