Improving My digital B&W

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by george_doumani, Apr 5, 2010.

  1. I don't want this thread to turn into a digital versus film discussion because that is NOT my intention. I approach my film work as a completely separate thing to my digital stuff. Here is my dilemma and I know the answer lies in the fact that film is film so why pretend to be something you aint!?
    As we once dodged and burnt and changed filters and or paper with our clocks ticking in the past than now we grab a layer adjustment and paint a mask with a mouse. "Same result different method" many will say but I still have to discover that "wow this works" when processing via photoshop. I know it will do all and 1000 things more than it's analogue roots but I feel I am missing something?
    After years of searching for a workflow that would produce dead neutral B&W prints I can finally sit back and admire those deep blacks and clean whites BUT I cannot help but be distracted by the lack of "soul" in those prints. If I was to define "soul" I suppose it would be a combination of grain and the increased dynamic range of properly exposed and processed film. The answer, if I was to emulate a film look, lies in post processing but than I face the dilemma I mentioned above. I have tried grain emmulators which I have found quite life like in terms of their fake grain reproduction but is it a mental thing or do they still look digital to me? Skin tones in digital seem way too smooth and lacking in depth to me, it is almost like a mild form of the dreaded "bronzing" of inkjet printers has just effected many of the skin tones of young perfect skin of children. Older people with blemishes print up fine but children who are lacking in wringles / skin imperfections seem to look strange.
    I suppose what I am asking is can you please share some of your workflow tips / tricks that generate that X factor in terms of giving your B&W (or colour as a matter of a fact) that look that even fools the best critics out there trying to spot a digital inkjet print from a true FB or RC silver hailde one or should i just drop it and accept digital for what it is?
     
  2. If I was to define "soul" I suppose it would be a combination of grain and the increased dynamic range of properly exposed and processed film.
    By that definition, prints from large format film under well-controlled lighting (where extensive dynamic range isn't essential) would also lack "soul."
     
  3. I don't want this thread to turn into a digital versus film discussion because that is NOT my intention.
    LOL! Didn't Marc Antony "... come to bury Caesar, not praise him." (Praise him he did, at least before the will was read.)
     
  4. Point taken and accepted Mike. After all that is why I shoot 120 (loaded with Xpan) over 35mm in certain lighting conditions to avoid too much grain and contrast.
    See posted image to illustrate what i mean.
    00WAHK-234393584.jpg
     
  5. Here I can shoot a digital file with my 4x5 scan back and then make a B&W or color print and most folks will think it was shot on film. *ONLY* when the source is mentioned; ie digital does the deep set hatred; bias and dogma get preached.
    In printing for the public B&W inkjet is more of a bitch; it uses the same amount of ink and paper plus calibration has to be tighter than color. Any hue shift ie non perfect B&W is sensed. Plus *many* customers expect B&W to cost 1/3 the price as color; like the old darkroom days. Thus one has a product that costs more more to make than color; but folks want to pay 1/3 the price.
     
  6. I convinced myself that my digital black and white was essentially indistinguishable from my film (at least in most important ways) by going out and shooting the same subject with both. Of course film varies a lot depending on what you're shooting -- to list two radically different older films, 2475 and Tech Pan certainly looked totally different. But with Tri-X in my Leica M2 vs. Black and white conversion from digital files, I satisfied myself that the results could be very similar and the digital had a lot more flexibility (due to the ability to color mix differently during the conversion to black and white).
    Have you really tried to take identical pictures in both digital and film and then compare those images, or are you just letting your preconceptions tell you that the digital results aren't as good? Why not try this and see what you get?
     
  7. Have you really tried to take identical pictures in both digital and film and then compare those images, or are you just letting your preconceptions tell you that the digital results aren't as good? Why not try this and see what you get?​
    NO I haven't... good point!
     
  8. I never cared much for "dead neutral" B&W prints (e.g., Kodabromide), much preferring the slightly warm appearance of Polycontrast, or even off-white paper stock. Some of my best inkjet B&W is done using process black (CMYK), and I definitely don't like black-only printing. I haven't used 35mm film in years, and most of my early work is on 4x5. Do I need to add grain to that too?
    Only dye-based inks work well on glossy paper, but then glossy paper only looks good (to me) in prints 8x10 inches or smaller on a large mat. The dynamic range of a B&W print, even silver based, is pretty limited - about 3.5 stops at best. Even B&W negatives typically have no more than 6 stops off the film (regardless of the original scene), so it's not much of a trick to lay that down on paper using curves, supplemented with the digital version of burning and dodging.
    In the words of Will Rogers, "Things ain't as good as they used to be ... and they never were."
     
  9. this certainly strikes a chord doesn't it?
    btw who changed the title of the post? It certainly wasn't me
    In the words of Will Rogers, "Things ain't as good as they used to be ... and they never were."
    that says it all I think Edward!
     
  10. I went out the other day with a film camera loaded with black and white film and a digital IXUS the idea was to shoot the same subject matter scan the B&W film and convert the digital images to B&W. Here are some of the images.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/photogsjm/sets/72157623776289660/
     
  11. "I suppose what I am asking is can you please share some of your workflow tips."
    I don't have any good tips, and I tried many things.
    "Or should i just drop it and accept digital for what it is?" I think so, but that's me. I hate the time I spend on photoshop, then printing is a whole other game to play after that. I am happy for those who are happy, or who can make little work of it. But for what I want it never seems to work well. I have a couple of yellowing prints from my inkjet that took me forever to get even close to ok. My Fiber prints still look great and were so much easyer.
    But be awair it's always changing, colour and tonality are getting better (Slowly). I will look again in 10 years. maybe 20. But I can't see me printing much more digital soon.
    I did get some good prints done that I sent away good files for. But maybe it was luck, I have a different screen now so who knows what I'll get back. It becomes an expensive game to me.


    Others will have a different story.
     
  12. Learning to make a great digital B&W print is no harder or easer then learning to make a great silver print. Each one takes time to do. Each one requires a specific skill set.
    If you have flat prints or prints that are turning yellow you have done something wrong. I have seen just as many bad prints from a darkroom as I have from a inkjet.
    One other thing. Its all about the paper. If you use the cheep stuff it will never look good. Ilford Epson and Harmon all make very fine paper.
     
  13. I agree it's about the paper, but also the ink, and the printer, and the computer. I used a printer that was no more consumer grade than my enlarger. With the original manufactures paper and the right inks, that are very expensive. And got a yellowing print in a very short time. I am just not going to put any more time and money into it. Not when for the same expence and much less hassle i could just print negs that take a few minutes to develop, and most of that time is just waiting, so no "skill set" involved. It's simply a lot more work (unless you spend thousands) just to get close to what 'I' aim for.
    I have the right skill set. I can do it with photoshop, I have done, with hours and hours of work. But it's far less bother to get what I want the way I chose to do it.
    Is a strange statement to make to say they are just the same. Surely they can't be just as easy? Sounds like a consumer pushers chant. It will be for some and not for others depending on what you want. I have seen great prints from people who could not do the same with flim. And if I wanted that look i'd be fine. I don't.
     
  14. In the end thing just keep adding up, i did not even mention photoshop. My new computer only has elements 4 so if I want to mess in curves (I don't btw) i'd need to spend on a new program as well an adequate printer and grossly expesive pigment inks. Or spend on getting my screen calibrated to send off for very high priced prints.
    Maybe George is diffident but that's my experience. and it's true for me. Sorry but as much as I enjoy digital for some things I don't endorse this new is better for everyone attitude.
     
  15. Here is my usual work flow.
    1) Choose a film to match your image (in your head) and a developer to bring you there. That's 90% of the digital editing avoided. This will include pushing, pulling, pyros, standing and drum processing. What ever works...right?
    2) Scan, wet mount if possible. When BW, use infra red for BW conversion (vuescan option). Output to raw tif.
    3) Enter PS and convert image with ColorPerfect (aka ColorNeg). If I adjust, it is usually the Gama slider.
    4) Smartsharpen. 7 pixs wide at about 50% with lens blur. Just sharpen enough to affect the grain. Any more degrades the image.
    5) For BW Convert profile to Grey Gama 1.8 for QTR.
    6) Import to LR for cataloging and any post edits, including healing of dust (I don't use ice).
    7) Print Colour: I bring to lab for printing. Print BW: I print to Epson 1440 with Eboni6 inks and QTR.
    That is how I get the most out of it.
     
  16. you should try the trial version of NIK SILVER FX plug in for photoshop. i find it much easier to get what i want with that rather than just using photoshop.
     
  17. Most of my B&W printing is done using a Epson 3800. My files come from a IR modified D200. I shoot RAW files and open them in Adobe Camera Raw.
    I desaturate the image in ACR. I also adjust the contrast and such there. I also do localized adjustments in ACR to lighten or deepen shadows as well as hold back highlights.
    By the time the image gets to photoshop as a 16 bit RGB file there is very little to be done. I use pixelgeniuse software to capture sharpen. Then I may do some creative sharpening.
    I output sharpen and send it to my printer in RGB and 16 bit.
    I print using the ABW settings in the Epson driver about 50% of the time. The rest of the time I print using QTR.
    This is the same basic work flow I use when I print scanned 4X5 negatives (B&W)
    If you use the right paper and the right inks the prints will not yellow in a short period of time.
    Hey don't fix a silver print long enough and see what happens. For that matter don't wash it long enough and see what happens.
    Its about having the right knowledge and using it.
     
  18. When I look at an Ansel Adams print, I see BLACK and I see WHITE.
    When I look at a monochrome digital print, I see shades of gray.
    The look is different, but I don't know if it's intentional of if digital printing/processing struggles to achieve the level of contrast that Adams managed to get out of his negatives. If someone can post a link to a digital B&W photo that has a similar tonality to Adams "Mt. McKinley/Wonder Lake," I'd love to see it and inquire how it was processed and printed.
    Perhaps this is what the OP means by lack of "soul." Adams prints pop off of the page in a way that digital B&W struggles to reproduce.
     
  19. I agree with the above about the lack of soul, just my opinion, which I am entitled to.
     
  20. When I did my comparison, I got this
    http://www.photo.net/digital-camera-forum/00KIpI
    And similar to the one who did this above I concluded that my digital gave me roughly comparable results. There were some differences, just as there would have been had I used two films. It's funny but in the film days, we used to work hard to get a grain free image (unless we needed the grain for a particular effect). Often I find digital looks a little cleaner (as a fine grain film might be) but the difference is really subtle.
    To me digital black and white not only gives you comparable results, but it gives you the infinite flexibility to retroactively use any channel mix to give you a wide range of results. I don't find it soulless at all.
     
  21. @Stuart - what a brilliantly useful set of pictures you've taken. Someone should stick them on the front page! I think you should label them all with numbers rather than distinguishing between the film and digital ones so obviously, and then turn them into a little quiz :)
    @Dan - I'm not sure it's the printing, I have an Epson R2880 here and over the road is a professional dark room where Michelle does B&W prints from film for me when I want them. I shoot film and digital, but recently mostly film. On occasions the B&W prints come out better than the digital print of the same scene, and then on other days we both massively prefer the digital prints. Perhaps at the absolute upper echelons of B&W printing there's a significant difference, and I do intend to take some digital prints to look at against some execllent B&W prints somewhere (excellent = ones i've had nothing to do with ;-) ).
    Having sat through the same debates in the music industry for years (analogue vs. digital), I can tell you a few things from that experience:
    Digital has all the options but old equipment and processes are beautiful; in a proper blind test people suddenly lose the ability to separate the analogue and digital emulation of the same thing*; digital will keep getting better until there's no argument; sometimes the older stuff is better because there are fewer options; and finally some people will never change!
    *See also hi-fi cables for more of the same (http://usa.denon.com/ProductDetails/3429.asp)
     
  22. James-
    Quick rebuttal to your hi-fi cable comment ... it has been proven that 'good' cables make a world of difference, assuming all the other components are high-end too. However, it's also been proven that unless you have $5,000 speakers, spending more than $100 on a cable is pretty unlikely to make a difference. So you're kind of right.
    If you're a Nikon user George, I recommend checking out the Capture NX software. It does B&W conversions differently than Photoshop, and seems more intuitive and 'darkroom-like' to me. The grain simulator is the best I've used that isn't from a stand-alone product as well.
    I find film black and whites have a 'look' to them that digital does not reproduce. However, that look is not necessarily one of total objective quality. Most of my shooting is on a Hasselblad with a 150/C lens because I like the tonal rendering. I usually shoot Ilford FP4, and develop in Rodinal 1+50. It works for me, because that's the look I'm going for. If you check out my member gallery, you can see that I obviously watch a LOT of old movies.
    Strictly speaking, a D3X with at 70-200 VRII will produce higher-fidelity images. It's not that those images lack soul persay - they are phenomenal - but I have a grittier shooting style, and it just makes more sense to shoot film. When I'm shooting for other people, I almost always use my D300, because people want to look nice. Very few people are going to hire me to make them look gritty.
    If you like the look of film, shoot film. If you want to make digital work for you, work on your postprocessing skills. I scan my negs and run them through Photoshop to get the look I like. It costs more (both in time and money), but I get the look of the film, and the easier editing of digital. Plus I find that inkjet printers are much more precise than I ever was in the darkroom.
     
  23. NIK SILVER FX is excellent. I have found nothing else close so far to getting a good variety of film like B&W. Its also just great fun to work with.
     
  24. thanks a tonne to everyone who has contributed something to this thread. I have read and reread all of the posts and one thing becomes clear to me (particularly after looking at David's and Stuart's links above) - it may just be a situation as Edward quoted earlier
    "Things ain't as good as they used to be ... and they never were."


    I guess I am just that kind of guy, never really satisfied and always looking to do better


    For those of you who r interested my workflow in brief is - Canon 5D (mk.1) - shoot RAW - develop via Capture One - photoshop CS3 for capture sharpen etc etc - Epson R2880 + Ilford Gold Fibre Silk. I am actually stunned at the output everytime with that paper and printer combo.
    I will not try to use QTR again. I think ABW mode in the Epson print driver does a marvelous job with the K3 ink set.
    I think I will check out NIK SILVER FX although I know it is just an expensive set of actions that someone has marketed as a magical plug in to Photoshop CS# and I won't be ebaying my M6 and summicron 35 just yet!
    cheers
    George, Copenhagen
     
  25. I personaly feel it is more about being happy with what I use rather than which one is better or worse. I am quite happy to use both and would not like to have to make a choice one way or the other. I am happy that I still have the option to shoot B&W film if I want to and I am happy I get good B&W results from digital also.
     
  26. "... it has been proven that 'good' cables make a world of difference,..."
    If 'good' means not defective and within standard specs, I agree. But keep in mind that the wire from the $5000 microphone to the $150,000 mixing desk is an ordinary $29.95 XLR audio cable.
     
  27. I spent 15 years making b&w prints in a darkroom from 120, 4x5, and 8x10 film. I did the Amidol/Azo bit with 8x10 contact prints and also learned several alternative procsses, mainly gum and van dyke brown. I was a darkroom fanatic, attended four weeks-worth of John Sexton's darkroom workshops and if I say so myself, I was an excellent b&w printer. I paid little attention to digital b&w printing, thought it was for people who didn't know any better, until I saw some of George deWolfe's digital b&w prints while photographing in Maine, around 2004. They totally blew me away in terms of seeing for the first time what could be done digitally. I closed my darkroom a few weeks later except for film processing and haven't had the slightest interest in using one again. If you're not making better prints digitally than you could make in a darkroom then you're doing something wrong - either you haven't learned the tools (which, contrary to what someone said here, are much much harder to learn than the rudimentary tools of darkroom printing) or maybe you just don't like the process - which is fine, nothing wrong with that.
    It's hard to tell you what to do when your complaint about digital printing is that it lacks "soul." There is no "soul" tool in Photoshop. But I can tell you that I've exhibited plenty of darkroom prints alongside my digital prints and when under glass there's no way anyone can tell the difference. There is no "digital" look to well-done b&w prints.
     
  28. When comparing a large group of *highest* quality prints of mixed genres and mixed processes, in a side by side blind test, I doubt that anyone can consistently separate the traditional prints from the digital prints based on their "soulfulness".
     
  29. 1) Choose a film to match your image (in your head) and a developer to bring you there. That's 90% of the digital editing avoided. This will include pushing, pulling, pyros, standing and drum processing. What ever works...right?
    2) Scan, wet mount if possible. When BW, use infra red for BW conversion (vuescan option). Output to raw tif.
    3) Enter PS and convert image with ColorPerfect (aka ColorNeg). If I adjust, it is usually the Gama slider.
    4) Smartsharpen. 7 pixs wide at about 50% with lens blur. Just sharpen enough to affect the grain. Any more degrades the image.
    5) For BW Convert profile to Grey Gama 1.8 for QTR.
    6) Import to LR for cataloging and any post edits, including healing of dust (I don't use ice).
    7) Print Colour: I bring to lab for printing. Print BW: I print to Epson 1440 with Eboni6 inks and QTR.​
    You had me right up to point 2!
     
  30. This http://www.digitalphotopro.com/technique/camera-technique/exposing-for-raw.html and this http://www.aftercapture.com/storage/articles/AC0409_RAW_Black&White_Salwen.pdf have yielded me the most desirable results....along with an Epson 4800 printer. Although, I juse the Advanced B&W printing mode in the Epson a lot, I find that using the above two links information, I can print just as good an RGB B&W as well.
    The Raw exposing method allows me the most detail in the shadow areas as I can possible get, and the Stunning B&W method allows me to convert the colors to B&W (ie the color contrast filter equivelent in film....only more so) to my desired look. The combination of these two methods lets me tweak the conversion as close as I've ever gotten to a B&W film print.
    If you want grain...which I have decided to forget about, in the end.....scan a piece of film and layer it with the digital image (after the B&W conversion....but before the tweaking)....none of the "digital grain" offerings do what I want them to. But, like I said, I got use to no grain added. When I want grainy results, I usually use my Ricoh GRD at ISO 1600. It's digital noise comes the closest I've ever seen to a tri-x at 1600 look that I have ever seen.
     
  31. Thomas S
    Thanks for that second link. Very interesting
     

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