Processing Black & White Street Photographs with Acros

In December I published a Street Tip article describing how I process my colour street images with the Classic Chrome film simulation.  Consider this article part two in a series then, where I will describe how I like to process my black and white street images in Lightroom using the Fujifilm Acros film simulation.  If you aren’t a Fujifilm shooter though no worries… the vast majority of these principles can be applied to any camera and to any software package.

When I am in the field I try to get my photos as close to finished as I can in camera, while also understanding that most images will benefit from a little polish in post production.  I love high contrast black and white imagery, so this process almost always starts with finding the right light.  Light is everything in photography.  Hell, the word photography literally means “to write with light”, and beautiful light forms the basis of most of my black and white images.   If I do my job well  my photographs should only require a minute or two of post production each, which means I can spend more time creating new images in the field.

Let’s take a look at the process…

Here is the image shown above, but straight out of the camera as a compressed RAW file:

If you compare this image to the final one at the top of the post you can see that the image started by finding a compelling scene compositionally (diagonal lines, vertical lines, horizontal lines, etc), but also by finding a scene that had nice light in it.  That beam of light was the first thing I noticed about this scene actually… it is amazing.  Through the use of a little Exposure Compensation, or creative use of Spot Metering, it is easy to protect your highlights and throw those shadows into darkness.  Now you are well on your way to having a beautiful black and white image that will only need a small amount of post production.

Once I get this photo into Lightroom I will start by applying an appropriate film simulation.  For black and white photographs, Fujifilm’s Acros+R is almost always my simulation of choice:

And, this is what the image looks like with Acros applied:

That’s a start.  Still very flat, and my lines are crooked as hell (I was shooting candidly on the street so I framed the scene a bit looser than normal to allow for some correction in post).  Let’s straighten things up a bit:

That’s better.

I would usually start adjusting my exposure at this point but the 3:2 ratio kind of bothers me for this image.  I want the viewer’s eye to go straight to my subject, and right now I see a lot of empty space on that doesn’t really offer anything to the viewer in my opinion.

Let’s try a square crop:

Now we are talking.  That is a composition I like a lot.

Let’s focus on exposure now.  You will notice, from the screen capture below, that I usually don’t make global adjustments.  Instead, I make specific adjustments to the whites and blacks and to the shadows and highlights.  My goal is to push the shadows to the point where the blacks just start to clip and to push the whites until they just start to clip… resulting in an image that pushes the contrast without blowing highlights or crushing shadows.

You can test this easily by holding down the option key (on a Mac… I’m not sure of the PC equivalent) and adjusting any of these sliders.  You will see a mask laid over your frame that shows you if you have blown your highlights or crushed your blacks.  Here is an example, holding down the option key while adjusting the black slider:

… the areas you see in black are pure black, with no detail.

For this picture, my settings ended up being:

This is getting very close.  I always take a look around the frame at this point and look for any distracting elements.  In this case, the bottom right corner of the image kind of bothers me.  With many photographs I believe in the concept of “sealing the frame”, and the visible stairs in the bottom right corner of the frame pull my eye away from the main subject:

Let’s use a filter, overlaid on that corner, and drop the exposure a bit:

Which gives us this:

Much better.  My eyes stay with the subject now.

The final step for me is to apply a bit of sharpening and some masking.  I want to sharpen edges, but I rarely want to sharpen the sky, dark shadows, etc.  If you hold down the option key while adjusting the Masking slider you will see this kind of thing:

Areas that are white will receive sharpening, but black areas will not.  This allows you to target the sharpening to the areas that will benefit from it the most.

And, there you have it, the final image:

As mentioned before, all of the above only takes me a minute in Lightroom, maybe two if I am being really nit picky.  Photos like this don’t need a lot of love IF they are captured properly to begin with.  Learn how to see light, shoot well in the field and post production is a breeze!

I hope you have enjoyed this Street Tip article.  Remember, you can view all of the Street Tip articles on this site by using the Categories drop down menu in the sidebar and selecting “Street Tips”.  If you want to learn more about chasing beautiful light and shooting street images like this I also encourage you to attend one of my workshops where we spend an entire weekend working on our street photography.

Until next time!

Ian

12 thoughts on “Processing Black & White Street Photographs with Acros

  1. marcmoreels says:

    I very much enjoyed this tutorial and I picked up some new techniques. I follow your articles and podcasts because they offer so much. Thank you for sharing. I’m an avid X100f and X-T2 shooter.

  2. Mindy says:

    Ian,
    I love your images! One of the reasons I bought my FujiX100T was because of sharing that the Official Fuji Photographers do on their blogs. I still have so much to learn about digital photography. Unfortunately, when photography migrated from the film medium, I didn’t keep up, so I feel like I’m catching up. Your blog has been so helpful. I just returned from Israel where I shot jpeg. I’m pleased with a number of images, but some need help. I’m not familiar with Lightroom and was wondering if it can be used on jpeg? Everyone seems to mention RAW…. Maybe one day I can take your workshop!

    • Ian says:

      You absolutely can use jpegs in Lightroom. Some people only shoot jpeg, as a matter of fact, and never shoot raw. The only part of this tutorial that would not apply to a jpeg file would be applying the film simulation in Lightroom… for jpeg images this is applied in camera at the time of capture. Other than that though, everything would be exactly as I describe here.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  3. Nancy says:

    Thanks Ian. I just did a quick visit to camera calibration and what a difference it makes. BTW: The Windows equivilant to the “option” key is the “alt” key.

    • Ian says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Geoff, I really appreciate the kind words. And yes, getting it right in camera is huge.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  4. Bob Raisler says:

    Very useful, Ian. I applied a few of the things you suggested of one of my photos that I had almost discarded and uncovered a photo worth keeping. Define your subject and then give him/her/it the best placement and the best light available in that capture.

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