How to Take Black and White Landscape Photos

June 16, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 18 Comments | |
How to Take Black and White Landscape Photos Image

Often when we see a landscape with a fine sky where the blues have been absorbed by the extreme red filter, have a look at the green landscape beneath (if it was green) as here the red filter will have absorbed the reflected green light in the same way as it absorbed the blue. Great sky indeed but a potentially muddy land!

The orange filter is a good compromise as it will not have such extreme effect on the green foliage. The yellow, even more green friendly.

If you were to have a graduated filter with one third orange. and the other two thirds clear or better still green (I have a rather gaudy looking one) then your landscapes made with film would enjoy an exceptional tonal range if of course there was a range there to start with.

How to Take Black and White Landscapes

I suggest that with film getting filtration right in camera is the ideal and with digital colour use 'black and white' in the image adjustment menu which will work well enough when dealing with a raw image. There are numerous ways of converting colour into monochrome but if it was the intention to make a monochrome image in the first place then hopefully, the conversion will result in parity between your previsualisation and the finished print.

If you have an old film camera knocking about (which I hope you may) then how about buying a roll or two of slow-ish black and white film and making some negatives using some of the filters we have discussed here.

In 1972, I recall an exhibition entitled 'From today painting is dead' ( a remarkable and memorable exhibition of photography at the V&A museum in London. Whilst being a great advocator of digital capture, I would argue that the use of film (both in colour and black and white) is far from dead and anyone wishing to set off on a voyage down the black and white route, might consider those rolls of monochrome film.

Perhaps then a good scan of the negative and a subsequent print will provide a reminder of how enjoyable it is to interpret the world around us in black and white………..but it is just as lovely in colour too!

How to Take Black and White Landscapes


Charlie Waite was born in 1949 and worked in British Theatre and Television for the first ten years of his professional life. Throughout this period he became fascinated by theatrical lighting and design. Gradually the landscape and the way it can be revealed to us through light and shade stole him away from the acting profession.

Over the last twenty five years, he has lectured throughout the UK Europe and the US. He has held numerous one man exhibitions in London, including two shows in London’s National Theatre and three at the OXO gallery and held further solo shows in Tokyo, New York, Carmel and in Australia, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  He has published 27 books on the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany; all exclusively of his photography.

Charlie Waite is now firmly established as one of the most celebrated international landscape photographers. Aside from his own photography, he also enjoys introducing photography to others. Through his company, Light and Land the leading photographic tour company in Europe, Charlie Waite and his specialist photographic leaders, all at the very top in their field, run worldwide workshops and tours dedicated to bettering photography.

All images in this article © Charlie Waite

Entry Tags

photos, landscape, how to, landscapes, black and white, photographs, b&w, charlie waite, waite, charlie

Your Comments

18 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Mark

I can’t see why you’d need global colour filtration when capturing a scene digitally. The best way to get a B&W image from a digital camera is to take the image in colour, then create the B&W by mixing varying amounts of the R, G & B channels to achieve the contrast you want.

For example, to achieve the effect of the traditional strong red/orange filter to darken the sky, just use a small amount of the blue channel - or none at all.

Your digital sensor with its colour filter array effectively acts like three strips of B&W film, one with a red filter, one with a green and one with a blue.

The only filtration that makes sense to use on digital are polarizers (effect can’t be replicated in post-processing), neutral grads (maximize dynamic range without multiple exposures and HDR tomfoolery) and neutral density filters (allowing greater exposure times).

1:17 pm - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#2 Jan

Hi, Mark… It is trend for digitaly today, make anything in PC, what is better make before take pictures. Do you mean really, that mathematical proces (any proces in editor with picture file) is same, like when you change with filters or lenses light condition, color spectre and time, what you give light to painting photographic picture? Like change of exposure is not same, like change “exposure” in Lightroom or Photoshop, filters have another feel in picture, than sterility proces in editor with computing pictures files :-)

2:45 pm - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#3 Mark


Whilst I appreciate the sentiment about the purism of capturing the image as you want it the first time, the use of plain coloured filters in digital photography is an important exception to the rule.

Film needs filters because the colour information is “combined” at the film surface (both for B&W or colour film). In digital cameras, the colour information is recorded separately into R, G and B channels thanks to the colour filter array in front of the sensor.

Adding additional filters to this setup will reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor - causing longer shutter times and increased noise - without actually changing the nature of the image.

You can exactly replicate the effect of plain colour filters simply by varying the mix of the R, G and B channels that make up your final monochrome image.

You accuse this of being a mathematical process rather than a physical one - but the filter is also a mathematical process in its effect. All a red filter will do is attenuate the values recorded by the green and blue channels. The only difference between the filter and the post-processing is that the filter applies the correction in the analogue domain, and the computer does it in the digital domain. The results are exactly equivalent, except that the post-processing retains more information by not underexposing the “unfavoured” channels.

Another danger of filters with digital is an increased risk of channel overexposure. Many cameras meter their exposure and show you histogram information from the luminance channel only. By using a strong colour filter you can seriously overexpose the “favoured” channel without the camera warning you.

Finally, the arguments for using RAW over JPEG also apply here. In post-processing, you can choose what filter to apply at your leisure, and you’re not limited to filters you own, or even filters that are available.

3:25 pm - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#4 Eric Luden

I recently overheard this comment: “Friends don’t let friends shoot jpeg”.  So we instruct all of our customers to shoot RAW, unfiltered, and do all the work later.  We have been using Nik Silver Efex Pro for all of our own work and for our customers as well.  Use it as a smart filter and you have complete editing control.  We can then print the RGB b&W file on our true B&W silver papers.  It is a match made in heaven.  All the benefits of the digital work flow with the time honored tradition of true b&w gelatin silver prints.
The B&W image has always intrigued me and I appreciate them more than color images.  For me, color is distracting and I prefer he tonal values and shades on monochrome.  It’s not a better or worse issue, it’s just a preference.

5:19 pm - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#5 Heru Wijayanto


6:37 pm - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#6 carrol

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2:48 pm - Saturday, June 20, 2009

#7 Gloria Golden

Your photographs are beautiful and make me realize how much I love black and white.  Recently, I have experimented with tinting, but I think it’s those black and whites that really touch me.

7:12 pm - Saturday, June 27, 2009

#8 pamela

Black an white is also awesome.When I was a very small child we have black and white TV Which was so dear to me.But when I reached in college for 640-863 exam coaching classes we purchased color TV.Now I am really missing black and white.

1:29 pm - Monday, July 6, 2009

#9 SB Landscape Photography

Thanks for sharing. I agree with what Mark has said in regards to digital capture/black and white conversions.

11:00 am - Friday, July 17, 2009

#10 Mark Highton Ridley

You make some very useful and helpful points. I’ll check to see if my Rebel XT will let me shoot in BW while capturing as a RAW as that seems like a v.good tip.

I’m going through a phase right now of high-contrast work, whether still/abstract or landscape.

If anyone’s interested in my BW HDR video tutorial, check out my site

11:50 am - Saturday, July 18, 2009

#11 Eric

One general recommendation is to shoot in full color and convert to b&w later.  If you allow the camera to decide how the image will look in B&W (by shooting in a b%w mode) then you’re throwing our valuable information.  Capture in RAW RGB to get all the detail and info.  We have found this to provide the best results when we go to make prints in our lab on true gelatin silver papers.

4:09 pm - Saturday, July 18, 2009

#12 Mia

Thank you so much for posting these stunning photos.

I believe one of the most important factors in creating good black and white images is to start with a subject that lends itself to monochrome in the first instance. In this regard tonal contrasts and beautiful textures are key. It also seems that some of the simplest scenes are sometimes the most effective!

Warm wishes,
Mia Rose

3:17 pm - Thursday, December 10, 2009

#13 peter haken

love your BW work truely amazing, great tips too thanks for sharing

8:49 am - Sunday, December 19, 2010

#14 Adrian Ashworth

Such an interesting read, really enjoyed it, thanks so much for posting, I’ll book mark this for future reference


11:51 am - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#15 canvas prints

what a great post, and some really important tips that will change the way i go about taking this type of photo. all the best

2:57 pm - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

#16 myrtle

Great! Such an interesting post indeed.=D

10:39 am - Friday, January 4, 2013

#17 Godbolt Robert

Such an interesting, really enjoyed it, thanks so much for posting. You make some very useful and helpful points. Also checkout my monochrome photography portfolio here

10:08 am - Thursday, January 10, 2013

#18 hermiliesmith

Nice post and I really like that concept of taking black and white photos really totally fabulous and amazing idea for the photography.

10:55 am - Tuesday, March 18, 2014