Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Using a polarizing filter on a Fuji X camera for a dramatic black & white sky

There are times when I want to achieve and extremely dark, almost dead black sky in a black and white photograph. This can be done by darkening the blue later in post-processing, but I like the results better when I acquire the correct tones at the moment of image capture. Fortunately, the Fuji X-cameras make this an easy process to achieve with just a little help from a polarizing lens filter. Making things even more convenient, for the most part I find I can get away with just a jpg image in most captures done this way.

Yes, this technique can be done with most cameras, but the Fuji X-cameras make it a snap with their built-in palette modes and Custom settings. I changed one of the Custom Settings on the "Q" menu to set up the camera with the following:

The color mode is set to Monochrome +R Filter. The +R, or red filter, will already darken the blues in the sky. In addition I add +1 to the High Tones to lighten them, and Sharpness, and a +2 to Shadow tones to darken them. I also add +1 to Sharpness. This provides me with my base settings. Next I add a polarizing filter to the lens and turn it to maximize the darkening of the sky. As can be seen in the sample photos below, on a bright, sunny day these settings deliver a very deep, black sky and bright highlights for stark contrast. Generally, these scenes are shot at the lowest ISO of 200 so I often dial in some extra noise to give the image a grainier, film-like quality.

I find this method very effective for creating dramatic compositions of highly contrasting light and dark elements.

In this scene I liked the serpentine shape of the passing white clouds and wanted to set it and the building off sharply against the background. 

Because I always shoot both RAW and jpg at the same time I have the option of manipulating the image later in post-processing. Here I found the contrast of the original jpg tones to be too stark so I switched to the RAW file and lightened the shadows. 

This image and the one below are straight out-of-the-camera jpgs with deep, black shadows, and bright highlights that maintain good detail. 


  1. wow. pretty great.
    for long lens, are you using the monster 50-140?
    i'm tempted to buy one but then i may as well drag around my Canon 5d and 70-200 f4

  2. For these photos I just used the 18-135mm zoom. It's my favorite when I only want to take one lens with me.

  3. So you feel that the 18-135 is a very good lens, suitable for professional use? For some reason I've always discounted it. hmmm