How to… #BW #Blackandwhite #Photo #Convert #Fujifilm #X-Series #Camera #Adobe #Photoshop #RAW #Google #NIK #SilverEfex

Post by Paul Henni

Making Black and White Images – What We do.

We have been asked quite a few times about how we make our images, so I thought I’d write a wee bit on what we do, the we being me and Lynn, my partner in henni.photo.

Firstly, some background and a disclaimer.  Whilst I have been a happy snapper most of my life, I have only really got going properly with photography since 2013 and have rapidly absorbed a lot of advice on techniques, theory and sources of inspiration from a range of helpful people who have taken the time to answer my, often dumb, questions. Lynn actually studied photography as part of her degree but old school style with film and has also only got going relatively recently with digital.

The disclaimer is therefore, that I am only able to write about what I know obviously and there is a lot that I don’t know.  So here you go – I’ll focus on what I currently do and the kit I use, as it gets confusing if I try to write a combined workflow description for both of us. I hope it is helpful.

Kit

I am  not particularly interested in the fine technical details of kit.  I try to keep the kit simple so I can concentrate on making images. In 2013, I started learning  how to shoot using the manual setting on a Nikon D3200 with 18-55mm lens, ideal for beginners. I did some research, got some advice and subsequently upgraded to a Fujifilm XE-2 with 18-55mm lens.

Using the Fuji camera and lens led to an immediate improvement in image quality, if not always the shots I took. Significantly, the XE-2 was smaller and lighter, ideal for use for street and urban photography. I then added a 35mm lens, with an aperture option of f1.4, my current favourite lens, ideal for shooting in low light. I also got a 55-200mm telephoto zoom. This gives me the range of lens options to cover most of what I want to shoot.

Fujifilm XE-2 Camera

Fujifilm XE-2 (Image by Fujifilm).

The XE-2 is a rangefinder style camera (viewfinder at top left looking from the back) with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that gives live preview based on current settings, recently updated to the latest Firmware (Camera operating system). Fujifilm do regular updates to their Firmware and this means that my camera and lense have had several improvements to things like autofocus speed and more.

Lenses

Taking Black and White pictures

I’ll not say too much on composition, what to shoot or why shoot this or that, as there is plenty of advice out there and lots of inspirational photographers. The main things I have found out that work for me when taking shots are:

  • Try to ‘see in BW’, think about texture, tone and shape, don’t be distracted by colours, unless you know they will work well for what you want to achieve in BW.
  • If you have a Fuji X-Series camera with EVF, you can set the camera to shoot BW JPEG (or RAW plus JPEG) and it will give you a BW live preview, useful for practising or previewing complex  scenes in BW.
  • Rain, mist, snow, hail, all of these can be good. Diffuse light, such as on a glorious cloudy summer’s day in Scotland gives good results too.
  • A good colour image won’t always make a good black and white – I often see people posting a ‘failed’ colour shot as BW and it usually doesn’t work in my opinion.

We both shoot in RAW, to allow custom processing, although my Fujifilm XE-2 and Lynn’s XT-10 both create very nice JPEGS in camera.

Processing the RAW file

The following is my current workflow. It isn’t extensive, probably not clever, but it works for me and I hope may help you to see something useful for you too.

Software

We use Adobe Creative Cloud and have a subscription for Photoshop (Editing Images), Bridge (Managing Images) and Lightroom (a bit of both, but not used), which currently costs about £9 per month. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can download a 30-day free trial.

We also use Google NIk Tools plugins, which work with Photoshop and Lightroom, in particular the Silver Efex Monochrome tools. The latter is highly recommended and is now free to download.

An example run through

This is just a quick example with the basic information that I’ve been asked about.

Here’s an unprocessed image, taken a couple of days ago when Edinburgh had some lovely haar (sea mist) for us to play around with.  It was shot with the Fujifilm XE-2 and the XF 55-200mm lens at f6.4, 110mm, 1/100th sec and ISO 640 (Exif snapshot info below).

Unprocessed image. Martyrs Monument, Edinburgh. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.
Unprocessed image. Martyrs’ Monument, Edinburgh. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.
Image Exif (Technical Details).
Image Exif (Technical Details). Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.

The Fujifilm RAW (.raf) file was opened in the Photoshop RAW editor for some basic editing. In this case, looking at the image histogram, the tonal range seemed good for what I wanted to achieve – you can do a wide range of editing at this stage prior to going into Photoshop. In this case I went to the Dehaze option to ADD a little haze, the opposite of what the tool is designed for, to give me a little more haar to play with.

Adobe Photoshop RAW Editor interface, showing Dehaze tool.
Adobe Photoshop RAW Editor interface, showing Dehaze tool, which can add or remove haze. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.

Next, into Photoshop, shown here with the Google NIK Tools Interface. If you want to use the Silver Efex tools, simple click on the button on this interface. This will give you this next interface.

Google NIk Tools - Silver EFEX Interface with image. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.
Google NIk Tools – Silver EFEX Interface with image. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.

If you haven’t used Silver Efex before, I recommend you play around with the existing presets, try things out and try to learn what the various controls on the right hand side do. Some are quite subtle and, you’ve guessed it, some are not. there are some good tutorials out there, including on the Google Silver Efex web page.

At this point, I used a saved custom preset I’ve made based on one of the existing ones called (016) – Full Dynamic (Smooth).

I then did a final adjustment to the depth of the blacks and some of the mid-tones using a Levels Adjustment layer. here’s the end result.

I’d be interested in any feedback on whether this was useful to you or not via the comments below or by sending me an email.

Final Processed Image. Martyrs Monument, Edinburgh. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.
Final Processed Image. Martyrs’ Monument, Edinburgh. Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni.

‘Flagstones.’ #Edinburgh #Photography #Monochrome knicksen.com

Flagstones.
Flagstones.

Uptown/Downtown – Revisited #Edinburgh #Photography #Monochrome knicksen.com

I posted a version of this a while back, shot in the daytime on my previous camera (Nikon D3200), so here’s a night-time version taken on my Fujifilm XE-2, making the most of the camera’s low light capabilities. For once, I think I prefer the colour version – what do you think?

Uptown / Downtown At Night.
Uptown / Downtown At Night.
Uptown / Downtown At Night.
Uptown / Downtown At Night.

Here’s the original post and shots:
The OId Town of Edinburgh can be viewed on many levels, physically and otherwise. If I was a thinker I’m sure I could come up with something witty and philosophical about the genteel veneer undercut by the squalid underbelly, but I best not. This shot shows The George IV Bridge, with The Cowgate underneath and was taken from the drawbridge-like entrance to The Central Library.

Uptown / Downtown.
Uptown / Downtown.
Uptown / Downtown.
Uptown / Downtown.

Skybird. .@RoyalObs #Edinburgh #Monochrome #Photography #Cloud knicksen.com

There were clouds shaped like a bird in the sky, so, after much deliberation, here’s ‘Skybird.’. This is yet another one I’ve taken featuring the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, it just keeps getting in my shots.

Clouds must be some sort of psychological test for humans to test what strange things we can think we see. There’ll be a specialist website (no, not that kind) somewhere on the decoding of the hidden messages in clouds.

Skybird
Skybird

At The Theatre. .@edinburgh #Edinburgh #Monochrome #Photography knicksen.com

This is the view across the front of the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. When it was refurbished, it was given a glass and metal front that has superb reflections for photography.

At The Theatre.
At The Theatre.

Traverse Theatre. .@traversetheatre #Edinburgh #Monochrome #Photography knicksen.com

Here’s a view of the curved steps of the Usher Hall leading towards the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Traverse was originally in the Grassmarket and moved to this custom built building in 1992. It is well known for the quality of productions it puts on and for the promotion of new works.

Traverse.
Traverse.

Back Street. @Edinburgh #Edinburgh #Monochrome #Photography knicksen.com

In behind the main streets of the historic New Town area of Edinburgh in Scotland there are many interesting old buildings. Those seen here would probably originally have been the garages for horse drawn carriages.

Back Street.
Back Street.