When we went about developing the content for this month’s focus on landscape photography; I was honestly quite frightened. I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer–I’ve gotten lucky a few times but generally speaking I’m nowhere as good as some of those on staff. My strength is more with the fact that I’m a photo editor. But I was really curious to try the Neewer Complete ND filter kit that I found on Amazon for dirt cheap. When embracing it with the Olympus OMD EM1 Mk II’s grainy black and white film mode, I was seriously impressed and instantly fell in love with what they were able to do overall.
You see, like most of you, I’ve never been a pixel peeper. I think it’s frivolous. You spend all that time taking a photo and making sure that the entire thing overall is just right and perfect and then someone comes in and starts inspecting it on a micro level. That’s never what photography was about. It was about capturing moments and creating visions–this romanticized view of photography has been silenced more and more with the inception of putting a numbered rating on every new camera and lens out there. People know that it’s about the moment, but they label it as being hipster or fake due to ideals set into place since this country’s Reagan administration which further put a damper on arts education and understanding.
That’s part of what this site is about: keeping the creative side of photography alive through understanding and education via black and white photography. And nowhere is that any more important than in black and white landscape photography. If these scenes were in color, then you’d obviously be working with different elements like the golden hour, the hues, the blues, the goldens, etc. But instead, you’re working with contrast, shapes, and visible details. It’s all about what’s there and nothing more.
But then there’s the other part of all this: photography, software and cameras have become so good overall that sometimes you don’t need stuff like a graduated ND filter. You can always fix it in post right? Yeah, sure but there is nothing as satisfying as getting the image that you wanted perfect the first time around in-camera. For me, believe it or not: black and white is where I can achieve that perfect look.
The filter kit itself comes with various elements: filter rings for your lenses, filter hood/holder combos, and the filters themselves. They’re simple enough to use and put together. Any photographer I’m confident will be able to use them. But when mounting them onto the camera itself, It was interesting using them. You see, EVFs don’t give you an exact preview of where the lens filter will be in the scene. You sort of have to guesstimate it at times. But that’s part of the fun if you’re shooting digitally. Those little mistakes are what sometimes turn into happy errors and end up giving you results that you really fall for. What I looked at previously as achieving perfection ended up becoming the embrace of the American ideals involving making mistakes and learning to own them all the same.
Over the years, Olympus has improved their grainy film modes over and over again. In the Pen f, the black and white filters can end up looking like Ilford Delta 400. But in the OMD EM1 Mk II, they resemble Tri-X a bit more. The only other company that really is able to pull off anything that looks remotely like film is Fujifilm–at least at the moment they are.
Oh yeah, you can handhold the thing to up to 15 seconds too. Or at least I did!
The lens filters have various options in their light cutting abilities. Like many other graduated ND filters, you just adjust them over the lens and spin the filter around to cut the light out in one place or another. When combined with the right scene, you end up with something really satisfying. Due to their relative plastic feeling design (they probably aren’t) these filters are probably best used in the hands of the most experienced photographers that know that gear only comes second to creative vision. These photographers will be able to sit there and deal with any flaws that come their way overall.
When shooting in black and white, some of the most important things to remember here are that contrast in an image helps to make a landscape photo more and more interesting. The entire world gets rendered into shapes, silhouettes, areas of contrast, etc. It’s beautiful overall, but it’s also something that you’ll sit there experimenting with and generally just having fun. Shooting one stop under or one stop over what your camera recommends is typically the way to go if you’re looking for something very dramatic overall in the scene.
More than anything overall though, I seriously recommend that everyone get out there and try doing this. These ND filters are dirt cheap and fun to work with. Set your camera to black and white mode, and just go shoot. Don’t worry about post-production–just shoot. Spend less time at the computer editing and getting a back pain and more time getting out there and having experiences. No one ever talked about the exciting time that they moved a clarify slider and how it completely changed their live. Your audience is far more interested in the adventure you had getting the image in the first place.