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Skylines, Acadia National Park

As soon as I put my eye to the viewfinder on my camera, I knew I would make this a black and white image. Why?

The lines and shapes combined with rich tonalities and texture. At least that’s what I saw in my mind, but to make it work I needed to wait for the light. And that’s the element that binds it all together, as it always does. There was a lot going on, with interesting subjects everywhere, but I had found what I thought was the strongest way for me to convey the feeling I felt, in that location.

After trying a horizontal composition, I realized a vertical composition would be ideal, so I switched my camera to a vertical setup and re-framed the composition…much better.  It removed distractions to the right and left, and also made the relationship between the foreground rocks and sky much more apparent and direct. Plus there’s the beautiful side lighting I always look for, combined with a strong sense of depth created by the layers in the scene; foreground rocks, middle ground water, and distant shore. But  it’s the clouds that finish the composition with symmetry, diagonals, and tonal richness. Notice I said ” finish”, which is to say they are supported by a strong foundation, the foreground.

One item I highly recommend is an L bracket for your camera. It makes switching from a horizontal to vertical position much easier, and your perspective doesn’t change the way it does when you drop the camera to the side on a regular tripod head. I use mine all the time, and it’s worth the investment.

Click for larger version

Again, it’s all about making the composition and resulting statement as simple as possible. There were rocks everywhere, but it was these in particular that not only caught my attention, but seemed to convey what I felt—a sense of harmony and balance in nature that I rarely see or find anywhere else. And it is something I felt with my entire being, in that particular moment.

I didn’t want color to distract from that, and so it became a black and white, something I’m always hesitant to do unless I’m absolutely sure it works better than the color version.

I always ask myself two questions when it comes to black and white conversions:

  • Is the color adding anything significant to the image?
  • Does a black & white come closer to the essence of what the picture is about?
In this case, I felt the b&w would be best right from the beginning, so it made my overall approach easier and more focused.

Black and White Workflow

Below are the key steps in my conversion to black and white in Lightroom 4

My initial color version – nice, but lacks the drama and emphasis on light and shadow I’m looking for.  

This is better, but I don’t like Lightroom’s auto black and white mix, I rarely do. But that’s not a problem, the adjustments are easy to make with the target adjustment tool. Just click and drag to lighten or darken parts of the image. Sky is first!

Here you can see I’ve darkened the sky considerably by pulling down the BLUE and AQUA channel. I’ve also lightened the foreground rocks somewhat by pushing up the ORANGE and YELLOW channels, which you can see in the color version above are limited to the rocks. This is something I noticed when first composed the image in the field, and so I knew adjusting the black and white version would be very easy. Seeing these color variations in the field helps tremendously if you’re considering a black and white conversion. 

Finally, I dodged and burned a few areas with several brushes in order to emphasize a few key areas; the light on the lower left rock, the area just in front of the rocks where a little shadow lifting would help the tonal balance, and finally a few highlights in the sky. All of these help lead the viewers eye, and also help to interpret the way I saw and felt the moment. These are all subtle adjustments, but they are very real and make a difference in the overall way someone views the image.

These are all concepts and ideas I discuss and share with students on my workshops. It all starts in the field, before you even set up the camera. And it follows all the way through the capturing, interpreting, and processing of the image. I love encouraging others to think before they shoot, and then take as many photos as you want. But at that point, you’re in a zone, you’re much more focused, and the results often reflect that. I get to see it on every workshop – and it’s why I keep doing them year after year.

Any questions or feedback, please let me know – I’m always here to help.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thank-you very much, Robert. Your illustrations and explanations of concepts and techniques are always instructive! It’s clear this sort of creative imagination that envisions the final result (or at least something close to it) at the time of the shooting, and the knowledge of the tools that enable you to attain the desired result, come from countless hours of experience and knowledge (that I’m guessing, also comes from much trial and error) ! Thanks as always, for freely sharing from your wealth of learnings!

    1. Thanks Hillel as always for the feedback and valued support – I really do hope it makes sense to everyone and the can build on the ideas in their own photography. The gear is so much fun and great to play with, but I think the what most photographers want is to make good pictures. And the way to do that never changes – focus on what you have to say and show everyone else.


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