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Become a better B&W photographer – and let your camera help you with that.

Many modern mirrorless cameras offer great looking jpg color and film simulation modes straight out of the camera. But did you know that they can produce some of the best looking B&W images straight out of camera, too?

I started my photography with a cheap plastic camera from a grab bag and a roll of B&W film in the late 70’s. I must have been 5 or 6 years old at that time. I guess that is where my emotional attachment to B&W photography began.

But when I started to also shoot with digital cameras in the 90’s, I shot those generally in color. This was in big part due to the fact that I did not like the in camera results that the jpg B&W modes produced. And once the color file ended up on my computer, I often just stuck with color for it and used my analog cameras if I wanted to shoot straight B&W.
This has changed when I bought the Fuji X100S in early 2013!

The higher level Fuji X-cameras (like the X10-X30, X100S, X100T, X-Pro 1, X-Pro 2, X-E1, X-E2, X-T1 and X-T2) have an extended B&W jpg film simulation mode emulating the classic, physical color filters that were already used on B&W film cameras. These physical filters were screwed on in front of the lens and used to filter out a certain wavelength of light. This darkens or lightens the way certain colors are converted into gray scale. If you want to have a dark sky with a clear structure of the white clouds on your B&W film negative, you need to attach a red filter in front of your lens. This will make a blue sky look darker and nicely separate it from the white clouds. These filters work by darkening reciprocal colors and brightening filter like colors.

Digital cameras have the advantage of emulating these filter digitally by mixing the RGB pixels that hit the sensor into different parts of the gray scale and converting them into a B&W jpg.

 

Fuji for example, gives you the choice between 3 classic color filters next to the standard (and often a bit flat looking) B&W setting:

BY = B&W + Yellow filter

BR = B&W + Red filter

BG = B&W + Green filter

 

So let me share some images and my “secrets” and thoughts to getting great B&W results from your mirrorless, in my example, Fuji cameras. I’ll write new blog posts about my preferred B&W settings for different cameras once I get the chance to test some of them out.

 

1-marco_larousse_bw
Structures and high contrast scenes can give your photography a strong impact in B&W- Fuji X-Pro 1 with XF 14mm

 

My quote: “There is a lot of gray between black and white – so make the most of it!”

 

 This image would have lost part of it's focus on the two sujects and cracked glass in a color image - Fuji X100S
This image would have lost part of it’s focus on the two subjects and cracked glass in a color image – Fuji X100S

 

My favorite B&W settings on the Fuji cameras for most situations are:

– Film simulation: BR (B&W Red Filter)

– Sharpness: +1

– Highlight Tone: +1   (or +2 on X-Pro 2 & X-T2)

– Shadow Tone: +2   (or +3 on X-Pro 2 & X-T2)

– Noise Reduction: -2   (or -4 on X-Pro 2 & X-T2)

This will give you a fairly contrasty B&W look when exposed correctly.

 

 Be adventurous and try to tell stories with the right mix of structure and dark & light subjects- Fuji X100S
Be adventurous and try to tell stories with the right mix of structure and dark & light subjects- Fuji X100S

 

In case that you don’t have a lot of experience with B&W photography, your mirrorless cameras with EVF or LCD will take you by the hand and guide you to your first successful exposures. When you switch your jpg film simulation setting to B&W you will see a B&W image in the EVF / LCD preview. Now use the exposure compensation dial (in Aperture priority mode) or manual settings to increase or decrease the exposure and get a more predominant black or white look and find the zone that looks best for your taste. You may have to set your camera to display the actual WYSIWYG exposure representation on the display.

 

4-marco_larousse_bw
B&W works great for clear structures and patterns like we find them in architecture – Fuji X-Pro 1 with XF 14mm

 

 

This next image is an X100S portrait with my B&W settings plus on board fill flash straight out of the X100S:

 

 This is a B&W jpg portrait straight out of camera with a bit of on board fill flash - Fuji X100S
This is a B&W jpg portrait straight out of camera with a bit of on board fill flash – Fuji X100S

 

Through the live preview in the EVF I got this next photo exposed (about -2 stops vs. what the camera metered as “normal exposure”) the way I wanted on the first try. It may feel a bit like cheating, but it’s the result that counts! ;)

 

 When you want to create silhouette photos you need to underexpose compared to what the exposure meter tells you - Fuji X100S
When you want to create silhouette photos you generally need to underexpose the main subject compared to what the exposure meter tells you – Fuji X100S

 

If I still want some more contrast in my photo and share it right away, I upload the jpg file to my iPad and do some quick adjustments – et voilà!

Still not sure if you want to deprive your exposures of the color for good? No problem! Set the camera to shoot jpg + RAW and the RAW file will contain all of the color information just in case you change your mind later. The EVF will still show the B&W preview. Feels like cheating again? Don’t worry! It is all about the images that come out of the camera. And with time your eyes will learn what makes a good B&W image.

 

The lack of color can be visually relaxing - Fuji X100S
The lack of color can be visually relaxing – Fuji X100S

 

I have to admit that I often shoot JPG + RAW and end up using the RAW file to convert it into a B&W jpg in post processing. This helps me when I shoot in very contrasty situations and might need to recover some highlights or shadows later. Or when I shoot at or above ISO 3200. I have set the Noise Reduction to -2 (or -4 on the X-Pro 2) but at the higher ISO numbers the Fuji X-cameras still tend to smoothen out a bit too many details in the jpg for my taste – despite the lowest NR -2 setting!

 

 Once you devellop a good eye for availabe light and shadow you can get these results without a flash - Fuji X100S
Once you develop a good eye for available light and shadow you can get these results even without a flash – Fuji X100S

 

So, are you ready to give B&W a try? Then why not switch your camera to B&W jpg + RAW mode or create and save a B&W setting as one of your custom settings? This way your camera will be ready for those occasions when you feel like shooting Monochrome :)

 

Plese share your experiences after trying out some of thes tips and approaches for your B&W photography. And share it with your followers if you found it to be helpful.

 

If you like to learn more about mirrorless cameras you can listen to our Photofocus Mirrorles Podcast.

And if you feel like you could use some good inspiration to motivate you in your photography ambitions, please listen to our Photofocus Inspiration Podcast.

 

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