An online photographer friend said that he doesn’t do much black and white landscape work because he feels he needs the color to be there because it was there. I agree with him up to a point. No, I’m no Ansel Adams, but I do like how a black and white photograph can work when the major elements come together.
My job as a photographer is to make you see, not just make you look and I’m afraid that color sometimes gets in the way of that. It makes you look, but often you still can’t see. Our wondrous human brains are really keyed to color. So much so that I can force you through a photograph the way I want you to experience it without you even knowing. Sometimes that works, but sometimes we are distracted by color. We don’t see the other “hidden” strengths of a photograph unless we’ve spent a lot of hours studying them and getting past the ‘ooh pretty colors’ thing.
Another online photographer blog I follow features a lot of monochrome images of the Eastern Sierras and while I am not emulating his style, I was mindful of how he presented things with his photos. This country was made for B&W as the early landscape photographers have shown. As a non-native, I didn’t make intimate portraits of high desert and snowy mountains. Instead I tried to capture what awes me about the western United States. My husband and I love it out there and I can only think of two major vacations spent east of the the Mississippi. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite B&W images from my trip –
Rock Creek Lake in Inyo County. Still in the grip of winter in late May. I had to stop the car and shoot this. The clarity of the air was amazing. It was cold, sunny and invigorating. Incredible that the lake ice is just breaking up.
Next is a microscape (what, you thought I gave those up?) featuring some tiny flowers that looked like stranded water lilies to me. They were on slopes where we stopped on our way to the bristlecone pine forest. It’s probably 9,000 feet in elevation here and there were still patches of snow in the shade.
Near Mono Lake (post coming, I promise) are the Mono Craters, remnants of the volcanoes that created the valley eons ago. Snaking through the desert are many roads winding around sagebrush and poking into canyons. A year or two ago they had a fire and, boy, was it eerie. Nothing living as far as you could see. No sound except the incredibly fierce wind that picked up handfuls of pumice dust and flung it. Good thing there was no need to change lenses. Processing-wise I didn’t really do anything to this one. I liked the conversion the way it came out and I left it pretty much alone.
Believe me when I say this was by far the best road we’d been on since leaving the pavement that day. It’s West Portal Road and it used to lead to mining camps that sprang up in the 19th century. Now it leads to other roads that wind their way into the canyons of the Mono Craters. I felt that a sepia tone would work really well here and low and behold –
This next one is Convict Lake. The water is a crystal aqua blue and so clear that I wished for a wider angle lens to get more of the submerged rocks in the shot (this was at my widest 12mm or 24mm in 35mm film terms). The lake was named after an incident in 1871, where a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City. A posse, led by Sheriff Robert Morrison, encountered the convicts near the head of what is now Convict Creek. Morrison was killed in the encounter, and Mount Morrison was named after him. That’s it on the left. I never did really capture the color of the water and so with it being so-so and a distraction, I deleted it.
This next one was taken just as we started to climb Black Point on the shores of Mono Lake. It’s a volcano remnant, too, and a quite easy climb. The pumice here is very dark and despite the sky being a brilliant blue, I decided on monochrome to bring out the texture and highlight the huge tonal range in this photo. I messed with some color sliders as usual to bring up some contrasts and used the graduated filter a bit, too.
I didn’t envision each on in monochrome specifically, but I knew instinctively that pretty much anything I shot would work as long as it had white and black and so…