It’s been horribly overcast lately, and I’m finding black & white is a good way to overcome – even embrace – the limitations of flat, boring light.
I really don’t like what heavy overcast does to landscapes in particular, and everything else in general – the excessively high contrast, the oversaturated yet flat and muddy colours. Even as background it can be distractingly ugly.
I’ve spent ages wrestling with images like that. Images like the one above, in fact, where I could never get the various tones even passably attractive.
The best way is to remove the colour entirely.
Bye bye muddy browns and claggy greens.
It’s a good way to emphasise the lines and shapes of an image – there are no dabs of colour anywhere to distract the eye.
It also helps, for black & whites, to embrace the high-contrast look from the start. I’m going to have to remind myself to shoot simpler, more graphic images on these types of days.
Some otherwise busy shots can end up looking pretty moody, however. Indistinct, faceless figures, like above, can look quite mysterious. As can out-of-context objects…
This is actually a runway for Andromedan tentacle beasts, for instance.
OK, there was actually a bit of light available for this one, so it’s cheating a bit.
But then, I’m always going on about how utterly vital good light is, then ignoring my own advice in my enthusiasm, so… is this excuse working? Oh. It’s just cheating, then.
It was so overcast in the shot above it was actually snowing heavily, so all this light is unnatural. I have a colour version that works OK, but the different colour temperature of all the lights can be – again – slightly distracting.
On very dull days it can actually help to go somewhere even darker, so long as there’s a window or door or ruined hole (I live in Wales) to let the light in. Then at least you get a good contrast between what little light there is and shadow.
It’s better to bump the ISO up and get a decent shutter speed in situations like this, and never mind any grain – grain can actually work with such images anyway.
A few highlights make all the difference.
Getting any highlights at all on a dull day is, of course, incredibly difficult. This is where the Luminance and Saturation sliders of individual colours come in handy in Lightroom.
The Tone Curve is also a fantastic tool for creating a bit of third-dimension-adding pop.
Subtly different shades boosted in Lightroom.
And of course, my wife loves the results when it makes her hair look like this. Oh wait, there she is in the distance now!
Is that…? Careful with that dear, it looks sharp. Yes, that. Oh, it’s a knife. Thanks for showing me by waving it like that. Why are you screaming?
You really shouldn’t run with a knife…