How I edit my landscape photographs taken with Fujifilm cameras

Last week I received an email from a fellow photographer wondering if I could explain how did I finally manage to edit my landscape work with the Fujis. That is why I decided to write about what the process has been like for me. 

My journey with Fujifilm cameras started a couple of years ago when I wanted something smaller and lighter for my trips. Back then, I used to bring a full backpack with a camera, several lenses, filters and a tripod. For cityscapes though, I would bring the 6D and one lens. I remember that it always ended up being a big hustle and so uncomfortable to carry it around from one place to another. So I made up my mind, and chose to get a X Pro1 with a couple of lenses. In the summer of 2015, before going on our month and a half trip to the US and Canada, I really wanted to get familiar with the new system and went to shoot several portraits in the forest with some friends. I was sold immediately and that’s when my love for Fujifilm cameras started. I really enjoyed the sharpness and the quality of the images and I loved the camera itself. It was one of the most beautiful cameras I had ever seen and so much fun to shoot with. 

While in the US, I took the X Pro1 around NYC and other cities in California, Oregon and Washington. I was really happy, it was perfect for what I wanted. Small and great, much easier to carry on a day out exploring the streets than lugging around the 6D. I also shot landscapes with the Fuji around the Capilano Suspension Bridge near Vancouver and in the Olympic Peninsula in WA. The experiment with a new system turned out to be really exciting and I was happy with the results. So last year (May 2016), I got the XT1, and up until August or so my 6D stayed in a shelf. I also stopped taking a bag with filters, the tripod... and guess what? Everything felt lighter and so much comfortable. I loved everything about the cameras and when I used them for portraits or as daily carry I literally thought I would sell my Canon gear.

My favorite thing about these cameras has always been their size, the layout of buttons and dials, the EVF and simply how beautiful they are. Also the dynamic range is incredible, and I’m always amazed by how I can get the perfect balance between the highlights and shadows. This is so much better compared to my 6D where I always have to underexpose to get some details in the clouds in post production. With the Fujis though, it only takes one look through the viewfinder to adjust the settings and you’re done. But there was something major that stopped me from selling my Canon and actually keeping both systems, and that was my editing. I couldn’t match the looks between my Canon and Fuji files. For some reason the landscapes were really difficult to edit to my liking. I could have given up and sell all my Fuji gear, but I didn’t. I just loved it so much for all the other situations!

Now that I think about it and after months of working on it, I guess my problem was with colors and the learning curve of working with a different kind of sensor and processor. I know people love the color these cameras produce, but I don’t really enjoy the blue tones SOOC and I totally dislike the greens and the way the camera renders them in landscape photographs. I have also figured out that the photographs I make on cloudy and misty days are much easier to edit to my liking than the ones taken on sunny days, I just can’t handle to edit those blue, cloudless skies (this also happens to me with the 6D, by the way). I love muted tones and for some reason I couldn’t achieve that with my usual editing. Sometimes the vivid colors of these files just don’t speak to me because I find them really different to my editing. So it was a matter of learning what works for me and what doesn’t when post processing the files and that, unfortunately, took me longer than expected.

As I mentioned earlier, if you take a look around my portfolio, you will see that the majority of my work is done on rainy and cloudy days. I believe it’s the atmosphere of those days that really pulls me to get out and photograph nature and landscapes. Light conditions and the time of the day that you shoot at can make a phograph go from stunning to meh. That is a fact. So I started to go out to photograph on days like those described above, and slowly I started developing some presets that worked for these images. Rich colors mixed with dark shadows, that was it! I developed a moody and dark way of editing that really caught my attention and made me really picky when choosing the time and conditions in which I went out to shoot with the Fujifilm cameras. 

Last summer we went on a 13000km roadtrip in our van to Norway. I knew that I would be photographing some of the most spectacular locations for landscape and travel photographers like me, so I wanted to be prepared. Since we were sleeping in our van, I decided to bring the big camera bag along with the 6D +17-40mm, the XT1+ 18-55mm and the X100T. For some strange reason, I always reached for the Fujis, so I only used the 6D for 15 photos in total and the 2000 + others were from the XT1 with the kit lens and the X100T. This made me even more excited than the previous year. I didn’t hesitate to use the Fuji for landscapes and the conditions were just as I wanted them: misty, moody and super cloudy. People may think I’m a weirdo for loving that kind of weather for my summer holidays, but when travel and landscape photography is your job and a trip like this is the perfect occasion to create some portfolio worth images, that’s all you really wish for. As soon as I came back home from Norway, I pulled out the files into Lightroom and applied my own presets. I was relieved, it had worked. I was improving, and on my way to finally love these cameras and the editing process of their files.

So I guess you are wondering how I post process them, so I will give you a few hints. As I have said on a previous blog post, I achieve these colors by moving the sliders of three different panels of Lightroom. My most used presets are based on VSCO’s Portra 160+++ which I’ve tweaked until I’ve found something that I really like and works for my images. The following are some common adjustments that you can find on the majority of my images: In the tone curves panel, I always lift the shadows and decrease the highlights a bit. If it’s cloudy, I will accentuate those clouds, but if there’s a dull sky, I will usually blow out the highlights in the basic panel. In the HSL panel, my green tones are usually yellowish, and the yellows are a bit more orange. The saturation of the greens is really low but the luminance however, pretty high. I believe split toning is really important too. I usually have a bluish tone for the highlights and a warmer one for the shadows. Those are the three panels where the “magic” happens in my editing. To give you an idea to what it looks like, check the following screenshots. These settings obviously vary from photo to photo, but it's based on something similar to this.

 

Many people have asked me to put my presets for sale, but I don’t think I am ready for that because I believe each of us has to develop our taste and work on something that works for our images. I really encourage people to just keep working on it and not copying literally other’s editing processes. I could keep showing you screenshots of my editing panels, but I adjust every slider in each image, so I don’t think that is worth it. However, I do have some before and after screenshots where you actually see what I mean (check previous blog posts). But I am willing to give people tips and talk about how to think on your editing while you are making the actual photographs and how to improve their editing once you are in Lightroom. If people are interested, I may even create some videos to show you how I work in Lightroom and I can make some videos also editing some of your RAWs, if that is something you might enjoy. 

So what is my plan from now on… Ever since I started to enjoy my new way of editing with Fujifilm cameras, I’ve been saving up to build a lens collection that I am comfortable with. I am currently looking for the 16mm and the 23mm 1.4 since those are my favorite focal lengths. I’m also keeping my Canon system because I can’t let go of my Sigma 35Art for portraits. I have to say that even though I have 4 digital cameras in my bag, they all have a purpose for the work that I do. Except for the X Pro1 maybe, that I only take out when I feel some nostalgia... and I know for sure that I don’t want to sell it. This summer, we are planning on going on a trip to Japan and Indonesia where I want to bring a Fuji camera with the 16, 23 and the 35 1.4 (that I already own). I want to be able to travel light, with everything that I need in a ONA bag. In some of the tests that I’ve seen, it seems like the new XT2 and X PRO2 show less mushing in landscape photographs, and I would love to hear from those who own any of them if that is true or if it's just my eyes suffering from G.A.S (which I admit, Fujifilm cameras make me have it). Hopefully, I will be able to try that for myself sometime soon and we’ll see where that leads to. 

Probably this post was longer than expected and doesn’t answer all your questions... or maybe it leaves out some important information that you were expecting to hear from me. If that is the case, please don’t hesitate to write down in the comments or dropping me an email with your questions. I will try to do my best to give you a detailed answer. 

I would like to finish this post with the before and afters of my favorite 25 photos I’ve taken with the Fujis so far. I hope you like them!