The Landscape Of Black-And-White

Living in a Southern California beach community comes with a lot of things, or perhaps better said, a lot of trade-offs. We get the splendor of the Pacific Ocean, and we get the huge population that wants to enjoy it. We get moderate—okay, beautiful—weather all year long, and we get the droves of tourists that come with it. We have easy access to everything California offers, and we have to sit in ridiculous traffic to get from here to there.

Although I wouldn’t trade the vast view of the ocean for anything, I would trade the fact that there are almost always people to have to shoot around to capture an unadulterated landscape shot. That said, I capture most of my landscape shots away from home. Family vacations, work trips, flights, road trips and other excursions are where some of my favorite landscapes are taken.

At first consideration, capturing the sights and scenes of surrounding landscapes seems to warrant a vibrant and saturated color approach, and even more so for vacations. The elements of sky, sea, sunsets, leaves, trees, rivers, streams, mountains and clouds come to mind. And, yet, I find myself gravitating toward stripping away the obvious—in this case, the color—from the images, leaving only the unexpected and often evocative and stirring light, dark, gradation, shadow, texture, shape and line.

Obviously, I’m not breaking new ground here; the masters of photography captured everything from the landscape of Yosemite to the skyline of New York City and more with incredible artistic flair and finesse. With the photographic palette of choice these days seeming to lean more toward a spectrum of color (compared to the days of Adams and Stieglitz), choosing a monochromatic palette feels less common and perhaps more bold. Except for traditional photojournalistic work, black-and-white isn’t often the first artistic choice for modern-day photographers, especially when color often dictates the visual interest of a landscape image.

I recall back when I finally began to embrace digital photography, having been a film photographer before the dawning of digital, and realized that I didn’t have to choose between color or black-and-white before the shoot. It was an interesting shift for me in my own work because it wasn’t until after I pulled up the images into my "digital darkroom" that I had to decide the outcome, and even then, I could try on for size a vast variety of processing choices before exporting my final photograph. Having that many choices, I found myself needing to become even more observant and in touch with my own artistic intentions and creative whims. Yet, now, my intentions and preferences could grow, change and move with the images, almost as if the shots themselves began telling me how they wanted to be processed and not the other way around.

I notice now that my landscapes often beckon for a black-and-white end. It’s almost as if to boast about a luscious pink evening sky or to brag about fiery orange autumn leaves is just too easy, and that somehow, these "scenic-scapes" are begging to be noticed for more than just the obvious. It’s when I’m open to this idea to feature the easily overlooked nuances of these landscapes that a different kind beauty—a true beauty—can emerge.

It could be that I overthink these things. Giving an image its own personality, and what’s more, its own preferences, may border on the absurd, but if my camera is my creative tool and the landscapes are my muses, then the relationship I have to them can only benefit me as an artist, and can hopefully give those who view my work a new way to see the backdrops of our life. Ansel Adams once said, "I hope that my work will encourage self-expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us," and who, may I ask, could argue with that?

SHUTTER SISTERS is a collaborative photo blog ( and thriving community of women, passionate about photography. Photographer, author, teacher Tracey Clark ( is the founder of Shutter Sisters and the author of Elevate the Everyday: A Photographic Guide to Picturing Motherhood (Focal Press).

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