Seeing shapes in winter

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann

Photography isn’t just about capturing what you see: it can also be a way of changing the way you look at the landscape. To get a truly different view of Muskoka this winter, try photographing it in black and white.

Black and white landscape photography has a long and honourable history. Ansel Adams is undoubtedly the best-known photographer to use this technique. He certainly could shoot in colour, and he often did when on commercial assignment. But black and white was his preferred creative choice. And if it’s good enough for the greatest landscape photographer of the 20th century, it’s certainly worth trying it yourself.

It’s possible to take any colour photo and convert it to black and white – even the most basic smart phone photo editing software has at least two or three black and white options. And that’s certainly a good place to start.

Scroll through your photos and try converting some of them to black and white. Do it with ones that you like in colour, and also with ones that you don’t feel are that good. How does the conversion to black and white affect the photo? Does it have a different mood, a different emotional content? Are your eyes drawn to a different part of the photo than they were when you viewed it in colour? (A handy trick to determine this is to simply look away from the photo, let your eyes unfocus, and then quickly look at the photo to see what grabs your attention first.)

Colour photography, not surprisingly, is often driven by colour, but that can be a detriment as well as an asset: a bright, vibrant colour in the scene will attract our attention, even if it’s not the most important part of the photo.

But in black and white, the emphasis is on other elements. Lines that might have been lost in a colour photograph are suddenly a vital element of a black and white. Negative space – the parts of the photograph that have nothing in them – can become much more pronounced.

Winter is a particularly good time to explore these aspects of black and white photography. The white snow or the frequently grey skies provide a natural negative space, a frame which can isolate and draw attention to the other elements of the photo.

Trees and shrubs, bereft of leaves, are skeletal studies in line. So, too, are wisps of dried grasses or desiccated seed heads sticking up through the snow. Look for dramatic shapes – an isolated tree against a snowy field, or a gnarled branch against a grey sky.

On sunny days, the tracery of shadows on the snow can be a photographer’s delight – just be sure to try and capture your image before you walk across the snow, since footprints can be a distraction. Then again, try turning around from time to time and looking back at the path you’ve just trod – those same footprints may just be a creative element in your next great photo.

And if you don’t come back with any great photos, that may not matter: the goal is really to get outdoors and look at the world around you with fresh eyes, and see a little of the beauty that it’s otherwise too easy to overlook.

Photo by Ciprian Boicuc

Photo by Todd Trapani

Posted in In the Garden.