Friday, 6 March 2009

Why Black & White Landscape ?

Why Black and White ?

In it's history, now stretching back over 150 years, black and white photography has survived the rise of colour and continues to hold its respected position alongside the colour print. Old prints may have turned sepia, but as an art form, black and white photography refuses to fade away. Photography has survived the motion picture, outlasted silent cinema, black and white television and numerous video formats. There remains the desire to freeze the decisive moment or express what one saw as a still photograph. In the press, commercials, fashion and art, black and white is still going strong.

What is it about black and white that makes it so enduring? Sheer logic should dictate that, with colour so accessible, that black and white should have been relegated to the history books long ago. But instead the opposite has happened. It's taken on a new life of its own, and is gaining a steady and growing following across the world. Black and white is now seen ass the natural medium for fine art prints.

A whole new generation of photographers are discovering that black and white can offer them a different way of looking at the world, one which the simplicity and subtlety of tone and shadow triumphs over the distractions of colour. Time and again black and white somehow captures a mood and a feeling that colour, for all its accuracy simply can't. Perhaps that's exactly the point : photography is about so much more than a simple rendering of what's in front of the camera. We want to achieve an interpretation of life, and colour sometimes gets in the way.

What the Landscape ?

Landscape has so many aspects to it. It can be a picture that has been anticipated and that has had to be waited for, sometimes for years, until every element has finally come together in one wonderful image. It could just as easily be a detail that takes up just one small corner of some vast panorama. It could be a picture that makes use of the natural elements such mist, rain of the light which will affect the scene dramatically and then, just as quickly disappear again. Landscape can have at its core a magnificent location, such as the west coast of Ireland. Or it could be a scene of an old cottage down the road from you.

By the same token there's no set equipment that has to be used. A pinhole camera or toy camera to make a photograph, and yet still become one of photography's all-time classics. It could just as easily, of course, be originated on a top-of-the-range camera that costs thousands.

Landscapes can be pursed for years or they can be a fleeting moments that are never repeated. Just as a fisherman is prepared to take the necessary time to wait for something - or even nothing - to happen, so the landscape photographer depends on their reserves of patience, a virtue that is every bit as vital to develop as technical prowess.

Great landscapes usually take time to happen and the fact is that, even when they do, the photographer knows that, on another day when the sun is coming from another angle, the clouds have formed a different formation or the wind is blowing from a new direction, every location will yield images that are different again. It means that landscape photography has no logical finishing point, and the challenge to many is to visit the same places many times to see how many different interpretations they can put into print.


  1. I revisit places all the time and no two shots are ever the same as no two conditions are. Black and White photography will see off everything including colourful HDR, which I do find pretty and captivating on the first few viewing then bored. I visualise more with monochrome, what is and isn't in the image.Years from now imgages like your skywatch below will be as effective and timeless unlike so many colour ones. Excellent post again.

  2. Thanks for your comments Babooshka. I 'm in the same mind frame about HDR. The first time I was one was wonderful, but then I get bored too. I think HDR is for people who don't understand exposure and then let the computer software make the image. No Art in that. Also I love going back to the sam elocation time and time again because it's not until then that you build you the knowledge about what the light does for your photography.

  3. Baboosh and Neil, I have to come to the defense of HDR just a bit. Agreed that many seem to do HDR for the sake of HDR, often with horrible looking results. On the other, I do like the effect you can get with HDR, assuming that you're not trying to fool the viewer that you have some special photographic talent that isn't there. Some use it to bring out lighting combinations that though not normally attainable, are very interesting. Greg Benz's photos come to mind (View from the tundra link on my site). Many of his shots are done at dusk. HDR allows him to capture a higher dynamic range than what a digital camera is typically capable of.

    Enough of that though. I love B&W photographs, provided they're done well. Ansel Adams comes to mind. We have some of his photos scattered around work, and I often stop and study them, hoping that some day I will have enough skill and the fortune of being in the right place at the right time to maybe produce something similar. I have no illusions of ever being able match a large format camera.

    I always keep my eye out for a setting with birches. I did run across something last week, and am happy with what I got. I'll have that photo up this weekend sometime.

    Just a humble hobby photog

  4. I find it fascinating to capture a sunset scene throughout the year up here in the northland. Late autumn, the sun sets on the south western horizon rather than due west. Colors change from the lower angle of the sun. I should try it in black and white.

  5. Thank you. Your commentary on,"Why black and white?" has given me a different perspective, one that I will apply and explore. I had never really though of colors as "distractions", but upon reflection I can accept this as a possibility. I look forward to seeing the results of this new (for me) avenue of exploration.