Nature Photography in Black and White

Corlette Wessels is a talented South African photographer that spends her holidays in the Kgalagadi patiently photographing the delights of nature. She was a finalist in the World Elephant Day Competition with her black and white photograph. Corlette is the first to say that sometimes the world just looks better in black and white.

Thinking of entering your black and white photographs into the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year Competition? Read what Corlette has to say first:

“I love black and white photography and it is part of why I enjoy taking photographs. I often get asked “how do you do it?” Here some tried an tested tips that have worked for me in my career as a photographer.

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Photographs can show more emotion when in monochrome. A black and white image can often dance on the fine line between reality and fantasy giving the images a certain kind of ‘magic’ that might not have been there before.

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The human eye is not made to see in black and white, we live in a world of colour after all. You need to train your eye to see in tones of grey, referred to as: highlights, shadows and mid tones. Highlights are bright whites, shadows are dark blacks while mid tones will be any combination of these two. You need to start looking at opportunities in tones rather than in colour. Look at the tones, shapes, textures, highlights and shadows and try visualise the picture in black and white. Use light (sun, shade or artificial light) to help you with your tones and to create the contrast that is needed. By using light and contrast you will be able to see things in a photo that you could not see before in colour.

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An essential thing to remember about photographs in monochrome is that not all photos will make great black and white pictures. A yellow flower surrounded by green ferns will look stunning in colour but not in black and white whereas a white water lily on a dam or river when it is overcast will look great in grey.

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You need to decide if you want a soft or harsh black and white photograph as the exposure you use will alter this. Personally, I try use a lower ISO when I am photographing in  black and white , but then again it also depends on the subject I am photographing. I always only shoot in RAW format.

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I do not like to edit photographs too much although I will enhance colour, sharpen the picture and crop it where necessary. If I cannont make the editing changes to my photograph in 60 seconds then the picture is not that good in the first place. Black and white photographs do take a little longer to edit. I edit my photos in Lightroom and I use Silver FX plug-in. I absolutely love Silver FX as this allows me to play more with my tones and shades. Black and white photography is very different to colour photography and nature, landscape and portraits are all equally as different in black and white as you can highlight different things to tell very different stories.

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I hope these tips will help you to play more with black and white. There are a lot of creatures in the animal kingdom that just lend themselves to beautifully to black and white.”

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Posted in Corlette's Blog.