Photographing Black & White Landscapes

Solitude

Final Image Processed in Lightroom

Landscapes often rely on colour for impact but they don’t have to and in many cases the absence of colour can improve the image. In this post we focus on Black & White landscapes,when they work and how to capture and process them.

Personally, I find black and white landscapes work best when there is texture, shape or tone to work with, colour can distract from the image in these cases but black and white removes the distractions and focuses the eye on the key elements of the image.

Let’s look at the original RAW file

RAW file Straight out of Camera

RAW file Straight out of Camera

I took this in early afternoon in mid summer, this has resulted in harsh light and washed out colours, so why did I take it?
I was attracted to the line that run across the scene and felt it would make a good candidate for black & white.
Once the image was captured, the next stage is processing and conversion of the RAW file. I use the following method:

  • Import image into Lightroom or an image editor of your choice which allows handling of RAW files.
  • Decide on crop – I cropped out roughly a 3rd from the bottom of the image to make a panoramic style image and place the horizon on the lower 3rd
  • I have a selection of Lightroom presets. I chose the one which was closest to the final image I had visualized.
  • Add a graduated filter to gradually darken the sky from the top of the image to the horizon.
  • Add a similar graduated filter from the bottom of the image to darken the foreground and enhance highlights.
  • The combination of these filters leaves a lighter area along the horizon helping to draw the eye to this area.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively darken areas of the image to deepen shadow and give depth.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively lighten areas; the path, cloud and grasses in foreground.
  • Using clone tool remove small cloud to the left of the image

In total the processing took less than 10 minutes and has transformed a bland, featureless image into a strong image highlighting the repeating lines of the path, horizon and grass and contrasting  light and shadow.

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Processing Techniques – HDR Workflow

I’ve recently been having an increasing number of conversations on G+ with people who are new to processes such as HDR and wanted some tips and tricks. When I first became interested in HDR Someone was good enough to share their knowledge with me so I thought it was a perfect time to “pass it on”. As a result I will be putting together a few short tutorials on a few photographic techniques, starting with this one: HDR, Using Photomatix.

There are several very good HDR / Tone mapping packages available, I picked Photomatix because I like the interface and results, that’s not to say other packages are not as good, they are but I prefer Photomatix.

HDR Workflow

I tend to use Adobe Bridge for selecting images, note I shoot in RAW almost exclusively and use a tripod for HDR work. Here I have selected 5 RAW files, although the minimum required is 3. I normally shoot at 1EV steps and will take up to 9 RAW’s depending on the light variance and camera histogram. You can use the Photomatix plugin for Lightroom if you have LR and not Photoshop.

Import to Photomatix

Either Drag & Drop  selected files into Photomatix or use the import pictures facility, here you are faced with a couple of pre-processing options and the chance to specify EV values if you have multiple files with the same value. As you can see from the screenshot, you have the ability to select deghosting (manual or automatic), great for windy days and where movement may occur in the image. You can also automatically align images and crop them to match each other, set colour temperature and reduce Chromatic Aberrations and  noise.

Deghosting

If you chose to manually deghost the image (if not why not?) you will be presented with the screen above. The process is simple, use your mouse, tablet pointer etc. to draw around the ghosted areas, as you can see I have selected areas to correspond to the foliage in the foreground and the clouds. Push the Preview Deghosting button to check the effect.

When in preview you can hit the Return to Selection button to add more areas if needed.

When happy with the deghosting hit the OK button to proceed.

Tone Mapping

Hit the button arrowed and the RAW files will be merged by magical pixel pixies into an image ready for Tone Mapping. This is the fun part where the RAW files are analysed and tweaked to produce something approximate to the final image. At this point you will see progress bars on the screen as the images are being processed and combined.

Tone Mapping

Now the real fun starts, along the bottom or side of the screen you are faced with a series of Tone Mapping presets, these are a great starting point and you can select each in turn to see the effect it has. different presets work best on different scenes and to achieve different moods, but as I say they are a starting point. Here I have selected Enhancer Painterly which tends to give a medium amount of processing leaning a little towards grunge.

Also worth noting the pop out Histogram box, I use this all the time to assess how the changes affect the image.

Fine Tune

As I said above, consider the presets as a starting point, the circled control sliders at the left now provide a myriad of options to fine tune the image. You can adjust pretty much any aspect from Saturation & Vibrance to the various lighting effects. Some of the controls I use a lot are Micro Smoothing, white point and detail contrast. Using a combination of these tends to give a more natural looking image whith whites staying white not turning grey, a little POP to the colours and reduction of halos around bright areas. When you are happy with the result, save the file, using File>Save gives the option to save in various formats (I opt for TIFF) and also to automatically export the image to a photo editing suite (in this case Photoshop). It should also be noted that you can save Tone Mapping settings which will be applied as a start point on the next image (great for doing batches taken under the same conditions).

Final Tweaks

Once in Photoshop I tend to make some basic adjustments such as Levels (it’s that histogram again) and localised highlight and shadow control. Dependant on the subject and my mood I may also make some adjustments to sharpness and blur or perhaps tweak saturation or blend in a layer or 2 taken from the initial RAW files.

The Finished Article