Dogwood 52: Assignment #5 "B&W Landscape"

Some friends and I are doing the Dogwood 52 Week photography challenge. We submit a photo each week on a given "assignment" along with commentary and discussion. This week's assignment was:

[Landscape] Black and White: Look for a scene with great contrast that will make a great black and white.

The submissions follow in order submitted along with the photographer's commentary. We'll add other commentary and critique from the group as it comes in.

Eric

Great Falls, VA
I drove through the worst MD/DC/VA traffic to get this oft-taken shot.  When I parked the car at the visitor's center, it was the last minutes of the 'magic hour.'  I ran to the lookout, splashing through muddy puddles, and started shooting any angle I could find. I wanted to get the silky water effect of prolonged exposure, and tried 1.25s, 2s, 4s, 6s, and 8s exposures (at ISO 200, and f16-22).  Without a real tripod, I had to find a reasonably stable spot on the railing and hold my camera steady.  I regret not having a tripod. Some people ventured beyond the safety of the railing to get a better shot and 7 have fallen to their watery demise that way.  I wasn't about to risk my life for the shot, but I'm surprised that I was willing to drive 5hrs to shoot for 10 minutes of waning light!

Kento

One thing that I've realized from seeing everyone's photos from previous weeks is the need for using the full dynamic range from black to white. While pointing the camera in any random direction will get you an interesting shot at Yosemite, this one from a sunset hike captured that full range particularly well. The shadow in the foreground creates a triangle, which I've focused on before. I think that's especially helpful in a shot like this where there's no point to focus on in the foreground.
Kento: First off, WOW.  I will make it here one day.  You did a great job capturing the details in the shadows and the highlights, I only wish there was a bit more contrast in the rocks.  It's a bit challenging to follow the mid-ground line and differentiate it from the background. I agree with you about the shadow in the foreground, it gradually forces your eye up to the powerful mountains.  One thing to try would be the curve tool to see if you could darken up the sky a bit to help draw the eye down.  You would potentially keep your detail in the highlights and shadows but create some natural contrast across the image.

Joseph

Payal and I drove up to Salem, MA to catch the sunset over Winter Island. Which is not an island. The sunset over Salem Harbor was incredible with wild streaks of pink and brilliant orange flashing through the deep blue sky. Of course, this was a black and white assignment, though, so I had to find some way to retain that.
The other challenge of shooting a scene like this is that the dynamic range is going to be massive comparing between looking directly at the sun and seeing the deep shadows cast over the landscape. HDR is basically necessary to fit that whole scene into one image, but one has to take a lot of care with HDR to avoid photo stacking artifacts, unnatural tone mapping, and overtly unnatural lighting. I'm not sure I really achieved this, but black and white really helps to make it easier.
Probably the biggest and most obvious "trick" pulled here was picking the B&W conversion curve to make blues, reds, and purples dark. This creates extra contrast in the sunset skies revealing the wispy, dramatically lit clouds. Without doing this the skies have little texture and lost nearly all of the majesty of the moment. Fun shooting, but definitely a technical challenge or two.
So then, saying all that, why'd I pick this austere shot instead of all the others? Honestly, I think it's just because you see a lot of sunset photos with amazing clouds and a lighthouse. While I liked a few that I captured, along with some others, I also really liked the simple geometry of the one I chose. It's just textbook rule-of-thirds. Sometimes that's not just enough but all you should ask for.
Zinnia "Great shot! I really like the contrast between the crisp, dark rocks in the foreground contrasted against the lighter soft wispy clouds in the background. Nice rule of thirds. I'm curious to see what the original color photo looked like, but I think you did a great job adjusting the BW conversion to really make the foreground stand out. I think I would have liked it if the photo had a clearer subject somewhere in the foreground. I find my eyes scanning for something to rest on. "

Zinnia

I had plans to go to the opera this past Thursday and I knew that's where I wanted to get my shot. I really like the atmosphere of this cozy, quaint courtyard. I really wanted to capture the contrast between the dark trimming (staircase, railing, plants) against the christmas lights and other outdoor lighting.

Megan

The weather in Atlanta has been particularly bland. No fun sunlight and no moody overcast. Just a bland light that made the surrounding space seem flat.
I played with shooting with my camera in black and white mode. It definitely forced me to think since the settings created different levels of contrast and brightness. I felt it was harder to get the details in the shadows.
I appreciate the challenges this project has encouraged me to tackle. I'm not one to take landscape photos.

Payal

This photo was the last of a series that I snapped after exploring Winter Island. I have shots of boats, benches, and sunsets, but I first only took a mental snapshot of the one final scene that had unfolded in front of me before getting in the car. I do that a lot, especially with landscapes, because I don't want to lose a special moment or miss a great view while trying to get the perfect picture.
The sun had gone down, the Fort Pickering Lighthouse awakened, and there was a brilliantly reflective moon quietly shining on the serene water. It reminded me of the "Moonlight Sonata"—I used to draw representations of pieces of music I used to play on the piano. And so I thought, why not?, went back outside, and here we are.