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Shooting black and white for one year

What did I learn ?

In my last article I talked about the different film simulations in Fuji cameras and how beautiful their colour renditions are. Personally, it turns out that my own preference in the last year or so has been shooting everything in b&w and I’d like to explain a little about the reasons I’ve chosen to do so.

Taking advantage of the mirrorless system

If you don’t know, when you use a mirrorless camera, as opposed to a DSLR and you look through the viewfinder you see a digital image of the real world in front of you. This digital image is supposed to be a trusty representation of the reality but this of course varies with the quality of your camera’s Electronic View Finder. These E.V.F get better and better with lots of resolution nowadays. I don’t know about other brands but with Fujifilm cameras you can set the image you see in the E.V.F to reflect the exposition variations on the fly as you change your aperture and speed settings. This of course as a great advantage over traditional O.V.F (Optical View Finder) as it allows you to nail consistently the correct exposition of your shots. In addition to this, what you see in the EVF is also the exact film simulation (and whatever recipe you applied to it) that you have set. So in practice, when you set one of the available black and white film simulations in your camera, what you see through your viewfinder is a black and white world.

Better seeing the light

As we had the opportunity to explore, light is the most important component when you want to succeed in making a good photograph. Seeing in b&w when composing your shot helps a great deal to perceive correctly the light and contrast of a scene. Colour on the other hand can be very distracting. Because each colour has its own frequency and vibration I find it a lot harder to concentrate on the relevant light aspects of a scene I’m trying to capture. In conclusion, shooting in b&w is like getting rid of the non essential elements of a picture and better concentrate on the fundamental parts of it.

[ X-Pro2 – 1/125sec – ISO-200 – Lens : 35mm at f/6.4 ]

Finding your own style

When shooting consistently in black and white for an extensive period of time I find it easier to develop a sort of own style. It gives your work a solid consistency that might not be so obvious if you shoot in colour. You might think that only certain styles of photography are suited for b&w photography, I’m thinking now about street or documentary photography that probably have to be the most populars. But the truth is that every genre can be successfully explored, even the not so initially obvious, like landscape as the great Ansel Adams demonstrated. Portrait is of course another great genre that suits wonderfully to it.

Progressing as a photographer

Committing yourself to the exclusive use of b&w for an extended period of time has a beneficial aspect that might be first overlooked. Contrary to what you might think, forcing yourself to a certain discipline and limiting the available options at your disposal, far from being an inconvenience, is a powerful way of expanding your own skills as a photographer and a strong vector for quick and durable progress.

A good photo is a good photo.

I’m sure it has happened to you before. You have taken this photo, maybe with your smartphone, you want to publish it to your social media but the photo is really so so, let’s say not very interesting. Who hasn’t tried to apply some black and white filter just to try to make it more “interesting” only to see that the photo is still boring no matter what ?.

On the contrary, when you take black and white photographs the proper way (making sure to get the right light and contrast) you can be sure that in the 99% of the cases, if you apply colour to it, the photo will remain a good and well made photograph.

In the end, be it black and white or colour, a well made and though image will be a good and successful one no matter what.

“Developing” the black and white into colour

This is something I very much like to do. Let me explain myself :

Since I set my camera to shoot raw and jpeg at the same time I always have a fresh copy of a raw file to do whatever changes I want and even multiple times. I use the in-camera raw editor or I might also use the Fuji Raw-Studio app. So if I have a black and white copy that I think might be worth transforming into colour (because of the subject, the quality of the light etc..) I edit the raw file, sometimes in different coloured versions that I keep alongside with the b&w version.

Here goes an example

B&W style and colour in the style of Classic Negative film simulation

I don’t know about you, but I find both the two versions are great enough in their own style. What do you think?

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