Black & White Landscape: The story behind the image
The weather in Britain is wonderful. Well, okay…it’s not always great. But we do get a wide variety of different types of weather. Sun. Hail. Rain. Sleet. Wind. Snow. Sometimes all on the same day. As a landscape photographer this makes life exciting and unpredictable. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live somewhere with a year-round constant climate. I suspect I’d get bored.
One of the difficulties of landscape photography is conveying certain types of weather. Storm clouds are good. They’re dramatic and foreboding. Sunshine works, though it has to be said that clear blue skies aren’t that exciting. Even rain can be captured relatively easily with a bit of imagination. However, how do you suggest something invisible like wind?
Fortunately, wind has an effect on the landscape. Trees sway, grass bends and sheep tumble end over end across the moors (though admittedly that last one probably means that it’s too windy for photography). When you photograph wind it’s these effects that you’re looking to capture.
All of which brings us neatly to this image. It’s a crag in Hadrian’s Wall Country at the southern end of the Northumberland National Park. The crag is west facing so that immediately makes it a good afternoon subject. On the day I shot this image the wind was howling. Really howling. In a hold-on-to-the-tripod-to-avoid-an-expensive-accident sort of way. So, once I set my camera up on the tripod I held onto the tripod to avoid an expensive accident.
I needed to use a tripod because I wanted to use a longish shutter speed. This meant that the swaying trees in the foreground would blur, hopefully helping to convey the sense that they were bending in the wind. To lengthen the shutter speed I needed to use a small aperture and an ND filter. After a bit of experimentation I decided that a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds was about right. This meant using an aperture of f/16 and a 5-stop ND filter.
1.6 seconds is a relatively long time photographically speaking. During that time there is plenty of opportunity for a camera to move even on a tripod. To minimise that risk I sheltered the camera as well as I could with my body, locked the mirror up and fired the shutter with a remote release. Just to be on the safe side I shot three images in total. Slightly ironically the first was fine but the two ‘spares’ were unsharp because the camera moved during the exposure.
I pre-visualised the image in black & white. The use of long exposures to convey movement often works more effectively in black & white than in colour. This is possibly because black & white is not how we see the world. As we don’t naturally see long exposure blur either, the two combined have greater impact. The colour version of the shot is on the page too. It doesn’t quite work does it?
As I was shooting Raw the image required post processing back in the office. Which was fine by me. I was ready to get out of the wind once I’d finished. The image was processed simulating a red filter, deepening the blues of the sky to almost black and helping those scudding clouds stand out more.
And that was it. Because everything apart from the black & white conversion was created in-camera there wasn’t much more to do. This meant that I could put my feet up for the rest of the afternoon and contemplate what the weather would bring the following day.
If you would like to learn more about Black & White photography why not consider doing John Beardsworth’s 4 week online photography course An Introduction to Black & White Photography