Black-and-White-Photography-A-World-of-Grey

Beautiful scene of revegitation on the top of Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in China Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 24mm. Exposure Details: 1/50 second @ f8 ISO 400.Like the term chalk and cheese, black and white is often used to describe exact opposites that are, quite literally, poles apart.

In photography, while its possible to make images of extreme contrast with little or any tones between black and white, the classic black and white print will display full tonality from jet black, through deep to open shadows, a range of midtowns, subtle highlights all the way up to near white. The great American landscape photographer and master printer, Ansel Adams, is perhaps the most famous exponent of this style of photography.

These days a histogram is used to describe the distribution of tones within a digital image into a maximum of 256 levels of brightness (where 0 is jet black and 255 is pure white) per color (Red, Green and Blue).

But neither the world you photograph nor your intentions always lend themselves to this classic rendering of tones. You may be photographing a scene with predominantly light (beach or snow) or dark (close up of a dark tree trunk) tones and, as a consequence, your image is unlikely to resemble a classic Ansel Adams print. And, of course, software provides so many options by which an image can be altered/enhanced/manipulated to achieve (hopefully) new, interesting and thought-provoking results.  

The above image was made on a trek across Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Eastern China. The path I was following led me to a high, windswept vantage point where I had outstanding views in several directions. After photographing back down towards the hotel I'd stayed at the night before (my birthday) I turned my camera up the hill towards this beautiful, yet somewhat surreal scene. It's always strange in remote or fairly wild areas to see nature contained by barriers, albeit as part of a re-generation strategy.

On the day in question I was hiking under a heavily laden sky. As a result the light was soft and even, producing an almost shadowless light. The majority of the tones within the scene were midtowns or brighter and the snow covered trees and land added subtle texture to the scene. The problem with this sort of scene is that it can look flat. Fortunately the black fence lines added contrast as well as great leading lines moving the viewer through the frame and providing more of a 3-dimensional effect.

While a lot of the delicate tonality is bound to be lost in this small, compressed sRGB JPEG there should be enough retained on your monitor to illustrate some of the luminous beauty and sheer wonder I experienced at the top of a quite steep climb. I do hope you enjoy the image and would love to read your comments.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru