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.
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
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.
- XF 18-55mm f2.8 zoom lens, a great all rounder and, for a so-called ‘kit’ lens, very good.
- XF 35mm f1.4 prime (fixed) lens, great for low light, street photography and for general carrying around as it is small and inconspicuous.
- XF 55-200mm f3.5 telephoto zoom lens, for distant things and to create foreshortened images. Updates to the Camera and lens firmware have improved the original focussing speed for this one.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.