Colorless Landscapes

The color has been removed! The green has been replaced by white. The grey? By white. The blue? By white. The autumn colors? By white. It has all been replaced by white as it snows outside. The first snow of the season. It’s a little late on arrival, but who’s complaining?

Detroit never disappoints. Snow, coffee, Bach in the background.

Colorless Landscapes. Or should I call them monochromatic? Or black and white?How ever we choose to call them, they are jaw dropping photos. Strong composition, at time excessive contrast, dramatic skies, tonalities, pattern, shapes, forms. All of these, and many more elements that keep the viewer engaged, while they push their jaw up again.

I usually prefer to view the “peoplescapes”. Maybe an incredible scenery, but with a house randomly thrown in the frame. While looking, or making, those photographs I am undoubtedly more attracted by the people who might live there, than the breathtaking background.

Iceland, 2017

While on a trip to Iceland with my wife and a friend this summer, there were many landscape/peoplescape photos (more on the trip here). But then there were also the ‘usual’ landscapes.

ND filters, golden hour, beat the crowds to the best vantage point, and come up with something spectacular like the photos made by Alister Benn below.

Alister Benn, Iceland
Alister Benn, Iceland

And although I think these are technically spectacular photos, I think they are perfect for desktop backgrounds, or hanging on a mall wall. Although the composition is perfect, I can’t see myself having a book of these photographs on my coffee table and picking it up time and time again to look at those photos.

I might though look at Ansel Adam’s photos over and over again. The famous photographer’s work on Yosemite and other places has certainly been an inspiration when making monochromatic landscape photographs.

Ansel Adams, Yosemite

In this case what stands out is the entire composition. The pebbles on the left and right provide lanes which drive the viewer to the center of the image, to the reflection. Then there is a visual “block” which is not a wall, but a bridge, which gives two purposes. One is that it forces the viewer to look up, and see the central subject, the Dolphin’s head. The other is that it gives depth in between the perfectly symmetrical arch.

The Tetons & Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942

When shooting black and white landscapes it’s all about the composition. There are no beautiful colors to distract from the precisely executed vision. Like in the case above. The flow of the river, leading the viewer right to the mountains and then the lighter clouds on the left captivating the eye to finish off the visual travel through the image.

I think it is spectacular. My eyes can go back and forth countless times and always be drawn to the movement.

And although it wasn’t a water river, when I saw the concrete and gravel river, I gave it a shot, pun intended.

Monument Valley, 2017

Then there is Michael Kenna, and his minimalist landscape compositions which I admire.

Here are a few that stand out.

Copse and Tree, Mita, Hokkaido, Japan, 2007
Gangwondo, South Korea
Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Again, here I think the composition is key. The irony in the first one, with the “younger tree” left behind, or the perfect symmetry of the trees and their reflection in the second one; which I think works brilliantly because it is a square format image giving great balance. And lastly, the one made in Abbruzzo, with the single tree at the edge of the frame, the central cloud spinning on itself, and therefore filling the that negative space, and the subjects, the trees, majestically standing there.

I found another great photographer while doing some reading this post, discovering through photography, and one of his photographs greatly reminded me of Kenna’s work. His name is Chris Clor and you can view his work here. Can you see the one I am talking about?

In the last trip my wife and I took, we visited the American Southwest and wanted to focus on the detail of the Antelope Canyon. I wasn’t after the beam of light, but rather the texture of the sands walls, and the play of shadows. So I decided to make this photo allowing the horizontal lines to gives stairs to the viewer as they move up, all the while avoiding the “black holes” and climbing on the lighter areas until “reaching the light” way above and out of the canyon.

Antelope Canyon X, Arizona, Nov 2017

The texture allows the photo to work well in black and white. The forms and shapes keeps it in balance.

And although I prefer the “peoplescapes”, another reason I like to make black and white photographs is to have a deep contrast in powerful images.

I first thought of this when travelling to Iceland and reviewing the images on my computer after getting home.

There was one in particular, of the Gulfoss waterfall. The sheer volume of water displacement was astronomical. It was stronger than anything I had ever seen before, even more than the Niagara falls.

And I wanted to show it. I wanted the tourists to be mere black spots in the photo for scale, and show how the water’s power had created a crack through the land.

Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland, Aug 2017

And finally, there are just those scenes that, to my surprise, have no color, like when hiking a glacier. The earth beneath the white ice is dark grey. Had I made the photograph in color I might have even gotten the same result!

Skaftafell Glacier. Iceland, Aug 2017

Much like if I were to take a quick snapshot out of my window right now. All white, all around, as it continues to snow.

And even the photographer I mentioned earlier, Alister Benn, must have considered composition, contrast, texture, form and shape when making this photograph.

Alister Benn, Iceland

Unlike the color ones, I think this one I could look at over and over again.

Check out some of my other photos of Iceland here. Soon to come are photos from the last road trip in the American Southwest. To get a flavor read this.

Until Next Time,

Nothing But Something