Working in Black and White and Loving it All Over Again.

When I first started working as a photographer in what was then a very secondary marketing (Austin, 1978) ads or editorial work shot in color were a rarity. Nearly every photographer I knew spent most of their days then shooting in black and white and delivering 8x10 prints to their clients. Almost all of us had our own black and white darkrooms, or shared darkrooms with other photographers who were also just starting out. 

Assignments rarely ended when the cameras were put in the bags and the lights were packed away. The actual taking of photographs was the quickest part. It was followed by time in the darkroom rolling film onto reels and then into tanks for development. When the film dried we cut it into strips and put it into plastic pages so we could make contact sheets. The contact sheets went to clients for image selection and were usually returned with china marker indications of which frames to print and, in some cases, how to crop. We'd hustle back into our darkrooms, mix up print chemistry and try to pull really great black and white prints for our clients. Not too contrasty and not too dark. We aimed for a beautiful range of gray tones because those prints ended up getting through the half-tone screening process best and then printing best in newsprint, magazines or on offset presses. 

By the time the digital age rolled around color was ubiquitous and, frankly, in digital, much easier for most people to handle and get printed. Black and white was (at least for me) harder to do in digital than by traditional methodology. I could never get those mid-range skin tones exactly the right gray and exactly in balance between the shadows and the highlights. I know some people swore by their own PhotoShop methods but try as I might I could never get close. 

Now I feel like I'm living a little larger when it comes to black and white. I've been using Fuji's Acros Profile with their green filter finesse added in. The profile does a great job nailing the skin tones and gets me right in the ball park, overall. I still apply a bit more contrast to the mid-tones but the files are so much better balanced, overall, that it's easier now. I could apply the profile to raw files in post but much prefer to pretend I'm shooting totally old school and trying to get as close as I can in camera. 

I photographed a long rehearsal at Zach's rehearsal space on Sunday. Nothing fancy but we wanted to capture the process of rehearsing a play whose actual content is still partly in flux. I spent all day shooting what I think are very beautiful black and white images with a Fuji X-H1 along with the 90mm f2.0 (used almost exclusively at f2.0) and the saucy and able 16-55mm f2.8 for everything else (used mostly at f3.5). I'm not sure how the files will do with Blogger's resizing algorhythms (yes, I know I spelled it differently; I'm shooting a musical...) but the photo just below is from the shoot. At full res and viewed at 100% it is absolutely beautiful with massive amounts of detail and great tonal transitions. 
I may never shoot color again.... (just kidding. I'm afraid my clients will insist). 

I love that Fuji provides such nicely thought out profiles; not just for black and white but also in the color space as well. It makes shooting Jpegs so much fun for me. 

A blog note: I may be publishing sporadically during this week and the next. My father is in hospice and we are nearing the end. Family is, of course, my first priority but I'll write when I can because it's nice to stay in touch. Comment at will. I'll read them all. Even the ones I choose to delete...

Seat Hat. 


Rick Reed said...


As a long time lurker and first time commenter , hello. What always brings me back to your blog is the obvious humanity in your words. It’s clear from your writing that while cameras and photography are important in your life, your have a fully formed life outside of that. Thank-you for sharing that with us readers. It’s why you (and Michael Johnson) are my must visit blogs.

Your father in hospice is both sad and good all at once. I had my own father in a hospice just over two years ago, as his health worsened. While we all understood the outcome of his being in a hospice, it ended up being a great gift to all involved. It allowed his final days to be lived with grace and comfort, and allowed his family to all say goodbye in their own ways. It was a priceless gift.

I wish you and your family a similar gift. Should you be so fortunate as to receive it, it will never leave you.


Eric Rose said...

What Rick said.


jiannazzone said...


Thank you for sharing not only your knowledge and experience in photography but also your perspective on the human condition. Most of us go through phases of being cared for (childhood and as we approach the end of life) and providing care during the years in between. It’s clear that you take your role as a caretaker seriously. I wish you and your family the best as you deal with your father.


Scott said...

I love Acros and your photos are beautiful. You said: "I could apply the profile to raw files in post but much prefer to pretend I'm shooting totally old school and trying to get as close as I can in camera." As you are likely aware, Acros does some in-camera magic that cannot be done in post. Comments from some experts, since I cannot explain it:

"The in-camera Acros jpg is what all the 'ruckus' is about. It's a exceedingly well engineered output of the RAW file. The jpg is affected by the in-camera shadow/highlight/etc settings as well as a controlled algorithm for the application of grain density and grain-size. The algorithm is driven in part by the highlights and shadows in the image and the intensity-transitions between those regions.

The LR [Lightroom] profile just doesn't account for all those parameters and it's the proprietary nature of the Fuji research that makes the in-camera jpgs special.

The LR Acros profile also contains some sensitivity to the R/G/Y filter designations but IMO not as comprehensive as the in-camera profile."


"The way ACROS film simulation handles the noise in an image is genius. It only has to deal with luminance noise since it’s black and white. It uses extra noise reduction for the highlights and edges, and it leaves the grain untouched in the shadow areas.

[It] actually seem to analyse the image for tonality and adjusts grain control accordingly!!

And it does this throughout the entire ISO range. Of course you get more grain as you up your ISO, but still it differentiates it according to tonality!

This is also why the Lightroom ACROS preset does not give you the same files as using the built-in ACROS film simulation. It simply does not apply graduated noise reduction/addition. So with ACROS I actually always use the jpegs. Import them into Lightroom and apply my corrections in there. It simply looks way better than using the Lightroom preset on the RAW file!"


Terry Rogers said...

Blessings to you Kirk, and to your father. This is hard stuff and I expect that hospice involvement will be rewarding for all concerned. You only get but one father, and it sounds like you both share the good fortune of having each other. Peace for you and your family.

Kirk Decker said...

I start with color that I try to get as correct as possible (good skin tones, maybe slightly desaturated) then convert to black and white. When I look at the original color image after working with it in black and white, the color frequently jumps out as garish and distracting. There's some really nice color work out there and it makes me drool whe I see it, but for the most part, I think color just gets in the way when it comes to portraits and figure studies.

Frank Gorga said...


How are you printing your lovely black and white photos? You are printing them I hope!

I might be a geezer but, to me anyway, black and white photographs are not finished until they are printed. To my eyes, they just don't look right on a screen.

Like you, I started with black and white film (and a 4x5 camera). I made many a print in the traditional darkroom beginning in 1969, my freshman year of high school.

I now make inkjet prints using both OEM inks and Epson's Advanced Black and White mode. I also use a second Epson printer converted to Piezography warm neutral inks. Both systems are capable of lovely prints.

My ink jet prints are so much better than my silver prints ever were and I don't have to spend any time spotting them!

If you have not yet explored ink jet printing of black and white photographs, I can highly and cautiously recommend going down this rabbit hole! ;-)

I enjoy you writing and photographs greatly... keep it up!


--- Frank