Save 10% On Your First Order With WhiteWall. Use Code: EPWW10

Improve Your Black & White Landscapes Instantly By Following 1 Simple Rule

Learn the one main rule that'll instantly improve your black & white landscapes and the 4 steps you need to follow to succeed.

| Landscape and Travel
 Add Comment

Shooting successful landscapes in black and white is not quite as easy as it might seem. I have to admit that when I first started photographing landscapes with black and white film, I was so disappointed with the results that I gave up for several years. What I didn’t realise is that I was breaking one simple rule that if I had understood it, would have made life much simpler. Basically, my images lacked separation.



The Fundamental Rule Of Black And White

To achieve a good black and white image you need to have separation between the elements in the frame. If you can’t distinguish or find it difficult to distinguish between the elements the image will lack impact and the viewer will struggle to understand it. The problem I had and one that many people trying to shoot black and white landscapes have is that whilst in colour the different elements are easy to see. Once converted to black and white, many of the tones of the landscape blend together.


What’s needed are ways to separate the elements for the viewer. Here are some ideas to help you.


1. Conversion

The tools we now have available in the digital darkroom make life much easier. Ideally, you need a conversion technique that allows you to target different colours so they appear as different tones in the final image. For example, you might darken a blue sky whilst lightening grass and foliage. If you were using black and white film you would use a Green or Yellow filter to achieve this effect but tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom make this easy to achieve.

A further tip you might like to try is selectively changing the colour for some areas of your image. This will make them respond differently during the conversion to Black and White and help provide separation.


One image can change us.

A picture, a moment can change the way we feel. Change how we see ourselves. Change our understanding and change the rules. Provoke and change history.

MPB Gear

MPB puts photo and video kit into more hands, more sustainably. Every month, visual storytellers sell more than 20,000 cameras and lenses to MPB. Choose used and get affordable access to kit that doesn’t cost the earth.

Sell the kit you’re not using to MPB. Trade in for the kit you need to create. Buy used, spend less and get more.

Buy. Sell. Trade. Create.

MPB Start Shopping

2. Composition

Strong composition can also help in separating the elements of the image even where they might have similar tones. One good way to ensure a good composition for black and white is to include a strong foreground interest. Seek out strong shapes in the landscape such as walls and trees that might provide a leading line into the landscape. Strong distinctive shapes are easier for the eye to pick out and understand even when the tones are similar.

In this example, I have used the strong shape of the rocks to provide bold foreground interest. I have also used other techniques discussed below to enhance the separation of objects in the scene.

3. Contrast

This can be a problem with many black and white landscape images. I find the elements within the frame will become much more distinct when the contrast-enhanced. In the film world, we would use a coloured filter such as a Yellow, Orange or Red placed in front of the lens to help boost contrast. We might also use exposure techniques and higher contrast papers when printing in the darkroom.

In the digital age, the easiest way to add contrast is by applying an S-Curve in your editing package. Also, don’t overlook Midtone contrast as this can really add to the monochrome landscape image. The easiest way to add Midtone contrast is in RAW conversion software that has a Clarity slider, which is essentially the same thing. In the following image of the Polish Tetras, I have significantly boosted the Midtone contrast to help provide some separation between the trees which would otherwise blend into a solid grey tone.

Mountain shot in black and white

4. Dodge & Burn

The technique of dodging and burning an image has been around from the early days of photography and was used extensively by masters such as Ansel Adams. In this image, I have created a conversion that deliberately darkened the ground to create a contrast with the waterfall. I then used the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop to emphasise this as well as lightening selected areas of grass. When you dodge and burn an image it helps to create the feeling of interest in the scene for the viewer.

Black and white landscape

So remember the rule; if you want to capture strong black and white landscapes you need to separate the elements in the frame.

Words and images by Robin Whalley   

MPB Start Shopping

Support this site by making a Donation, purchasing Plus Membership, or shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, MPB. It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.


Other articles you might find interesting...

Top Tips On Photographing Snowy Landscapes
Photography At Christmas Markets
9 Bad Weather Photography Tips
Photography Tips For A Frosty Morning
Must-Read Night Urban Photography Tips
Tips On Shooting Autumn Landscapes In The Lake District
4 Informative Tips On Photographing Detail In Graveyards
5 Top Autumn Bad Weather Landscape Photography Tips


steveb127 4 1 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2020 10:32AM
I don't understand people's obsession with RULES - especially when the proposed item is not a rule at all and paradoxically whilst processing allows for a myriad of artistic effects, RULES try to constrain everyone into the same tired old cliches.

Regarding " The problem I had ...... trying to shoot black and white landscapes..........whilst in colour the different elements are easy to see...... converted to black and white, many of the tones of the landscape blend...." - is quite easy to address, shoot in RAW but use your camera's b/w function to display the image on its screen.
dark_lord Plus
18 3.0k 835 England
5 Jan 2020 11:21AM
It's not so much 'rules' as good practice for an effective result.
Let's see some of your images Steve.
sandwedge Plus
16 5.8k 3 United Kingdom
5 Jan 2021 10:11AM
A very good article. Understanding tonal values is an essential basic to learn for converting colour to mono. A good composition in the first place helps !
clevercloggs 18 251 15 Netherlands
5 Jan 2021 10:44AM
Good article.
Must admit that the bl&w images I made which show better separation tend to get more clicks and are more easily to 'read.
So I'll try to remember this advise when I am underway taking photos.
richmowil Plus
13 493 2 England
5 Jan 2022 9:34AM
Very helpful guidelines. Thanks.

Sign In

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join For Free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.