For Great Black-and-White Shots, Start in Color

Birches reflected in Clear Pond, before conversion to black and white. Photograph by Mark Bowie

The same image converted to black and white.

Title: Birches Reflected in Clear Pond
Elk Lake–Clear Pond Preserve, Essex County

Exposure Data: 1/4 second/ f/10, ISO 200
Nikon D300, Nikkor 80-200mm lens set at 160mm 

Unbroken forest rolls to the shore of Clear Pond in the private Elk Lake–Clear Pond Preserve, near Hudson. The early-spring color palette is demure; maples and other hardwoods are beginning to blossom in magenta hues, and evergreens along the shoreline are still tinged with yellow. The birches have not yet leafed out, standing in stark contrast to the muted color palette. The lone birch in the shoreline gap makes a striking focal point. As the early evening breezes subside, they wash the tree reflections into soft abstracts, a pleasing respite from the textured woods. The tri-tone scene has an austere beauty. Color is not the predominant photographic element here; what captures my attention are the repetitious forms of the white birches amongst the surrounding forest. So I photograph the scene with the intent of later converting my image to black-and-white to better emphasize form and texture.

Digital sensors can capture a wider range of tonalities in color than in black-and-white, so I photograph images destined for black-and-white in color.  I convert them in Silver Efex Pro, the industry standard for monochromatic images due to its exemplary processing capabilities. It’s a plug-in for Adobe Lightroom and can be accessed directly from Lightroom. Silver Efex Pro offers image processing presets, showing previews of the original image at various develop settings. Users can then customize those settings both globally and locally using Control Points, adjusting contrast, brightness and structure in specific areas of the image, to optimize the image to their creative vision. I first processed my image in Lightroom globally, then imported it into Silver Efex Pro. I compared various presets for it and eventually settled on the High Structure (Harsh) Preset. I then used the various sliders to emphasize the wide range of tonalities within this scene, from deep, rich shadows to the brilliant whites of the birches.

Mark Bowie teaches photography workshops through the Adirondack Photography Institute (API). He will be one of several featured instructors at the Adirondack Photography Weekend, sponsored by Adirondack Life, September 20-22. For information on all API events, including the schedule, program descriptions and pricing, see For more on Mark’s work, visit