If you have spent any time looking at my work you know I enjoy shooting portraits. You may have also noticed that I often process my photos in black and white. It’s typically not something that I elect to do on purpose the photos just end up that way. In the case of my most recent shoot with Haven Hudson I ended up making the entire section black and white.
Why Make Photos Black and White?
The most common reason that I choose to make photos black and white is because they were shot in low light. Because I’m compensating with a higher ISO and to a lesser extent larger Apertures the photos I shoot in low light tend to have a shallow depth of field along with a noticeable amount of “noise” (Grain, Static, artifacts and discoloration). While noise is a common byproduct of increasing the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor it is typically something many photographers would like to avoid. It’s why camera manufactures will invest a respectable amount of research and development into getting cameras to shoot at higher ISOs with less Noise. However even the best cameras shooting at 6400 ISO are going to show some noise but that doesn’t mean an image is ruined.
In my opinion a humble amount of noise can give photos a film like quality. In an era where Photoshop can polish an image down to the point where it looks more like a life like painting it can be a bit refreshing to keep some of the old rough edges to images as opposed to scrubbing the photos of their soul and leaving them as nothing more than images. The issue is though is that Digital Noise isn’t film grain. It has completely different qualities, the most significant being the way it effects color tones; They can become muddy and difficult to grade colors the way you want. It is especially difficult when it comes to skin tone which tend to be a pain in the ass to change anyways. However if you are okay with less color and a bit of grain you can get some very vintage/filmic looking images.
This is what makes black and white such an effective method of editing. You’re not worried about what the colors look like you’re more focused on what your exposure, Contrast, whites, blacks, shadows and highlights are doing without having to stress about color balance or saturation as well.
Technical justifications aside the main reason to process in black and white is purely a aesthetic choice. I have always loved the way black and white photography looks especially when it comes to my more candid and improvisational photography. I like having photos that look like you could find them in the attic of you grandparents house and it’s a big reason I frequently order 4×6 prints on some of my favorite photos. One day someone is going to be going through my old stuff and that photos I have taken throughout my life.
Shooting with the Fuji X100f.
The Fuji X100f is a relatively new addition to my camera bag. I have had it for the last 6 months and in my time shooting with it there are some certain qualities that I have grown to appreciate and other that I have learned to loath and this Black and White series is a good illustrations of the good the bad and the ugly when it
comes to this camera.
The image quality off the sensor of this camera is excellent. I have grown so spoiled by shooting with a full frame Nikon DSLR that I have grown pessimistic when it comes to smaller sensors but the APS-C sized chip on the X100f Renders details and colors so well that in the right lighting conditions you would think that you were shooting with a full 35mm sensor.
I personally believe the sensor benefits from having a well paired lens attached to the front of it. The 23mm f2 lens that is fixed on the Fuji is roughly a 35mm equivalent on the APS-C Sensor and the combination of the f2 wide open aperture and being fixed focal length allows for very precise rendering that takes some very breathtaking images.
The final thing that I love about the camera is how fast it is. The auto focus, the shutter response (along with being incredibly quite) allows me to shoot very quickly and the responsiveness of the camera to my adjustments happen at such a pace that I can focus on shooting more than constantly making minor adjustments.
The X100f is not well suited for portraits, Not going to lie about that. While I am super pleased with the image quality coming out of the camera there are some things that makes it hard to get portraits to look the way portraits to should look (at least for my personal prefrence.
Because the lens is a 23mm it has a lot of the qualities and drawbacks of a wide angle lens. Noticeable distortion, the bokeh (blurred Background) never quite gets the subject isolation you want and getting the right composition becomes a bit more of a challenge.
Most of these things can be overcome with some editing. Adobe Lightroom (Which I almost exclusively edit with) has profile corrections built right in for this camera and the you can add more blur the background if you’re into that kind of thing but ideally you want to minimized editing by getting as much in camera as I can and having my processing for implementing the style I want. Not so much for fixing issues.
The high ISO performance on this camera is sketchy at best. The noise after 3200 ISO is Pretty noticeable but the thing that I constantly notice is how muddy the mid-tones become as you raise the sensitivity. It is especially rough on the color quality. after 1600 ISO the color starts to fall apart on the RAW files to the point that you almost feel like you have to go to black and white which I why I elected to edit all of these photos in black and white. I’ve noticed in time that people are really committed to color photography and I will often deliver black and white photos and have people ask me to convert them back to color. So for me I’m okay with living with a camera I know I’m going to get some color issues but I think there a lot of photographers and clients out there who color quality is non-negotiable.
Video in Black and White:
I want to get back to shooting video more often. Typically I don’t mix a lot of my video work with my portrait work but it has been something that I have wanted to do. After Editing the whole set in Black and White I decided I wanted the video I captured to match.
I shot the Video on my Nikon D600 with the Nikon 24-120 f4g lens. This Camera is a bit on the old side when it comes to video performance. It shoots at 1080p at 30fps (I shoot in 24fps) on a H.264 codec which is respectable but there are a lot of 4k 60fps options hitting the market with better codecs and more video centric features. But the footage from the 35mm sensor looks great and 1080p is still respectable in the online space. (But I still am tempted to upgrade.) The real drawback of doing video on this camera is the focus. The back screen makes it really hard to tell when things are in focus and nikon photography lenses really aren’t suited for manual focusing. Another thing that some of the more latest and greatest cameras have are better video auto focus features that the D600 just doesn’t have. All complaints aside, the best camera is the one you have on you and the D600 has been a work horse since I bought it and part of working in the creative space is being able to work within the limitations of your equipment and to a greater extent yourself to realize your creative vision.
I was actually really happy with how the video came out but I do want to improve a few things going forward. First I need to get a better stabilization setup. Not necessarily something fancy like a DJI RONIN or a Glide Cam but possibly a shoulder rig to give me more steady movements going forward. Also I need to get back on my music game because it’s very hard to get quality music that you can use in videos. Luckily Brain Altano has encouraged people to use the music he is now making for his new creative project Weird Heat on their own projects so I have decided to take advantage of his generosity.
I feel fortunate to have been able to shoot with how busy I have been lately but I’m finding it important to continue with my own creative endeavors. A lot of what my day (and night) job have me do is beneficial to my professional growth, but being able to do things like this black and white series makes me feel like still have the ability to flex my creative muscles.