I was fantastically lucky with the weather last week. A week’s skiing in Zermatt included 6 days when the sun shone out of a predominantly blue sky. On only one morning out of the six, the day started with high cirrus cloud veiling the sun and softening the light. That was the day I went up on the Gornergrat Bahn – the cog railway to Gornergrat – for one of the great viewpoints in the area from where you can see a circle of 4,000 metre peaks.
The panorama from Gornergrat is vast and I chose to take with me my 11-16mm Tokina zoom. It was an ideal day with the light having a soft quality to it that reduced the contrast that is normally a feature of photography up high especially when looking towards the sun.
First up is the colour version of the image I shot with the lens set at its widest (16mm film equivalent). Monte Rosa – the second highest of the Alpine peaks is the vast bulk on the left, the Gorner Glacier flows down through the middle of the image and behind it is Liskamm, to the right are Castor, Pollux and then finally at the right edge of the image is part of the massive ridge of the Breithorn. This is one of the classic alpine views.
This image translates well into B&W – a very simple process in Photoshop . There are several ways to convert to B&W, but my option is always to use Image/Adjustments/Black and White. This option allows me to use either one of the presets from the drop down list or manually adjust the sliders to achieve the precise effect I am after. In this instance I chose the green filter preset. More commonly I use the yellow filter preset because it significantly darkens a blue sky, but in this instance I felt an over-dramatic sky would detract from the softness of the light. After the conversion I made some adjustments to layers and curves to add a little extra contrast.
Which version do you prefer? As someone who almost exclusively shot in B&W for twenty years or more, I have an enduring love of the B&W medium, and I saw a huge amount of classic B&W photography in my younger days – especially mountain-scapes. I have said this before, but I will say it again: you can amend the contrast in a B&W image in ways that colour will not tolerate. Images, as a result, appear crisper, brighter and bolder. Despite the absence of colour I personally feel they are a more faithful representation of the high mountains. I remember the scenes in colour, but I see them in B&W.