Shooting and Converting Color Landscape Photos Into Stunning Black and White

Thanks to the so-called digital darkroom, it’s now easy to shoot in color to convert the images to black and white later. But you have to do it the right way to get the best results.

Shooting black and white goes more than just taking away the colors or shooting in your camera’s monochrome mode. There’s a lot of things to check and keep in mind before you can get a good black and white image, especially when you’re shooting landscapes. To help us with this, Doug McKinlay shares some of his useful tips when shooting and editing black and white landscape photos in a video by Adorama.

In the episode below of Stay Focused with Doug McKinlay, he gives a rundown of all the considerations you have to make to ensure that your black and white photos are powerful and dynamic, not drab and boring. Landscapes can look really dramatic and eye-catching in black and white, but only if you get into the monochrome mindset when you shoot and edit.

Now, for some key takeaways:

Don’t just use your camera’s monochrome or black and white setting. This may sound counterintuitive, but there’s actually an explanation for this. Shooting in monochrome mode without understanding what you need to do tends to make the photos look flat and dull. Instead, think in tones so your image will still look good even when you decide to convert it into black and white later.

Think in tones. Thinking in tones means evaluating the scene for the contrasting dark and bright elements, keeping in mind that some colors will look similar in black and white. As in Doug’s example, red and green are easily recognizable as distinct from each other in color, but they look exactly the same in monochrome. So, you have to make sure that what you’re photographing shows a variety of tones instead of different colors. For example, the sky with some clouds will look a lot better than a clear one because of the contrast in tones.

Place your focus at 1/3 into the scene. Shooting with a small aperture of f11 or f16 will ensure that you maximize the depth of field to keep everything in your scene in sharp focus, from the foreground to infinity. However, to achieve this, you’ll need to place your focus 1/3 into the scene.

Include detail shots. Complement your collection of big-picture landscapes with detail shots to tell more about the scene you’re documenting.

Always shoot in RAW. This will give you more flexibility in the “digital darkroom” later on as compared to JPEG files.

Try shooting silhouettes. They look really great in black and white as they emphasize the contrast between light and dark. It can be as simple as someone walking into the scene, or a lone tree set against the vast, unobstructed background.

The video also included a quick Lightroom and Photoshop tutorial from Doug to complement all these tips and put them together into application when doing digital darkroom work. Hopefully, that gave you some ideas on how to edit your shots later into nice and punchy black and white photos!

Visit the Adorama YouTube channel for more awesome tips and tricks from pros like Doug McKinlay.