Making the Most of the Fujifilm X Series System for Portraiture

Arguably, Fujifilm’s camera system is one that delivers images and an experience closest to old school film–which means it’s more than adequate for shooting portraits. In fact, it’s one of the most popular subject matters to shoot amongst the Fujifilm X series community of photographers. With a variety of lenses, film emulsion simulations, and cameras at your disposal, it’s incredibly simple to take a great portrait. What the system is surely missing though is a great third party flash solution.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the best things about the system for portrait photographers.

Lenses for Portraiture

Model: Evelyn Devere

One of the best things about Fujifilm’s lenses is how incredibly well they control any sort of distortion. The camera system has a number of fantastic first party lenses really designed for specifically portraiture in the form of the 56mm f1.2, 90mm f2, 60mm f2.4 and a few great zoom lenses too. But then there are great third party options: perhaps the greatest of them being the Rokinon 50mm f1.2–which is an all manual lens but delivers a look that has a bit more character than the Fujifilm lenses allow.

Then consider all the options available from lens makers like Lensbaby.

But the lenses designed specifically for portraiture aren’t really the only good options available. There is also the 35mm f2, 35mm f1.4, 23mm f2, and 23mm f1.4. Those seem a bit wide, right? Technically speaking yes. However, Fujifilm’s lenses are excellent and do a great job with controlling distortion providing you don’t get too close. Basically, don’t take a 35mm lens and put it right into someone’s face.

Very personally speaking, I’m a bigger fan of the f1.4 primes vs their smaller, weather sealed f2 counterparts. I enjoy more bokeh and letting more light into a scene. Though I’ll surely remind everyone that bokeh isn’t everything in a portrait.

We’ve got the breakdown of all of Fujifilm’s lenses in our guide.

Emulsion Settings

When lots of photographers start out with the Fujifilm X series system, many of them go straight for the Velvia mode because they LOVE the vivid colors. What you’ll begin to realize though is that after a while those colors are a bit too vivid overall and aren’t very flattering to skin tones.

So what should you use? Basically, exactly what photographers used years ago:

  • Classic Chrome
  • Astia
  • Provia
  • Pro Negative Standard Contrast (Probably my favorite)
  • Acros

I know, this looks like every other film emulsion simulation that Fujifilm offers. And that’s fine. But if I really had to go for a few, they would be Acros, Pro Negative and Astia. Astia is probably the most saturated emulsion of the bunch and Pro Negative will have those muted tones that so many photographers know and love. I’m not at all saying the tones will look like Kodak Portra or something else, but instead they’ll be their own thing.

To make a man look more elegant, it’s not only all about the attire but it’s also about the specific pose. Have him shift his weight depending on which shoulder is the higher one. The lower shoulder should be bright forward more and the head should be tilted slightly.

White Balances

Lots of photographers will be so incredibly tempted to simply just use the Auto white balance. And I guess that’s fine–Fujifilm’s colors are indeed some of the best out there especially when you’re looking at straight JPEGs. Personally speaking though, I’ve seen more magic in the older 16MP sensors when it comes to certain colors than the newer ones and even that’s situational.

But if you want to get some of what I believe to be the absolute best colors, I really recommend using two particular white balances. The Fine white balance simulates Daylight, which is what most film is balanced to. This is 5500 kelvin. But the other one is Tungsten. You’ll need to set this one manually yourself by going into the custom kelvin settings and choosing 3200 kelvin.

Some photographers will argue that you’ll get the same exact look as using the Incandescent white balance setting on your camera. But if you’d had a look at some modern cinema and studied color theory, you’ll see that really isn’t the case.

Based on the way most lighting situations go, these two white balances make the most sense. And if anything, they’ll just give you a really cool and funky look otherwise.

AF Points

You’d think that theoretically I wouldn’t need to talk about autofocus when it comes to portraiture, right? Well, yes and no. Years ago, photographers always used the center focus point and then recomposed their photos. For the most part you can still do that with ease considering that you’re working with an APS-C sized sensor.

Now, you should know that Fujifilm’s autofocus points let you increase or decrease their size. Want to focus in on an eye? Make the point smaller but understand that it’s going to take longer to focus. Otherwise, use a larger focusing point and face/eye detection depending on what camera you use.

Flash Systems

Now here’s the most challenging part. Fujifilm honestly doesn’t have the best primary flash system and there aren’t many good third party systems either. Why? Lord only really knows.

So instead, you’re going to have to make the most of a third party manual flash system. That’s not so bad considering that you’re shooting portraits. Adorama’s Flashpoint system has great offerings with the Zoom Lion and StreakLight. Those are radio controlled. My only problem though is that Fujifilm for some odd reason don’t let you do things like second curtain flash with third party options.

Again, I’m not sure why. It seems like something so simple but every camera manufacturer with the exception of maybe Nikon and the Four Thirds system don’t have this problem. So instead, just know you’ll be doing pretty standard flash work vs anything crazy cool unless your flash can do stroboscopic shooting.