Black and White Nature Photography

December 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

At the end of last year, I was thinking about what I’d like to do more of this year, and one big one was to produce more black and white nature photography – both wildlife and landscapes.

I’ve been enjoying learning more about the nature of black and white photography; what works, what doesn’t, and how to identify situations where black and white will work better than colour. It’s an ongoing process, but I thought I’d share a few of my favourites here.

 

PHOTOS

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) in black and white.Puffin in Black and WhiteAtlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) in black and white.

This puffin was in a lovely light, but the yellow sunrise light and the green grass were proving a distraction from the subject. So I converted to b&w for a much simpler image.

 

A giraffe photographed close-up in high-key style.Giraffe PortraitA giraffe, posing for a portrait, in bright lighting. A favourite style of mine.

Nature photography, captive subject.

This giraffe photo is one I’d wanted to get for a while, so it was great to go out and encounter the right conditions to get it.

 

A british red squirrel, feeding in woodlandWoodland Red SquirrelA red squirrel, feeding in dense English woodland, as the sunlight bleeds through the leafy canopy behind.
Fine-Art British Wildlife Photography, Yorkshire, UK.

This is another image where the colour was just a distraction from the simple shapes of the composition, so converting to black and white simplifies to to get back to basics. The dark vignette is also more effective in black and white.

 

Portrait of a Barbary Macaque in Black and white.Barbary Macaque PortraitI like all my portraits to emphasise the subject's human characteristics, so photographing primates is particularly rewarding. Macaques share around 93% of their DNA sequence with humans, and we share a common ancestor from 25 million years ago.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Monkey Forest, Staffordshire.

I wanted this portrait of a female macaque to resemble slightly, a Victorian portrait of a well-to-do lady. I’m sure to many this is ridiculous, but that was the inspiration, and I think it works nicely, making the most of the black and white format.

 

A brown hare, filling the frame, in black and whiteBrown Hare Close-UpIt was amazing to be able to creep so close to this wild hare, so I had to take the opportunity to fill the frame with that fantastic fur texture, and accentuate the size of that watchful eye.
Fine Art Wildlife Photography, Suffolk , UK.

For many, hares instantly conjure images of dark and creepy situations, so using black and white here was an obvious choice.

 

Red Squirrel looks up from drinkingRed Squirrel - The LookA red squirrel, pausing mid-drink, to look up at the camera. I couldn't really have asked for more.
Nature Photography, UK.

You would think that red squirrels are best suited to colour photos – as that’s their most distinctive feature. But again here, I think that converting to black and white creates a more simple, graphic image, and the dark background helps is accentuated in monochrome, to bring the subject seemingly closer.

 

Sunset in a bluebell wood, shown in black and whiteWoodland Sunset (B&W)In fact this is a bluebell wood, presented in black and white, to accentuate the contrasting lines and tones.
Part of a
bluebell landscape project.
Black and White Nature Photography, Bedfordshire, UK.

During the spring, I spent a lot of time at the woods, and this woodland scene was my favourite black and white image of the series.

 

Raven & Dead TreesRaven & Dead TreesI like a graphically simple photo, and this is about as simple as it gets. A raven sits atop an old dead tree, watching time pass around them.
Fine art wildlife photography, from the edge of the Finnish taiga forest.

When I took this photo, I was anticipating using the colour version, but when I looked at it on the computer back home, the colour wasn’t really adding anything to the image, so I converted to b&w. I much prefer it this way, and it’s another stark, graphic image.

 

Brown Bear in Black & WhiteBrown Bear in Black & WhiteA female European Brown Bear, looks up from browsing, and spots another bear in the distance.
She was being shadowed by the large, dominant male in the area, and she didn’t hang around for long.
I like the look in her eyes here, and the soft light which highlights her shape and fur.
Black & white
nature photography, Finland.

This female brown bear was another one which looked nice enough in colour, but converting to black and white allows more contrast, and a more noticeable side-lighting, which in turn helps it to imply three dimensions.

 

Red Deer RoarRed Deer RoarA roaring red deer, in high-key black and white.
Taken during the
2015 red deer rut.
Fine Art nature photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire.

Lastly, this huge beast of a red deer stag, which I managed to get reasonably close to at Woburn, was calling in the shade of a tree. I over-exposed the background for this deer-on-white look, and to get the eye-contact too, makes it a really compelling image. I’m really pleased with this one.

 

SUMMARY

Shooting in black and white is certainly a skill in its own right, on top of the many other aspects of photography, and it’s one I’m enjoying learning. Hopefully, it’s something I can continue to improve at.

I have a gallery of black and white nature photography here, which is growing all the time.

Post by George Wheelhouse, 2015.


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