Autumn colours in black and white

Autumn is a great time for photography. Vivid colours and still waters that give beautiful reflections offer great scope for the photographer.

However, with all these beautiful colours around, it can be a challenge for the photographer working in black and white. This time of year is one of the best times to get to know tones and to be able to look at colour but visualise in black and white.

For those who are used to working in monochrome, autumn should present fewer challenges, but for those who are new to the genre, it is a wonderful time to experiment, and it is a good lesson in using limitations and constraints to produce a final image without colour.

It was a gorgeous day when I decided to shot material around the River Spean in Scotland. The weather, as often the case in Scotland, was changing rapidly. One moment the sun would be out while 30 seconds later it would be overcast with low moving cloud.

I always resist using filters, but I appreciate some people like to use red or yellow filters when shooting with black and white film. Using filters to bring out the clouds or deepen a white overcast sky is a good technique, but I prefer to shoot without colour filters. At this time of year, I often shoot the sky separately from the main image, later combing it back into the image during post production.

Tree colours at this time of year are numerous. From evergreens to orange, red and yellow leaves, colours abound. One of the techniques that I do think is particularly useful at this time of year is the zone system of exposure, which I will discuss in later posts. But for those familiar with the system, using the zone method helps to place the tree in the correct dynamic position in the exposure scale.

In the image below, I underexposed a couple of stops, which put the furthest evergreen trees into the lower 3/4 of the exposure range, while it allowed the orange and yellow trees to retain their individual place in the dynamic range. I tried to capture all the different colours with their representative monochrome tones, from the very light grasses and ferns to the orange, yellow and green trees.

Click on the gallery to flick through the images I shot to get a context of the area.

My final image of the shoot is the dam at Laggan.. Again, I wanted to capture the structure and surrounding tones in their relative monochrome range. The autumn ferns were quite light but the darker evergreens had a two-stop difference, and the reflections in the water had a three-stop difference. I used the zone system to place the darker water in zone 3, which allowed me to retain detail in the lighter areas.

Autumn is a fantastic time of year to get out with the camera. If you shoot colour on either digital or film, you shouldn’t be short of opportunities. If, like me, you have devoted your photography to the art of black and white, autumn is a great test of your ability to see in colour but to visualise in monochrome.

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