Nature in Greyscale

 
The variations in the textures and patterns across this arid desert landscape make it a perfect subject for B&W nature photography. Photograph/Joydeep Mukherjee

The variations in the textures and patterns across this arid desert landscape make it a perfect subject for B&W nature photography. Photograph/Joydeep Mukherjee

Supriya Joshi encourages you to deviate from viewing natural life in colour and shows you how to photograph the world around you in the various shades grey.

Who is the first person that pops into your mind when you read the term ‘black and white nature photography’? For me, it all goes back to the legend Ansel Adams, who pretty much introduced the world to a whole new way of seeing nature in monochrome. How can we take inspiration from his work today?

We see the world in colour, and for a subject that is bursting with it, shooting in black and white is more often than not, overlooked. Let’s explore how you can photograph the natural world in B&W.

Seeing With a Difference
Previsualising a scene in B&W while difficult, can also be immensely rewarding. Look at the different colours in the scene, and ask yourself which shade of grey will they translate to. A yellow flower might look light grey, while a deep blue sky could turn dark grey. Similarly lit reds and greens might end up translating to similar hues of grey, while contrasty lighting might make various shades of the same colour appear disparate.

Slow shutterspeeds and long exposures are great ways to reduce clutter in your frame, and further emphasise the form of your subject. Photograph/Sarang Naik

Slow shutterspeeds and long exposures are great ways to reduce clutter in your frame, and further emphasise the form of your subject. Photograph/Sarang Naik

Going Black and White
Every camera today allows you to shoot in black and white, so simply switch to the mode and see what emerges on the screen before you. Even if you prefer to postprocess rather than shoot in B&W, this exercise will allow you to see how a particular scene will look when it is completely stripped of colour. You might also be able to observe patterns and subtle details, which you may have missed when viewing the frame in colour.

It Begins at Home
Nature is not just the great outdoors… it’s also the fruits and vegetables that are currently in your refrigerator. Take a look at legendary photographer Edward Weston’s work, and how brilliantly he has photographed nature as still life, with subjects like lettuce leaves and bell peppers. The black and white medium emphasises form, making for stunning still life studies.

Vignetting can harken the yesteryears. Silhouettes combined with vignettes can make your images look very Hitchcockian. Photograph/Devendra Lingwal

Vignetting can harken the yesteryears. Silhouettes combined with vignettes can make your images look very Hitchcockian. Photograph/Devendra Lingwal

Looking for Contrast
Nature often lends itself well to stark blacks and whites. Backlit leaves and flowers, shadows cast by a tangle of branches, shafts of light pouring through foliage can make for dramatic high contrast images.

The soft, undulating landscape of snow is broken by the sharp angular shape of the tree and the hut. Photograph/Samit Jain

The soft, undulating landscape of snow is broken by the sharp angular shape of the tree and the hut. Photograph/Samit Jain

Capturing Form
One easy way to draw attention to form is by rendering your subject into a silhouette—be it the sprawling branches of a tree against the sky, or a bird taking flight across a pond. Another option is to go close to your subject and isolate it from background clutter.

Would this scene look just as mindboggling in colour? The absence of colour is what makes the lizard virtually indistinguishable from the background. Photograph/Arun Sundar

Would this scene look just as mindboggling in colour? The absence of colour is what makes the lizard virtually indistinguishable from the background. Photograph/Arun Sundar

A Multitude of Textures
The variations in contrast and tonality can greatly exaggerate the textures of natural elements like rivulets of sand, craggy rock formations, heaps of dried leaves and even the bark of trees. Even the fur of your pet or a close-up of the feathers of birds can provide you with striking textures.

Long Exposure is Your Friend
The next time you are near a waterbody, like a spring, waterfall, river or even the beach, set your camera on a tripod and make a long exposure of the scene. Anything under 1/10sec will work. The smooth white sheet of water flowing over dark, jagged rocks, or the soft, white foam of the sea against dark, shifting sand, can look ethereal in B&W.

Shooting nature in black and white is a great way to explore abstract photography. Without the presence of colour, it becomes difficult for the viewer to identify what he is looking at. Photograph/Phanindra Nath Sarkar

Shooting nature in black and white is a great way to explore abstract photography. Without the presence of colour, it becomes difficult for the viewer to identify what he is looking at. Photograph/Phanindra Nath Sarkar

Patterns in Black and White
Repeating natural patterns are excellent subjects for B&W photography. Rows of tiny leaves, tightly curled spirals of tendrils, the thin veins of rocks, the spots on butterflies, the grooves and curves of seashells, the sharp lines of pine cones or even the spikes of cactii can offer fascinating patterns.

Black and white nature photography is not just limited to the day. A natural landscape can also look beautiful when bathed in moonlight. Photograph/Kalisetti Sunil

Black and white nature photography is not just limited to the day. A natural landscape can also look beautiful when bathed in moonlight. Photograph/Kalisetti Sunil

You can also try combining two contrasting patterns for interesting results. If finding a pattern seems difficult, simply look for lines, curves and shapes in nature. Looking for symmetry in the natural world will always reward you with dramatic B&W images.

In the end, all that matters is your vision. Once you hone it, seeing nature in B&W becomes easy.

Tags: April 2015, black and white, black and white nature photography tips, bnw nature photography, bnw photo tips, bnw photography, Supriya Joshi