Fine art black and white with the Fujifilm GFX

I was lucky enough to get a Fujifilm GFX 50S on loan for two weeks to review in Digital Camera and Professional Photography and I’m really impressed by the tonal range and subtlety it can capture. This became obvious when I started working on a set of shots from a drizzle-swept day on Exmoor. The sky was heavy and flat and there was very little colour, so I decided to try to drag out a strong black and white image from my RAW originals.

01 The ‘start’ shot

See what I mean? The day looked a complete washout, but having made the trip I thought I should make the best of it. I deliberately underexposed this a little in camera to be absolutely sure of capturing a full range of tones in the sky with no loss of highlights.

02 Basic adjustments

Now here are all the adjustments I’ve made in the Basic panel. This is where it gets slightly complicated because I have to admit I came back and made a couple of these to fine-tune the picture after I made all the adjustments that follow this one – specifically, a tweak to the Clarity setting and an increase to the Whites value and a reduction in the Blacks value to restore a full tonal range. Otherwise, the picture needed an Exposure boost, Shadow and Highlight adjustment and a Contrast reduction to handle the high brightness range.

03 Camera calibration

This is a step I never miss out when I’m working in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. By default, this software applies an Adobe Standard camera profile, which delivers pretty conservative (read ‘low’) contrast and saturation. You can boost these manually, of course, but I prefer to check to see if there are specific camera calibration options in the drop-down Profile menu. Sure enough, Lightroom offers the full set of Fujifilm’s in-camera Film Simulation mode. Choosing the Camera ACROS mode immediately gives the kind of depth and tonal response you get from the camera’s built-in ACROS mode. This is relatively new to Fujifilm cameras, by the way, and gives a stronger, richer rendition that the standard MONOCHROME profile.

04 Darkening the sky with a graduated filter

One of the problems with this image is the bright sky, so the next step is to use Lightroom’s Graduated Filter tool drag out a gradient for the top part of the sky and then apply an Exposure reduction to bring back some of the detail. It’s subtle, as I intended, but by now I’m starting to think this shot needs drama, not subtlety…

05 Adding drama with the Dehaze slider

So for this I’ve added a second Graduated filter, this time positioning it just on the horizon line. I could have added a Dehaze adjustment to the first filter, but I think this position works better. Pushing up the Dehaze value quickly adds some depth and structure to those clouds.

06 Finishing off with a Radial filter

It’s looking OK so far, but since I’ve decided to make a dramatic image I need to take one more step and add a Radial filter to darken the edges of the picture, maximise overall contrast and concentrate attention on the centre of the scene. You can see the position and size of the filter in this screenshot – if you hover the mouse over Lightroom’s adjustment ‘pins’ for a moment, it displays a red mask overlay showing you the areas affected by the adjustment.

07 The finished image

This final adjustment was pretty straightforward – a simple exposure adjustment to darken the edges of the picture. I could have done this with the Post Crop Vignette effect, perhaps, but it offers nothing like the control or positioning accuracy of the Radial filter.

Final thoughts

There are some really good black and white plug-ins on the market. I still think Silver Efex Pro is the best, but Alien Skin Exposure 2 is up there too. However, don’t discount Lightroom. Its tonal controls and localised adjustments are powerful, versatile and vert effective.

I’ve got to say a word about the Fujifilm GFX, too. I put this image through some very heavy adjustments but this image has stayed smooth and subtle across the entire tonal range, even where I’ve dragged barely visible detail out of the shadows and added that massive Dehaze adjustment to the sky.

2 thoughts on “Fine art black and white with the Fujifilm GFX

    1. Sure, fair point, but these steps are interchangeable anyway since Lightroom applies these adjustments simultaneously rather than one on top of the other. It’s just a question of how you like to visualise the image as you develop it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.