I consider black and white nature photography to be a very emotional interpretation of a scene. There are no vibrant colors to distract. It almost feels like a form of sensory deprivation. When the color is removed, the other senses kick in stronger and you become aware of tones, textures, shapes, and patterns. Some images convert to black and white much stronger than others. Below are some tips of what to look for in a RAW file to successfully convert it into B/W.
When you think sunset is going to be amazing but it ends up being flat with no color, this is where you can salvage your time and switch to your “black and white brain”. I start looking at my environment in black and white tones. I look for the darkest blacks and the brightest whites and try to find a scene that has strong contrast in the tones. These images convert well to black and white.
Take some time to observe the textures in your location. Is there smooth sand with curves? Are there rough, jagged rocks in your foreground and wispy clouds in the sky? Look around the environment and notice the differences in the objects you can physically touch. These little variances create interest in a black and white image.
Look for anything that visually repeats itself. Lines carved into the sand at a beach, stripes in layered rocks, leaves that have fallen on the ground, etc. Simple nature patterns can make very dynamic intimate B/W nature photos.
Leading lines, curves, triangles, etc. … look for these shapes because they make strong anchors in landscape photography. Look for anything that draws your eye out into a scene to visually explore it. This applies to both color and black and white images. It is a crucial element for any photograph to be successful.
When the Scene is Iconic or Timeless
Some nature photography locations just scream to be in B/W. One of my favorite places for this is Yosemite. It is such an iconic location that is just stunning converted into black and white. Those granite monoliths are nostalgic classics. A strong black and white image is classically timeless and rich locations like Yosemite fall into this genre.
When You Want to Convey a Particular Mood
When I’m out shooting,a dark and stormy day makes me feel heavy and moody. This is the feeling I want my viewers to experience as well. Some feelings are better conveyed in B/W vs. color. The dark and stormy picture screams for black and white. A sad dreary mood also looks stronger in black and white conversion. So you just have to determine how a scene makes you feel, as it also dictates your post-processing choices.
These are some of my tips for when to convert to black and white. My main suggestion is to just be very observant of the roll color plays in a scene. If it distracts or doesn’t add anything, usually black and white is the way to go!