Light and shade: tips for printing black and white landscapes

Discover how to make the most of your printer's features to bring out the rich blacks and nuanced greys in your monochrome images.
A Canon camera next to a Canon printer and a selection of black and white prints.

Canon Ambassador Clive Booth loves capturing the atmosphere and drama of a landscape in black and white – and he's equally passionate about printing out his resulting images. "As a photographer, making a print is the best way to show off your work in the way you want it to be seen," he says. © Clive Booth

Clive Booth is best known for his commercial and fashion work but the dramatic landscape of England's Peak District where he lives, and time spent on the beautiful Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland, has inspired a passion for black and white landscape photography as well. Indeed, a Paris exhibition of his Islay landscapes led to a major assignment for Ardbeg, a whisky brand owned by LVMH with a distillery on the island. Much of the work involved capturing Islay's wild mystery through atmospheric black and white landscapes.

Clive is equally passionate about printing black and white images. "My background is in graphic design and I've worked on the back of printing presses for 30 years," he explains. "I love print, and I love printing black and white landscapes. With the right subject matter and atmospheric conditions, an image can have so many levels. You can reveal so much finery in the detail, and in the highlights and shadows, with soft gradations through the tones."

Here, the Canon Ambassador shares his experience of black and white printing, and offers advice and tips for getting the best results. While Suhaib Hussain, EMEA Product Marketing Manager at Canon Europe, explains the technical details that enable Canon's professional photo printers to produce the highest quality prints.

A black and white shot of stormy seas crashing against rocks beside a lighthouse.

It's important to capture the detail in both the highlights and shadows in black and white landscapes, says Clive – as he has done in this shot of awinter storm crashing over Carraig Fhada lighthouse at Kilnaughton Bay on Islay, Scotland. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/500 sec, f/2 and ISO1250. © Clive Booth

1. Make the most of the image capture

"When shooting, you're looking at getting the absolute best out of the camera," explains Clive. "Right now, the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 are world-beating cameras. When it comes to optics, the same goes for Canon's RF mount lenses. I always shoot in RAW or Dual Pixel RAW – that way you can extract the most from an image file. Canon's latest cameras give phenomenal dynamic range and you can retain incredible detail, from really dark lowlights to really bright highlights, with amazing tonal definition."

A black and white wintry shot of empty casks outside the Ardbeg Distillery on Islay, Scotland.

This shot of empty casks outside the Ardbeg Distillery on Islay shows off the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV's low-light capabilities, and the high dynamic range that's available when shooting Dual Pixel RAW. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, at 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Clive Booth

2. Pick the right printer

Clive uses the imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer for prints up to A2 size, the imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 for larger A0 prints, and he's now also using the newer imagePROGRAF PRO-300 (A3+) model. "The imagePROGRAF PRO-300 is an affordable yet incredibly capable printer – it's the most capable printer I've seen for its size," he says. "It prints as well as the other printers I've got, in some ways even better. The richness in the blacks is phenomenal."

According to Suhaib, if you want high-quality black and white prints, one of the most important things to look for in a printer is the number of monochrome inks it has. "The more monochrome inks, the better the tonal range you can expect," he explains. "Gradations will be more natural with better neutrality of tones. If your printer has a limited amount of monochrome inks, unwanted colour casts can be a problem, because when a particular tone isn't available from the black inks, the printer will utilise other colours to fill in the gaps. The Canon PIXMA PRO-200 printer, for example, has black, grey and light grey inks. The imagePROGRAF PRO-300 has matte black, photo black and grey. The matte black ink is enhanced to give deeper, richer blacks and, in this respect, it can deliver more impressive results, even than the imagePROGRAF PRO-1000."

That's something Clive thought would be impossible. "When Suhaib sent me the imagePROGRAF PRO-300, I thought: 'This can't be any better than the imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 or PRO-2000'. He said: 'Just make a print with blacks in it'. I did, and I was shocked by how good it was. You could argue that for A3+, the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 is the strongest printer in the lineup."

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A black and white shot of morning mist over the snowy summit of Schilthorn in Switzerland.

The lack of colour in Clive's original shot made this image of the Schilthorn summit, in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland, an ideal choice for a black and white print, with the monochrome adding to the drama and coldness. Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) software has a dedicated black and white photo print mode for improving the quality of monochrome prints like this. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Clive Booth

3. Calibrate your workflow

"It's really important to have a calibrated workflow," says Clive. "Everything is calibrated in my setup, from my computer monitors to the lights under which I review the prints." Clive tends to do most of his image editing in Adobe Lightroom and then imports his images into Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) which works either as standalone software or as a plugin through Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) editing software, or Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. "For me, it is an absolute must-have," he says. "It is an incredibly powerful program that has massively simplified the print process. Many people don't realise just how powerful it is. It's one of the big benefits of using Canon printers."

Helen Bartlett stands next to a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer looking at an A2 black and white photo print.

Steps to the perfect black and white print

Printing specialist Jay Sinclair shows family photographer Helen Bartlett how to produce great black and white prints of her photos.

"Even though the monitor is projected light and the print is reflected light, the soft proofing tools in PPL give you a really accurate preview of how your image will look when printed on a wide range of Canon photo papers and fine art media, as well as on specialist papers from independent manufacturers. Top-quality paper is expensive, so it helps you to get the results you want without wasting time and money. The consistency is superb as well – I know that if I edit my images for the results I want on the imagePROGRAF printers I use in my studio, I can send them anywhere in the world and, if they're printed on the same printers with the same paper, the results will be identical."

"Another really useful thing about PPL is its Pattern print function. At the hard proofing stage, this enables you to create thumbnails of your file with variations in brightness, contrast and tone. It's like creating a contact sheet, so you can choose your favourite version before creating the big print. If you're confident in your monitor's accuracy, you can even use the Pattern print option when soft proofing, so you can preview the differences on screen."

A black and white landscape shot of mist-covered still water at Kilnaughton Bay on the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

The atmosphere created by the sea mist and calm waters at Kilnaughton Bay on Islay is enhanced in black and white. Software such as Canon's PPL enables you to create thumbnails of your file before printing, with slight variations in colour, brightness and contrast, so you can select your favourite version before printing. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 248mm, at 1/3200 sec, f/5 and ISO150. © Clive Booth

4. Use the black and white photo print mode

PPL has a dedicated black and white photo print mode for minimising colour casts in black and white landscapes. If you don't have the luxury of a high-end monitor and a fully-calibrated workflow, it can help to ensure excellent results. "The black and white photo mode reduces the amount of colour introduced into the print, to make up the tones that can't be replicated by the black and grey inks alone," explains Suhaib. "It uses a specially developed algorithm to generate a neutral print, by only using the lighter photo cyan and photo magenta inks in addition to the printer's black and grey inks. It's a quick and easy way of avoiding colour casts."

5. Select the best paper for your black and white print

The quality of the print has a lot to do with the quality of the paper. Clive says Canon's latest fine art and premium matte papers are exceptional, but he also loves Hahnemühle papers. "Different papers can give you a different look and feel and it's really easy to switch between them. You can buy different Canon papers, select the relevant paper in the printing dialog box, and the software does everything else for you. You can create archival-quality prints from home, to the highest possible level, using the imagePROGRAF PRO-300. What's previously only been possible with large-footprint printers is now achievable with a machine that is small enough and affordable enough for any photographer to use."

Suhaib agrees that monochrome printing is about paper as well as inks. "The white level of the paper will affect the look of the print, similar to how white balance affects a digital image," he explains. "Matte papers tend to be a lot more muted – the whites are softer, so prints might look warmer than on screen. We'd always recommend using a calibrated workflow, and making use of colour profiling, and soft and hard proofing, to determine how the screen image will look in the final print on a specific type of paper."

A black and white shot of rain sheeting down over grassy sand dunes on Islay, Scotland.

Borderless printing gives you the freedom to experiment with a wide range of different paper types and sizes, enhancing the immersive and dramatic feeling of black and white landscapes such as this photo of rainfall over the Big Strand, Islay's longest beach. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM at 47mm, at 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO160. © Clive Booth

6. Make the most of borderless printing

A big advantage of the latest Canon imagePROGRAF printers and the Canon PIXMA PRO-200 is that they can output borderless photo prints on matte and fine art media, as well as on glossy paper. This enables you to use the whole of the media for edge-to-edge printing, upsizing your prints. "You're also not just limited to, say, 13x19-inch prints," explains Clive. "You can use different lengths of paper to best suit the aspect ratio of the image, from square to panoramic sizes."

7. Preserve the image you envisioned

"There's a strong archival element to photo printing," says Clive. "I've got hard drives that I have to plug into computers that are 20 years old, just to access the files. What's going to happen in another 50 years? All of the Canon printers, all of the Canon inks and all of the Canon papers can generate prints that will last for more than 150 years, so there's a big argument that printing is the best way of archiving your work. The other thing is that everybody's screen is different. As a photographer, making a print is the best way to show off your work in the way you want it to be seen. Print is all about craft, it's about quality, about passion, and about value. But it's also about archival quality and longevity."

Matthew Richards

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