Black and White Photography Shadows and Light – the Secret of Tonality

For landscapes in black and white photography shadows and light, along with contrast, create
tones, or tonality, and they all have huge effects on the mood of your photograph.

Of the critical black and white photography techniques, understanding the way colors translate into black and white tones is really important.

To make sure you are not disappointed with your black and white landscape photography, you need to get a good grasp of this concept called “tonality,” and how to master it using shadows and light.

What is Tonality?

Think about a white ball on a white background and a circular piece of paper on the same background. If there is no directional lighting, there will be no shadows or highlights, and so there will be no visible difference in either object. There is no range of tones.

Add some light, create some shadows and the difference in the resulting tones is really visible. There is a reflection on the ball, some highlights, and of course, a shadow.

You can clearly see that the ball is three dimensional, while the cut out is flat. The new tones add more information and more range to the photo.

The range of shades of grey – the tones – have increased, resulting in a more dynamic photograph.

In the first photo below, there is a narrow range of tones. The next one has a full range of tones, from light to dark. And the last one is a low-key photo with very dark tones.

white poplar tree Osoyoos desert boardwalk castle steps

How does each photo “feel?” Light, heavy, mysterious? And this bring us to the next most important reason for mastering shadows and light.


Tonality and Mood – Achieving the Kind of Atmosphere you Want.

In black and white photography shadows and light can also play a huge role in creating MOOD. A photograph with dark tones creates a somber brooding scene, while a photo with light tones seems to be more delicate and upbeat.

If you want to take a dark photo, with lots of shadows, you’ll need lots of light. Landscape photography in mid morning or late afternoon, under a sunny sky will create dramatic shadows, and if you underexpose your shot, (bracketing is always a good practice!), you can achieve very dramatic effects.

For lighter photos, wait for a cloud or overcast day, when the light is more diffused, which reduces shadows. Fog, mist and rain are all good candidates for light toned images because of the lack of shadows.

So, by understanding and controlling tonality, your black and white photography, shadows and light, will dramatically improve and you’ll be impressing everyone, with your newly found photographer skills!

Next Page: Better Composition Strategies for Black and White Landscape Photography

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