Tower Vista

What technical feedback would you like if any?

I posted awhile ago about learning black and white photography (Any Black and White Landscape Silver Efex Tutorials out there?) and @David_Kingham mentioned @Sarah_Marino’s course on Black and White photography. I am a B&W beginner and am looking for any and all guidance. This particular photo was processed in Lightroom primarily. I really feel the desert in Arizona looks amazing in Black and White.

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

Any and all.

Pertinent technical details or techniques:

This was taken at 120mm equivalent for the compression of the scene.

If you would like your image to be eligible for a feature on the NPN Instagram (@NaturePhotoNet), add the tag ‘ig’ and leave your Instagram username below.

Hi @michael_tomcal, welcome to the world of BW! As far as tutorials go, @Jack_Curran has amazing tutorials on his site. I highly recommend checking those out.
For this image, it’s exposed nicely as there is enough details in the shadows and the highlights aren’t blown out. For the composition I’m not exactly sure what the subject is, the distant mountains or the cactus in front? The placement of the cactus breaks up the scene a little too much for me, my eyes don’t really want to go much further in the scene than it. Also with the cactus and the bigger mountain both on the right side it weighs down that side of the image a little too much but that’s just my opinion. Next time, maybe forgo the cactus in the image and just give us a sense of what the foreground is and how it leads up to the mountains or just include some of the grass.


Thanks @andrew_hertel for your thoughtful feedback. I was experimenting with near-far that normally works with wide angle but seems it didn’t deliver with a longer focal length. Im trying to transition from more wide angle to longer focal lengths and its a learning curve for sure. Thanks for hooking me up with more resources on B&W as I want to diversify into that area a bit more especially with desert landscape.

Michael, I think I agree with you! And this image is a great example. I actually really like the near-far comp. I see the connection with the cholla front and center and the implied connection that the rest of the landscape is just covered in this vegetation - It’s a harsh world the desert. I also think the human connection is important in this image as well; knowing all those residents get to deal with scorpions, tarantulas, rattle snacks and oh, the javelinas!

I do like the composition as presented, although I’m wishing for just a little more breathing room around the cholla.

B&W looks pretty good. Personally, I think you could increase the contrast a bit in the landscape; if anything to break through a little of the haziness. But I would exclude any increase in contrast in the cholla or bottom grasses.

I think you’re doing great - and think you could graduate yourself from beginning. :+1:


Thanks for your feedback and encouragement @Lon_Overacker!

What’s crazy, @Lon_Overacker is that I’ve started thinking of the Sonoran Desert as if I were a visitor to a desert planet. It’s truly an alien landscape compared to Oregon where I grew up. Black and White plays into this vision.

Love the fact that I can be heavy handed with contrast adjustments with Black & White rather than in Color. Ill take a look at what I can do for the background clouds and mountains. I just used Lightroom for this image as Im feeling my way in the dark with B&W for now and like the quick feedback with the sliders. Ill start messing with luminosity based tuning in PS.

I definitely see where some more foreground before the cholla and more mid-ground might be helpful. I have some ideas for next time to create more space and depth.

Before Adjustments to Contrast:

After Adjustments to Contrast:

We made the journey in opposite directions @michael_tomcal. I spent half my life in Arizona (mostly in Graham County) and then migrated to the PNW. Unfortunately, I wasn’t photographing when I lived there, and one of these days I need to go back and rectify that.

My limited exerience wth black and white does not include Silver Efex (I typically build my black and whites using Photoshop channels), so I can’t help with tutorials.

I don’t know your thoughts in the composition and processing, but for me the cholla is not the star, it is an anchor for the better distant drama. My thoughts echo Lon’s; I agree both with more room around the cholla and increasing distant contrast. I think your adjusted image is a step in the right direction, but the changes appear localized and slightly unnatural. I’d recommend generalizing the distant contrast bump. In addition, I’d probably not only avoid increasing the contrast on the cholla, but I would reduce it a tad.

Here’s my thoughts visually:


I’m wondering if you could tell us what camera and lens you used.

My thoughts were the cholla would anchor the mountain scene (intended subject) however, I did not achieve that here. Next time I know what to look for.

I appreciate the guidance on the post-processing. Your rendering looks much better. I got carried away with darks local adjustments in the background and the mountainous mid-ground it seems. Ill see how to dial this back on my end.

In regards to tutorials, I did not end up working with Silver Efex and I went just pure Lightroom and Photoshop so I learn the basics on B&W before I jump in on that. I am pretty darn fresh at B&W and don’t have the eye for it as of yet.

I am a proud owner of a Panasonic G9. I used my Olympus Macro Lens 60mm f2.8 (120mm equivalent) at f/5.6. I started on A6000 and went to Nikon D750 for a bit but I love the mobility of the Panasonic and MFT lens line.

Also forgot to mention I focused stacked the foreground cholla with background mountain scene.


Thanks for taking the time to make changes and repost. I’m with @John_Williams in that this is a good step in the right direction. Keep in mind please, that we’re at the point of personal preferences and there is no right or wrong. I think John’s edit nails it. I like yours too, but do think doing the more global contrast change dropped the shadows too far - mostly in the shadows the main peaks and rock formations. I do like the adjustments in the sky/clouds and distant landscape as well as the flatlands where the desert neighborhoods are.

Not sure where you’re at in Processing, but one technique to reduce some changes to targeted areas is simply adding a mask and then painting with a soft brush at some opacity to remove the adjustments to just the areas you’re targeting. Remember with masks, a white mask “reveals all” and you paint with a black brush to conceal the changes, AND a black mask conceals all and you use a white brush to reveal the changes. And apologies if you’re already familiar with masking. I find it extremely valuable and powerful in giving the photographer the ability to fulfill his/her vision of any particular image.


1 Like

Here is my dialed back the shadows version:

I went about my edits in Photoshop using “Masking the Mask” I learned from Sean Bagshaw. Here is a screenie of how I went about this:

1 Like

Well done Michael! Thanks for taking the time

1 Like

I really appreciate you guys, @Lon_Overacker, @John_Williams, and @andrew_hertel, running a mini B&W & Composition clinic for my benefit!

1 Like

@michael_tomcal it’s one of the reasons I really like this community. Lots of genuine feedback from others who only want to help.

1 Like

Thank you Andrew, appreciate the kind words. Michael, if I can help in any way please don’t hesitate to reach out. Jack👍


I don’t think he’s been as able to be active on the new NPN site as he was on the old, but definitely take a look at @Gary_Phillips black and white work with deserts on the old site.

1 Like

Hi Michael - everyone seems interested in your image. This is a great vista with some interesting weather! My first thought was that there was quite a lot of slightly featureless mid-grey, and that the cactus was too bright and drew attention to itself too much. I’ve had a little try myself to slightly re-do the image. I also cut out a tiny bit at the bottom which appeared to be the edge of the road. I have Lightroom’s wonderful radial filter (with range mask set to luminance) to reduce the brightness of the cactus quite a lot, and I have used a couple of other radial filters quite discretely, to see what I could do to the hills. And then I did a small amount of burn to darken areas which seemed to lack detail, and dodge to give a bit more oomph to the slopes caught by the sunlight. When I downloaded I saw that there is a lot of haloing visible when seen at full size, so you might like to review how you can minimize this in initial editing stages. But Michael, I’ve enjoyed looking at this image - it’s a really memorable one, so thanks! Philip

Thank you for the suggestions @philip1! I really like how you turned down the cholla quite a bit. The background haze looks better when less bright. I will take a look at my sharpening settings to see if I caused undue haloing. I have lots of great ideas for next I compose for B&W!

Hi @michael_tomcal, very nice image. I love the light on the subject in foreground. I also like a lot the square crop, it works well with this scene. I would add some vignette and dark a little bit the sky, but it’s only my opinion, the image works well as is. Thanks for sharing.

1 Like