I recently attended a photowalk with a small group of Austin photogs on the University of Texas campus. To be perfectly honest, I was less than thrilled with the location. I've been there, done that several times before. Since it was a chance to hang out with some good friends, I went along with my Fuji X100.
A few days prior to the photowalk I had stumbled upon some fantastic B&W images posted by Todd Gipstein in a Fuji forum. They were straight out of the camera and they looked absolutely amazing. I had no idea that this temperamental little camera that I'm so fond of could produce such rich monochrome images. Normally I will shoot in color and spend a good deal of time in post production when I want to create B&W images. As much as I like crafting images in post and seeing the results come to life, it can be tough to find the time with what life throws my way lately. Since I sit at a computer all day at work, I would really rather be out capturing images than sitting in front of my computer for hours when I get home. For this photowalk, my mind was made up. I was going to shoot with in-camera B&W.
Before I met up with the group, I set my X100 to record a RAW file and a B&W JPG. The X100 includes several B&W filter modes (yellow, green, and red.) Since I don't have any experience working with filters in B&W, I opted to keep the camera set to standard monochrome. If anything, the images might be a touch flat and I could easily add a bit of contrast later if need need be. Hesitant to relinquish full control of image creation to the camera, I saved RAW files just in case. Having RAW files would also allow me to play around later with in-camera processing and experiment with different filter and tone settings.
Further entrusting the X100, I set my ISO to auto mode and gave the camera a limit of 1600. The X100 has proven itself to me in producing very clean images at that level. Since I was shooting in B&W, ISO 3200 probably would have been just fine as well. It gets only a bit grainy there. I enabled aperture priority mode to let the camera pick the shutter, with 1/60 as a minimum. Normally I shoot in manual but this time I wanted to focus more on my compositions and this left me with one less thing to think about. I would be able to quickly and easily bump the exposure as needed with the large EV dial on top of the X100 right by the shutter button. With the camera setup with more control than I usually offer it, I was on my way. Follow along and I'll show you a few things I found.
I parked by the Texas State History Museum and took a couple of shots before meeting the group on the UT campus. The huge star in front is one of my favorite Austin landmarks. This is a shot where B&W was a good choice and the X100 did well in pulling out details from the shadows. The sky is blown out for the sake of getting detail in the archways. While I did like how the X100 handled the scene as you see it here, I did end up touching this one up a bit more in Lightroom. Check that rendition out here if you like.
Across the street from the Texas State History Museum is the Blanton Museum of Art on UT's campus. I like the archways in front of the museum and I noticed that they framed our state capitol building in the distance quite nicely. The cool thing about setting my X100 to record a B&W JPG is that it lets me see the scene in my viewfinder as it will be recorded. That makes it easy to adjust the EV setting to find the balance of tones.
The shot that makes me smile the most has to be one I caught of my buddy Alex's son, aka "Monkey Boy." Good fun and he seemed to be enjoying snapping his own shots with an iPhone that you see laying on the sidewalk next to him.
I'll readily admit that architectural photography is not my forte but I am fascinated by a lot of architectural details that I see. I grabbed a few shots of these windows that attracted my attention. Something about their uniform pattern that is appealing I suppose. I especially liked the image with the stairway. It is an interesting combination of shapes and lines to me. One of my photographer buddies mentioned that the Fuji rendering looked a little soft. I agreed in the case of these images and a bit of a contrast boost was applied in Lightroom.
This bicycle looks like it is ready for a trip to Mardi Gras. It almost seemed a shame to render the image in monochrome and lose the colorful beads. Black and white worked well for the scene as a whole though. The happy photog who owns this bike stopped briefly to let me snap his portrait before riding off to our next stop.
I've photographed the Littlefield Fountain on campus more than once. Nevertheless, I couldn't pass up getting a shot in B&W. With the bright late afternoon sun, it was a tough scene to capture and I was impressed with the X100's rendering of it. Places like this are where the X100 can really show off its dynamic range.
The sun was getting pretty low in the sky as we came to the UT tower. There was a nice warm glow to the tower and I'll probably process a RAW file or two in color later. The B&W rendering does more justice to the architecture I think. It's just a classy look.
There are a number of great statues on campus. I usually end up getting a shot or two of some when I am wandering around down there. Statues do make good subjects. They don't blink anyway. Barbara Jordan's stare is downright penetrating. I always loved Umlauf's "The Torch Bearers." The X100 really reached in there and pulled the details from the shadows created by the harsh backlighting. The camera's lens resisted flare fairly well.
One of my favorite features of my X100 is the built-in ND filter. I noticed some flowers that I wanted shots of, but the background was really distracting. With the ND filter enabled, I was able to open the lens wide open in harsh light to get an extremely shallow depth of field for a bokeh rich artistic image that I tend to favor over standard macro shots. Rendering these images in B&W also helped with hiding bits of buildings in the background that would otherwise be very noticable.
The limitations I imposed on myself for this photowalk were actually quite liberating. Armed with a single focal length and seeing the world around me through a B&W viewfinder resulted in a creative outlet that I found refreshing. Letting the camera predominately decide my exposures allowed me to catch details I might have otherwise missed while fiddling with dials and menus. Things like the warm glow coming through basement windows or an old bell hanging by a doorway.
The campus was almost eerily quiet. Finals were wrapping up. I guess students were holed up somewhere for last minute cramming. The bulletin boards are still plastered with ads, many offering help for those not ready to face that last exam. I don't think Rhodiola is going to help much.
Last stop on campus was the Littlefield house. There's a great gothic look to it that I rather like. You just about need some bracketed exposures and HDR to capture a scene like this. The X100 again handled it well. I like the B&W quite a bit over the color version that I could see with the RAW file.
After cruising through the campus our group headed to Guadalupe St. (aka The Drag) for some pizza. A few of us took our time on the way to the pizza place to grab some shots under the evening sky as the blue hour crept in. I have to admit that I did revert my X100 back to color mode for a bit. I mean, really, it is blue hour after all! I'll share some of those shots another time. For now, I'll wrap up with a shot of the restaurant store front in B&W. I love shooting interesting store fronts at night with the warm light spilling out. They seem to work equally well in color or B&W. So ends the photowalk. Thanks for coming along.