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Date: 08/04/2014 | By: Mathieu

A Black & White Walk in the Mountains with the Olympus OM-D E-M1

E-P5, 1/1000, f/ 56/10, ISO 800

A Black & White Walk in the Mountains with the Olympus OM-D E-M1

Last weekend we spent Sunday afternoon in Mont Avic in the Valle d’Aosta region for our first “spring walk” in the Alps. It was my first real break after more than a month of non-stop work. That bit of fresh air and silence was exactly what I needed.

It was a little bit too early for coloured landscapes and nature shots. Snow was still present and the sky was cloudy for most of the day. As such I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to shoot in black and white and try the E-M1 JPGs in monochrome.

All the shots were taken with the M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/3.5-5.6

E-M1, 1/5, f/ 16/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/5, f/ 16, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/640, f/ 8/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/640, f/ 8, ISO 100

I set the appropriate picture profile and chose the red filter as it gives more contrast to the image, especially for the skies and clouds. I kept a warmer white balance in order to have more brightness while setting the gradation of the picture profile to “low key” for a darker result. Then I played with the highlight/shadow settings that you can access with the Fn2 button. I wanted to see how well and how quickly I could shoot B&W OOC JPGs without the need to post-process them back home.

E-M1, 1/400, f/ 8/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/400, f/ 8, ISO 200

I also tried the creative colour mode, where you can alter saturation and tint with the two main dials of the camera. I desaturated the image completely and then played with the tint but the differences were minimal so I chose to use the shadow/highlight function instead.

E-M1, 1/250, f/ 8/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/250, f/ 8, ISO 200

One of the nice things with electronic viewfinders is that you can see all your adjustments right away while taking the shots. The E-M1 EVF is among the best on the market so I could see the contrast in my frame very well and adjust it accordingly.

The best pictures were those with a great amount of contrast in the scene. Especially with a cloudy sky, a basic shot in the woods will give you a flat image and if you try to go too far with the shadows and contrast adjustments on camera, the resulting JPGs will lose some detail as well.

E-M1, 1/200, f/ 11/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/200, f/ 11, ISO 100

Changing the gradation setting between low, high or normal key would probably have been better but that would have meant digging in the menu all the time. That’s why there is an Auto function that I usually leave to ‘on’ but in this case I wanted to have control over everything.

When we were heading back at around 4 p.m., some sunlight came through the clouds and some scenes became more interesting. In the end, light is always the most important thing.

When there is less light, we can try different settings on the camera but a good shot with a nice 4 p.m. light is probably worth ten times all the “cloudy” shots taken before it.

E-M1, 1/500, f/ 8/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/500, f/ 8, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/30, f/ 11/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/30, f/ 11, ISO 100

Of course, you might be wondering why I didn’t just shoot RAW and then convert to monochrome back home with my favourite software. Well I actually shot both (RAW + JPG) so that I could compare. Certainly the RAW format gives you more versatility and as good as the Olympus JPG engine is, it remains a compressed format. I am satisfied with the JPG results but some are a little bit darker than I’d like because I paid attention to not blowing out the highlights. Post-processing the RAW format will give more “punch” to the final image.

E-M1, 1/320, f/ 11/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/320, f/ 11, ISO 100 – OOC JPG
E-M1, 1/320, f/ 11, ISO 100 - from RAW
E-M1, 1/320, f/ 11, ISO 100 – from RAW

Of course the real exercise here wasn’t only to test the monochrome JPGs that the E-M1 was capable of generating, but it was also an opportunity to see things with a different perspective. When you shoot black and white and see your actual shot in monochrome, you usually have a different approach. While walking you might look for different types of scenes or lines that you wouldn’t pay attention to if you were shooting in colour.

E-M1, 1/50, f/ 8/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/50, f/ 8, ISO 100

Of course the advantage of digital is that you can reset everything after. Now that I think about it, next time I should shoot in black and white film. That would be an even more interesting exercise.

E-P5, 1/400, f/ 4/1, ISO 800
E-P5, 1/400, f/ 4, ISO 800
E-M1, 1/500, f/ 8/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/500, f/ 8, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/320, f/ 8/1, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/320, f/ 8, ISO 200
E-M1, 1/640, f/ 8/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/640, f/ 8, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/1250, f/ 8/1, ISO 100
E-M1, 1/1250, f/ 8, ISO 100

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Beko

    Seriously I could have taken all these pics with a point and shoot Canon S110 and gotten the same results.

  • Mathieu

    No I didn’t try HDR with black and white but it should work fine. If I get the chance I’ll take some images 😉

  • pbasswil

    We all have our preferences. E.g., I personally happen to not particularly enjoy Ansel Adams’ work (probably the most famous B&W nature photography).

    But there is a huge and varied legacy of B&W nature photography reaching back more than a century. You would get a lot of argument against any correspondence between lack of colour and a lack of emotion.

    Have a look at b&w ink drawings by, say, Rembrandt; or Van Gogh’s sketches for The Potato Eaters. There’s more emotion in them than in 99% of the full colour images ever produced.

  • Lane

    I though I posted this question before but I don’t see it, so here goes again. Did you try HDR to expand the dynamic range of the high contrast images? Would love to know if it works as well with B&W as it seems to with color. Please post some images if you get a chance to try it out on another walk in the woods with B&W. Thanks.

  • Peter

    For me nature in black and white doesn´t work. You cut off a lot of emotion. It´s seems muted, numb.

  • Mathieu

    Thanks. With the JPGs there is less dynamic range. Also, I intentionally increased the contrast on those images by choosing the red monochrome filter and varying the highlights and shadows settings during the shooting. So it is true that some images loss some details in the shadows. It was just an experiment really, knowing that if I need too I have also the RAW file to work with.

  • pbasswil

    I always enjoy your compositions, Mathieu.

    I have to confess, though, that I find the dynamic range of these jpgs disappointing. So much of the shadows are blocked up to inky oblivion. They look dingy and gloomy to me (not your fault). But it doesn’t reflect well on the m4/3s sensor. :^/

    I too usually choose to prioritize saving the highlights at the expense of the shadows. Lucky that the RAW files usually allow recovery of a good deal of dark detail (at least, from my E-P5 experience).

    Anyway, I still appreciate your artistic eye! Keep the shooting posts comin’.

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