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Black & white landscape photography

Black & white landscape photography - Tom McGahan extols the virtues of shooting landscapes in black & white

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Landscape and Travel

Words & Pictures Tom McGahan

So why shoot landscapes in mono? There seems to be something about a great monochrome landscape that really draws you in, in a way that colour can not. Colour has an immediate and emotional impact, where as with a great mono print, you can look again and again, discovering more and more detail, this seems to be stronger in the long run. If you shoot colour, you would get colour, but if you shoot mono, you get texture, gradation, and the interplay of light on vegetation, sand and rocks etc.


Now onto the equipment, first things first, a decent pair of walking boot is a must. I shoot my mono landscapes with a Nikon FM2N, and fixed focal length lenses, I usually find that 28mm and 35mm are sufficient although a 24mm can also be very useful for manipulating foregrounds. Filters are essential in mono landscapes as sky's can often look dull and featureless, I always carry a yellow orange and red filters, and you will need to experiment with these to find which effect you like the most. The yellow filter has the least dramatic and most natural effect, the orange is very striking, and the red producing the most dramatic, turning blue sky's to black. All of these filters will also decrease the effects of aerial perspective, and will allow you to see into hill and mountain ranges in a way that is not possible with colour. And of course last but not least a decent tripod, you can't really go wrong with a Benbo or Manfrotto, both are very sturdy and not too cumbersome.


Now you have your kit sorted out, you need to find your scene. Take your time get a feel for the place, do you see any interesting features that you can use as a focal point to grab attention. Are there any cloud formations moving in that you may need to wait for, or even wait to pass, or is there any thing that may need to be removed. Also try to look for contrast in textures.

The best time of the day to shoot is either is just after dawn or before dusk, to get low angled glancing light. In practice you can shoot mono at any time of day, although the hours just before and after noon are the least promising.


Next up is the film that you use, it is important to experiment with different brands to find which suits you the best. I always use Ilford Delta 100, but occasionally I will use Delta 1600 for that grainy effect,using different speed films can help to create a range different moods. The landscape of Dartmoor above is harsh and unforgiving, and so to portray this, a high speed film, with large grain has give that tough gritty feel to the image. I always take a selection with me, and if you do need to change mid roll make sure to make a note of how many exposures have been used.

The next step is processing and printing, the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams, one said 'the negative is the score and the print is the performance', but that's another article. We have several articles on processing within the technique archives of ePHOTOzine.

About the Author
Tom McGahan is a former cruise ship photographer who has now turned his focus on the travel and architecture market. Tom is also the founder of Galleryf64. www.galleryf64.com

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