How to Use Texture to Make Better Black & White Landscape Photos

How to Use Texture to Make Better Black & White Landscape Photos

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You can do landscape photography in both black and white and color. If you’re shooting in the late afternoon, for example, and the scene is lit by beautiful warm light, then that should tempt you to work in color. But, on the other hand, if the scene you’re shooting is full of texture and tonal contrast, then it’s a natural for the black and white treatment.

One of the benefits of working in digital (with Raw files) is that you can make your photos in color, and then convert them to black and white afterwards, either as an experiment or if you realize that the photo works in monochrome as well as color. If your landscape has both texture and tonal contrast, then it’s likely to be suitable for a black and white conversion. Today, we’re going to focus on the texture side of the equation.

One of the interesting things about texture is that you can emphasize it in Lightroom Classic with certain developing techniques. We’ll take a look at that later, but first I’d like to give you some examples of texture in landscape photography.

This is helpful because the best way to make good black and white photos is to do it intentionally. That means deciding to work in black and white from the start, and looking for good black and white compositions.

Tip: Shoot in Raw and set your camera’s color profile to one of its black and white options. That way you’ll see your photos in black and white when you play them back on your LCD screen or use Live View on a digital SLR. If you have a camera with an electronic viewfinder you’ll even see the scene in black and white through the viewfinder, which is a great help with composition.

Texture in the black and white landscape

When you’re photographing a landscape in black and white look for geographical or man-made features that contain interesting textures. If you can include them in the composition you have the potential for a good black and white photo, especially if the scene has other elements that work well in monochrome like tonal contrast, strong shapes or patterns, good foreground interest or leading lines.

Take a look at the photo below. I made it in Andalusia in Spain and (even in early spring) the landscape was dry, parched of recent rain. The sun was setting, the light was amazing, but the thing that really caught my eye was the beautiful textures in the dry earth and the ruined farmhouse. Black and white is perfect for emphasizing that.

Black and white landscape photo of abandoned farmhouse taken in Gorafe, Spain

Here’s another black and white landscape that makes good use of texture. The rocks and cliffs have plenty of it, and so does the sea. I cropped the photo to a panorama as the sky wasn’t very interesting. The crop emphasizes the interesting, textural parts of the photo.

Texture in black and white landscape

Texture can even become the main subject of the photo. I made the image you see below while walking around the ruins of a roman town in southern Spain. I wanted to emphasize the shapes and textures of the rocks and black and white is the perfect medium for that. It isn’t a traditional landscape photo, but it shows what can happen when you concentrate on specific elements (in this case texture and shape).

Black and white landscape photo of stone wall in Roman ruins, Spain

Texture and shutter speed

If you’re photographing a seascape then the shutter speed you set influences the textures of the photo.

A shutter speed like 1/2 second adds some blur to the water and gives you lots of texture.

Black and white seascape taken in Galicia, Spain

But a longer shutter speed gives you a completely different effect.

Black and white long exposure seascape taken in Galicia, Spain

I made the above photo with a shutter speed of 180 seconds (using a neutral density filter to block light). The sea and clouds moved during the exposure and are much more blurred than in the first example. The photo has heavily textured cliffs and rock formations, but smooth sea and sky. It’s the same scene (framed slightly differently), but the choice of shutter speed makes a huge difference to the composition.

This is a good example of the relationship between time (shutter speed) and texture. When photographing water and clouds, longer shutter speeds reduce texture. The longer the shutter speed, the less texture. That’s an important tool for landscape photographers to learn to use.

If you have the time, when you’re faced with a scene like this try both approaches. Then you can decide which you like best when you’re at home looking at the photos on your computer.

Texture in Lightroom Classic

The main tools for bringing out textures in Lightroom Classic are Clarity and Texture (increasing contrast can also help). Let’s take the following image as an example. This is how it looks after being converted to black and white, but without any action taken to emphasize the texture. It’s another long exposure photo (shutter speed 160 seconds) taken in the early evening in a seaside town in northern Spain called Tapia de Casariego.

Black and white long exposure seascape taken in Tapia de Casariego, Spain

You can see we have a contrast in texture – the sea and sky are smooth (thanks to the long exposure) but the jetty in the background and the concrete in the foreground have lots of texture. The more we can emphasize the textures here, the greater the contrast between the textured surfaces and the smooth water and sky, and the greater the visual impact of the photo.

This I how I did it.

1. I increased Clarity globally. The first step was to go to the Basic Panel and move the Clarity slider right. In simple terms (the actual process is a little more complex) the Clarity slider increases the apparent contrast of mid-tones, which in turn makes these areas appear sharper and brings out textures.

Screenshot from Lightroom showing Clairty slider

2. I adjusted Clarity locally. Next, I went to the Masks panel and used the Brush to select (mask) the areas that I wanted to make further adjustments to individually. You can see the two adjustments I made in this screenshot.

Screenshot from Lightroom showing Adjustment Brush

With both selections I increased Clarity and also made some adjustments to brightness and contrast. The latter action was required because increasing Clarity usually makes the selected area darker or brighter (the result seems to depend on the content of the photo). There’s no set formula here – it’s a matter of adding Clarity and adjusting the tonal sliders until it looks good to your eye.

You could also potentially use the  Brush to select the sea and sky and apply a negative Clarity or contrast setting to decrease texture in those areas, although I didn’t do it with this image.

This is the result of my adjustments.

Black and white long exposure photo taken in Tapia de Casariego, Spain

If you’re not a Lightroom Classic user, you can do something similar in most post-processing applications.

The Black & White Landscape ebookThe Black & White Landscape

The Black & White Landscape is an in-depth ebook that teaches you how to create beautiful black and white landscape photos. Learn how to use expressive techniques like ICM and long exposure photography, and how to master your gear using tripods and filters.

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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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