Pages for Black and White with the Fuji X-Series
- Settings for Great Black and White with the Fuji X100s – Part I
- Settings for Great Black and White with the Fuji X100s – Part II (here)
It’s a long time coming, but I wanted too finish the discussion I started about using black and white with the Fuji X100s. I extend this now to really include all the Fuji X series, including the X-Pro1 and the X-E2. If you recall from the first part I tried what others have used by increasing contrast using the red filter option. However, I didn’t like the grey rendering for some colors.
Using color filters for ten years with black and white film, I used the K2 Yellow filter more than any other. I used the light green filter scone most and only rarely used the red filter. There is no question that red produces the highest contrast. However, red also passes red light through as a very light shade of gray and blue light as very dark gray. If most of your photography consists of portraits, the using the red filter will result in artificially light colored lips (red is light, remember?). Landscapes typically turn out more natural which is why the red filter is used most often in landscape work.
So, what is the solution? I proposed in the last article that the yellow filter is my chosen mode. This provides more contrast than normal black and white with no color filter, but leaves the shades of gray perceptually what you expect them to be. For example, lips appear proper shades, green and blue are darker, but not too dark. Yellow is lighter providing some contrast.
Compare the yellow filter to red and I still want more contrast, but not changes in tonal values. After experimenting I have settled on increasing the highlight contrast by one. No other changes. This change boosts the highlights but leaves the darks where they are. Exposing for a middle gray tone is important and in this case I expose just a little darker (under exposing) so I don’t blow the highlights with the extra boost in contrast. However, I’ve found that this setting really lets the lighter side of the image glow.
For example, the image below was shot in the US Virgin Islands on a sugar mill trail. I have posted it before, but have several I want to bring up here as it relates to the black and white settings for the Fuji X-Series. This image is a JPEG straight out of the camera. You can see that the rocks on the trail and portions of the main tree trunk are all nice shades of middle grey. However, see the patch of light coming through on the trail? This is the highlight. If I had taken this image with standard black and white with no changes in highlights, it would be rather grey as well. Here, with the highlights boosted using +1, the white areas seem to ‘glow.’
Keep in mind a few other things as I suggest this setting is optimal for me. I have had long discussions about why we underexpose digital photography to keep from blowing the highlights, while we overexpose film to capture the shadows. Suffice if for now that the reasons are exactly the same. So, if we inherently try to underexpose, even by 1/3 or 1/2 stop, the highlights may be too low. More importantly, the blacks come out nice and deep because of the underexposure. If you are following me, then you see it makes sense to boost the highlights just a little, back to where we wanted them to start with.
Fuji has done a tremendous job of creating film emulations in their firmware. Many have praised them for the JPEG results that look like the film type they are named after. What many do not realize is the adjustments to the highlights and shadows are equally well tuned. The boost is a very narrow part of the histogram. Part III in this series will show you some of that change. So, if the upper highlights are boosted using a setting of +1 and the rest of the image stays roughly the same, being underexposed, the results are great tonal values, deep blacks and explosive highlights. Again, I keep calling it the Fuji “Glow.”
Here is another example. This is from the end of the same trail, at a sugar mill ruin that faces the ocean only yards away. This particular sugar mill was used heavily and then closed down only to reopen as steam engines and gears become the new technology. Unfortunately, it went out of business again. You can image how long ago the structure was built and the fact that it still stands with a roof is tremendous for us photographers! This was a 5 mile hike down the mountain and well worth it.
Here is a small room that houses the internal gear. There was a small window above and to the right of the gear. It was an overcast day, but the light that came in was sufficient to contrast a very dark room with no other sources of light. Here I set the exposure for the right side of the machinery in the front. That is now a nice shade of middle grey. See how the boosting of the highlights gave the central shaft of the gear and part of the machinery a nice Fuji “Glow?”
Another point to keep in mind is that all of this is processed through the X-Trans II (or X-Trans I) sensor, depending on the X-Series model you are using. More importantly, the results of this processing include the RAW image (although it uses a .RAF file extension). This means the RAW image still exists and could be modified to get a similar image to the one above. If this is true, then one might ask, “What is the point of all this work and setting analysis?”
The answer, in my opinion, is easy. All this fancy Fuji technology does not make me a better photographer. The tremendous processing is a tool. The camera is a tool. The lens is a tool. Part of being a great photographer is being able to set an exposure to achieve what you see in mind. So in this case, being able to set the exposure to achieve results like this straight out of the camera is the point. I did not have to manipulate or store the RAW file. If the detail is in the highlights for the JPEG, it is in the RAW file. I saved the JPEG and went on to work with more images. The image below is another such image – no modification from the OOC file.
These results are what make the tool such a great experience for me. I know some do not like the constant comparisons to other cameras, but I still believe the Leica makes some of the best glass available for photographers (read – another tool) and their M bodies are much sturdier and more resilient than my Fuji body. The difference is that I get pleasure out the images I can achieve with BOTH systems. Regardless of anything else, I enjoy shooting photographs with the Fuji X-Series and the Leica. I enjoy shooting film through my Leica MP, developing and scanning the negatives. The shot below is a scanned 35mm negative from Charleston, South Carolina – shot with my Leica MP and a Voigtlander 50mm Nokton, new edition.
The point here is that I believe there is value to being able to use a tool like the Fuji X-Series to create an image that can be used directly out of the camera. This is akin to film photography and the required knowledge and practice needed to perfect the art. This is why photography is the intersection of Art and Science – in my opinion. This is why I will continue the series of creating incredible results through the OOC JPEGs in the Fuji X-Series.
The book I’m working on details more about this idea of using the firmware settings to get unaltered photographs. In this work I actually graph the various options in terms of a density curve like the old black and whit film. The results are interesting and useful. Some things to come include a few additional tweaks on the settings, the results of reverse contrast and a discussion of some benefits shooting the X-Series in black and white.
Thanks for coming back to visit.