I’ve enjoyed processing a few of my images to Black and White in recent weeks – have to say I’m a big fan of effective mono images – the timeless feel that the lack of colour presents appeals strongly to me when done well.
Mostly the decision to go mono with an image comes around because I try mono in Lightroom when colour is not quite working for me. On a few occasions, out in the field ( perhaps during stronger light, or heavy fog ) I make conscious decisions to shoot a specific image with a mono vision in mind – a couple of these images have fallen into that category – the high contrast lighting that I saw in the field instantly led me to thinking about mono processes. The latter one falls more into the ‘let’s experiment in post’ category. All are results that I’m personally pleased with, and that’s at the absolute root of my photography – producing art that I can derive some pleasure and pride from.
My experience with removing colour is that composition becomes more important, and contrast is critical to whether a piece works. Having some pure black areas, rather than a mush of low contrast greys can also a good indicator of an image working well in mono.
This first image is of the Chamonix Aguilles, photographed from 1800m at La Flegere, over the city of Chamonix. The winter was still in full swing, and the earliest I could get to this point safely was a couple of hours after sunrise, so the light was getting a bit too strong for my liking colour wise. However, I could see that the dramatic cloud with the strong shapes of the giant peaks, and the light hitting the scene from the east would be effective in black and white. The contrast of the snow and rock was also pretty perfect for the lower parts of the image where I left the exposure minimal to highlight the central aspect of the image – the peaks, and the cloud system enveloping them.
Closer to home, we’ve had some fabulous mists and fog in the last 6 months. I often wander Sussex in the early morning during this type of weather, looking for opportune moments of light that might make interesting images. I happened to be at a local beauty spot – Devils Dyke in Sussex, a while ago, and one of the clumps of trees was under a heavy patch of fog as the sun came up. As the sun got a little higher, I watched the light start to penetrate the fog, and this lovely atmosphere appeared – I could see the mono potential immediately in this case as I snapped away, trying out different compositions. I settled on this eventually, purposefully positioning the sun just out of shot while shooting through a bit of a clearing in the wood trees to give a feeling of depth to the image. In post, I left the darks as they were, in shadow, which accentuates the contrast between black and white well.
This last image wasn’t shot with black and white in mind, although the low cloud conditions provided a good setting for it. Stob Dearg at Glencoe is always a banker for a shot or two when I pass ( despite the ‘cliche’ of the location ) – walk up the river a bit away from the shot to death waterfall, and the river Coupall has some interesting features that make just as good an image in my opinion. A combination of a longer exposure, and a short one for the water movement make up this image. I’d originally processed this as a colour image, but I ended up going back to review it. Upon decreasing the saturation on my raw in Lightroom it was immediately apparent that mono would work very well – a happy accident – the heavy contrast between the water flow and the dark of the looming peak, plus the black areas of the slight vignette from the lens all helped to give this one a pleasing look in mono as far as I’m concerned.
In summary, Black and White can be a particularly effective choice for the right type of image – where high contrast is around, or heavy fog, strong shadows, stronger daylight – all good signs that it might be worth shooting a few frames with mono processing in mind. In post processing, it takes a couple of seconds to decrease that saturation slider to -100 in Lightroom – you’ll get a pretty good feel for whether mono will work quite quickly – give it a try sometime – you might be nicely surprised!!