The Power of the Black & White Landscape

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You have reached the archive of articles posted on my personal blog. This blog is no longer updated, but you can read my latest articles at my new website The Creative Photographer and find my photography ebooks at my new store.

Thanks for reading! Andrew.

San Antonio de Lipez, Bolivia

There are two landscape photographers whose work I admire a lot – Bruce Percy and Ian Plant. Go and have a look at their work. They are skilled professionals who travel widely to photograph some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes.

I started thinking about how hard these photographers work when reading Ian Plant’s latest newsletter, in which he wrote about the dangers of taking photos in the Canadian Rockies in winter. It made me realise just how dedicated a photographer he is.

But, beautiful as his photos are, this type of dedication is beyond most photographers, especially those for who photography is a hobby, not a profession.

What does this have to do with black and white landscape photography? Quite a bit, as it happens. Take a look at this photo I took in the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, nearly eight years ago.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, in black and white

I travelled to the Salar on a guided jeep tour that lasted four days and took us to some extremely remote areas in south-west Bolivia (the opening photo was also taken on this trip). On the fourth day we arrived at the Salar at around 9am, with the sun already high in the sky. We were supposed to arrive at dawn for the sunrise, but nobody else had much enthusiasm about rising early (the other participants were backpackers, not photographers) so we got there after the best light had gone.

Compare my black and white photo, taken in bright sunlight, with this set from Bruce Percy, mostly taken at dawn or sunset. Bruce takes a lot more trouble than me when he travels to the Salar, camping out overnight to be on location for the best light. Part of the reason is that colour photography demands beautiful light. Take a photo when the sun is high in the sky and you get a fairly boring photo with clear blue sky.

In black and white, however, it’s different. The harsh light found in the altiplano during the day can be used to create graphic monochrome compositions in a way that just isn’t possible in colour.

Puerto Aysen, Chile, in black and white

One day I plan to return to the altiplano and be there for dawn and sunset, so I can take full advantage of the magic of this special place. But sometimes, especially on a tour, you don’t get the time or opportunity to do this. Working in black and white can help you create memorable photos in lighting conditions that are less than ideal for colour photography, but can be used to create strong monochrome images.

For me, that’s the power of black and white landscape photography – you open up more hours of the day to work in, and there is the potential to create strong work in conditions that are far less sympathetic to those working in colour.

Black and white landscape photography has a rich history. It would be the rare photographer who hasn’t heard of Ansel Adams, but have you seen the work of modern landscape photographers like Marius Rustad, Michael Diblicek and Cole Thompson? Bruce Percy also has a gallery of black and white photos on his website. Please take some time to go and look at the work of these amazing photographers, and appreciate what it is they are doing.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, in black and white

Further reading

Interviews with long exposure photographers

Learning to See in Black and White

The Key to Successful Black and White Photography

Inspirational Black & White Photos

Photography ebooks

Mastering Composition photography ebook by Andrew S. GibsonYou can learn more about black and white in Lightroom in my ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White, and more about composition in my newest ebook Mastering Composition: A Photographer’s Guide to Seeing.





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