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Black and white landscapes are kind of a tricky thing. Lots of landscape photographers will tell you that you have to do it all in post-production. We’re not going to disagree with that, but there’s a lot you can do beforehand to get it right in-camera or give yourself less post-production. The work of many photographers is inspiring to say the least. And today, we’re giving you a few short pointers to how to make better black and white landscapes.
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The misconception for black and white landscapes is that you need super high contrast, but that’s wrong. What you’re looking for is more or less a high dynamic range image. To get that, you need lower contrast. This will give you more details in both the highlights and the shadows. If you’re shooting on a platform with good black and white photos like Fujifilm, use Acros. But then maybe create your own custom profile by dialing down the contrast and raising the sharpness. It’s also fun to do this with Leica cameras.
Go ahead and try it. If you raise the contrast up very high, you’ll lose details in both shadows and the highlights. That’s going to make editing later on harder if you wish to do so.
This specifically is one of the most important things for black and white landscapes. Clarity, for those who don’t know, deals with the mid-tones. You know that Kodak Tri-X look you like? It basically has a ton of mid-tone action going on. So clarity, in this case, is super important. Raise the clarity, but don’t create halo effects on the image. Fujifilm again is perhaps best for this. Olympus is great for it, too, with their grainy black and white look.
Clarity is different from sharpness. Clarity will adjust the mid-tones of the image. But sharpness literally makes the details more crispy. A lens can have high sharpness but low contrast. If you’re shooting Fuji cameras, I’d even add the grain effect in. It’s a nice, fun effect that gives your photos a unique look. As far as I can recall, only Olympus does this otherwise.
Of course, you want more details in the sky. To do that, you’ll need to nerf the highlights and the white points in your images, depending on how the sky looks. In-camera, you can use a graduated neutral density filter to do this. You’d also expose for the land with an exposure like this. Modern cameras have a great dynamic range, and there’s no need to do bracketing per se.
Deeper Black Point
Of course, what you do to one area, you need to do to another. Deepening the black point of the image will add more punch to the photo. In-camera, it’s hard to get this setting. So typically, you just have to underexpose the image a tad. My trick is to use the Sunny 16 rule for black and white landscapes. If your scene has full, bright sunlight with no cloud coverage, then set your camera to f16 and set the shutter the reciprocal of your ISO. So you may potentially have f16, 1/100th, and ISO 100.
The good news is that this will also nerf the highlights a bit more too! So you can metaphorically kill two birds with one stone.