We’ve all seen them: the Zen-like, square-cropped, black and white landscapes shot over long exposures to blur the water into a frothy milk. It’s been one of the most enduring image styles of the past 10 years, and by mastering a few core photography techniques it’s quite easy to shoot an image like this for yourself.
In this tutorial we’ll explain how to shoot a minimalist black and white photography landscape mastering long exposures and non-destructive photo editing techniques along the way.
In order to get this minimalist black and white effect you’ll need to find a scene with some water in it. What’s more, the effect is best captured with moving water, which is why many photographers choose a beach setting. However, a river or stream will also suit nicely.
You’ll also want a strong focal point in your fore or middle ground. Rocks, buoys, boats, even a bird works quite well.
Once you have these elements, now it’s time to set up your camera. It’s vital that you use a long exposure to shoot your minimalist landscape, as it’s the only way you’ll be able to blur the water and get the desired effect.
But never fear: you don’t need to get up at dawn or wait until evening. You can even use a long exposure to blur the water in strong, overhead sunlight!
You can do this by using a Neutral Density (ND) filter. This piece of glass which mounts on the end of your lens helps reduce the amount of light passing through your lens, which means even on a sunny day you’ll be able to shoot exposures of several seconds or more.
You’ll need to mount your camera on a tripod to help reduce the risk of camera shake, and you’ll need some final tweaking in your image editing software to enhance that minimalist effect, but with care these are all quite simple to achieve.
We’ll explain how to convert your shot in the digital darkroom, removing the colour using a non-destructive and re-editable Black and White Adjustment Layer, and use the Crop tool to make the image square.
Both of these treatments help enhance the tranquil Zen-like quality. Read on to see how it’s done…
How to make a minimalist black and white landscape
01 Pre-visualise your image
Sometimes a good way of knowing if your composition will translate to the effect you want is to simply set your camera to display the preview image in monochrome. Most cameras have a black and white option in their creative filter modes. Set yours to black and white or sepia and see how it looks.
You can even take your image in this mode, if you prefer. If you are shooting raw files – which we’d recommend – these files will retain all of the colour date which you can restore if you want to once you’ve downloaded the image from your memory card.
02 Keep it steady
As we mentioned above, you’ll want to mount a Neutral Density filter block out some of the light entering your camera so that you can slow down your exposure. This will allow you to capture the motion of the waves or current. Remember: always compose and focus your scene before attaching the ND filter.
When shooting this type of scene we also recommend you mount your camera to a tripod and use a cable release to trip the shutter. Also try setting the Mirror Lock-up feature on your camera. All of these together will help ensure camera shake doesn’t spoil your image.
03 Convert to black and white
There are several ways to convert your images to black and white using Photoshop or Elements. The easiest way is simply converting your image to Grayscale in the Image > Mode options.
However, this quite a destructive way of doing it, and your image might lose some important fine detail. We find that desaturating the image works best and retains a lot of the original detail.
We would always recommend, too, that you use a Black and White Adjustment Layer. This is what is called a non-destructive editing technique.
What this means is that instead of taking something away from your original image, you are simply adding on top of it. And if you don’t like it later on, you can always remove it and return to your original image.
Non-destructive editing gives you control over how your black and white conversion looks, and allows you to re-edit the effect later.
Finally, finish your effect by using the Crop tool to make a square crop.