B&W In The Field

Pack your bag with the right gear to get your best monochrome photos
This Article Features Photo Zoom

1) Mirrorless cameras like the Samsung NX30 have high resolution and no moving mirror to create vibration during the exposure.

The essence of black-and-white lies in tonality and texture. When you look at a print by one of the great landscape masters, you’re drawn into details like the softness of a flower petal, the jagged ridges of tree bark and the smooth surface of a still mountain lake. Bringing out these textures requires particular attention to detail in your shooting technique and having the right gear with you in the field.

The first thing you want to be sure to have with you is a black-and-white mind-set. A lot of photographers head into the field with only a partial idea of what and how they’re going to photograph. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; after all, it’s good to keep an open mind and work with what’s given to you. There’s a fine line between keeping an open mind and having some focus to your thinking.

2) A solid, heavy-duty ballhead like the Really Right Stuff BH-40 locks securely to keep the camera steady.

Firm Shooting Platform
Sharpness and depth of field are hallmarks of classic black-and-white landscape photography. To get tack-sharp images, a tripod and a sturdy head are mandatory. If you see a pro landscape photographer at work, you’ll invariably see a large, heavy-duty ballhead supporting the camera. This isn’t the place where you want to be saving ounces of weight and flirt with the limits of the head’s capacity. A good ballhead will lock securely and stay locked no matter what position the camera is in.

Remote Shutter Release
To achieve the maximum sharpness we seek in a black-and-white image, using some kind of a remote is necessary, either a cable release or an electronic remote. Use your body to shelter the camera from any wind, and use the remote to trigger the shutter. While you’re at it, shooting in Live View with the mirror locked up is definitely a good idea because, as the mirror flops in the mirror box, it can cause some vibration. Obviously, mirrorless cameras don’t have the problem of a moving mirror, but even with a mirrorless camera, tripping the shutter remotely is much preferable to depressing the shutter button with a finger. In a pinch, you can use the auto timer to fire the shutter without touching the camera.

3) Zoom lenses offer a lot of versatility, but a prime lens like the Zeiss Touit 32mm can give you super-sharpness for your black-and-white photography.

Shooting a landscape with the camera firmly anchored doesn’t require ƒ/2.8; it requires ƒ/11 or ƒ/16. While most fast pro lenses will be even sharper at these smaller apertures than wide open, you also can think about bringing an all-in-one zoom to save weight because the all-in-one lens likely will be plenty sharp at the ƒ-stops you’ll be using. As good as modern lenses are at smaller apertures, the thing you need to be most aware of is diffraction. It’s tempting to stop down to ƒ/22 or smaller, but doing so usually will result in a softer image. Ansel Adams and Group f/64 took their name from that tiny aperture, but remember that they were using large-format cameras, where a 120mm lens was wide-angle. The physical size of the aperture (which determines the occurrence of diffraction) is larger for a 120mm lens stopped down to ƒ/64 than a 24mm lens stopped down to ƒ/22.

For many photographers, software has replaced glass filters, but even if you’re using the latest digital camera, a color filter or a polarizer can be beneficial when you’re shooting. They weigh little, and they take up almost no space. For more about filters, see the article “B&W Essentials” in this issue.