On Location Photographing Venice in Black and White

Black and white photography does not come naturally to me. I see in colour, I pre-visualise my final images in colour and the vast majority of my photos are edited with all of the colour I captured in the scene. I have taken many photos that I may consider processing in black and white and even give it a go but if I’m being honest with myself, I’m never truly happy with the finished article.

I’m pretty sure one reason for this lack of satisfaction is that whenever I processed an image in black and white, it was never the intention when I captured the image. I go out and photograph the world and as I am taking photos I am given absolutely no thought to a final image being stripped of that beautiful colour and only attempt to process in black and white when the colour image didn’t work during post processing. I think this is the same for a lot of people. Black and white photography used to be the only option available but in these modern times, although still incredibly popular, black and white photography is considered more of an artistic choice rather than the only choice.

In October 2018, I took another trip back to Venice. This was my second foray to this beautiful city, but whereas I had previously visited on a warm July weekend when I knew the city would be basking in warm glorious light illuminating the vibrant colours of the fantastic architecture, this time the weather would be less predictable and although still a good chance of warm weather this time of year, there was equally a good chance of a cloudy/rainy day. For this reason, even before I had got on the plane, I decided to intentionally capture a set of black and white photos of this fascinating island of islands during my visit.

What do I mean by this? Well, I wasn’t 100% sure when I made the decision as I hadn’t approached taking photos this way before but I decided I needed to focus on lines, composition and light. I needed to try to ignore the colour in front of my eyes and visualise how I wanted to see the scene after I had got the RAF files into Lightroom and processed them.

Armed with the intent of capturing a set of black and white photos, I had my trusty Fujifilm X-T2 and various lenses with me. Being a Fujifilm shooter was a big influence on my attempt at some black and white photography primarily because I have seen some stunning black and white work taken by Fujifilm X cameras and their brilliant X-Trans sensor. The black and white photos have that high contrast, classic Fujifilm look and knowing this, I knew my camera was capable of capturing the style of black and white images I prefer. With this camera, I knew the odds were in my favour.

On the weather front, it ended up being a trip of two halves. On day one, it was sunny, warm with strong contrast and the on the second day it was damp and cloudy with some quite flat light. This actually worked quite well as it provided different conditions in which to capture Venice providing different moods throughout the series.

One last thing to to add before you move to the photos below. All of the images were taken as colour raw images and converted to black and white in Adobe Lightroom. Fujifilm X Series cameras have some fantastic film simulations which I used on occasion to visualise how the photo would look in black and white while taking the photo but as I have mentioned in previous posts, the post processing of my photos is something I also enjoy so I’m not looking for this stage of the process be fully automated…just yet.

If you missed them, here is my two-part article covering my first trip to Venice:

San Marco Basin

The first set below show different views across the San Marco Basin. This is the stretch of water at the southerly mouth of the Grand Canal between Piazza San Marco and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and its recognisable tower across the water. I particular like the photo below taken from inside the Bridge of Sighs as we crossed because to me, it demonstrates well the deep contrast a black and white image can produce even with flat light by the silhouettes of tourists crossing the bridge below with their umbrellas protecting them from the rain which tells the story I wanted to tell perfectly.

A photo of the San Marco Basin in the rain taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/125th sec
f/2

ISO640
35mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF35mm F2

A photo of Gondolas in Venice on the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/9000th sec
f/4.5

ISO1250
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

A photo of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/3200th sec
f/4.5

ISO200
86mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF55-200mm

A photo of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/1100th sec
f/2

ISO200
35mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF35mm F2

 

The Gondolier

During both of my trips to Venice, I couldn’t stop taking photos of the iconic gondolas as they would float peacefully along the twists and turns of the seemingly never-ending canals. These instantly recognisable boats are fun to shoot, especially when they catch the occasional light hitting the water creeping through the gaps between the buildings and with those tall Venetian structures flanking the canals they make perfect compositional frames which look fantastic in a black and white image.

A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/25th sec
f/4

ISO200
46mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

When converted to black and white, the photo can have a somewhat timeless look to it and in Venice, even more so as without any modern distractions in a lot of the scenes, these photos look like they could have been taken any time in the last 50 years. I guess it’s a bit of a throwback to the past when there was no colour photography and black and white film is all there was to use.

A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/1400th sec
f/4.5

ISO200
10mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

 
A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice shot through a hole taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/80th sec
f/4

ISO400
55mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

 

Venice at Night

A photo of Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basin in Venice at night taken by Trevor Sherwin

15 secs
f/16

ISO200
50mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

 

Black and white photography is particular good when taking low key images as those shown here.

I really like the mood in the image above, in particular the tower of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore partially illuminated across the water and the light from street lamps illuminating their ornate shapes and features. This style created the mood I was looking for perfectly.

A photo of a street lamp in an alley in Venice taken at night by Trevor Sherwin

1/125th sec
f/2.8

ISO1600
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

A photo of Piazza San Marco in Venice at night taken by Trevor Sherwin

30 secs
f/14

ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

Piazza San Marco

You can’t possibly visit Venice and not capture a few photos of the striking architecture at Piazza San Marco. I had to get up extra early to capture the images of the square being empty of people but with all of the people removed, these photos portray well how a black and white image can emphasise the lines, shapes and patterns such as the paving slabs on the ground or the buildings that flank the square shown in the images below.

A photo of the Basilica San Marco in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/6th sec
f/8

ISO200
17mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

A photo of the Basilica San Marco in Piazza San Marco in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/10th sec
f/16

ISO200
10mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

This was my first attempt at some deliberate black and white photography and I couldn’t have picked a better camera or more beautiful setting to give it a try. Who knows, I may even attempt a similar approach on one of my regular walks around London. I wrote in my last post how we all should step out of our comfort zone now and then to see what we are really capable of and while in Venice I feel I did this and as I am happy with the photos I took, it was well worth it.

Until next time.