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01-14-2010, 12:22 PM   #1
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I miss B&W - My attempt to replicate the feel

Mods, if this is not the proper location please feel free to move the post.

I really miss B&W photography. I still have my film camera but every time I shoot B&W I have to take it in to be processed and it never comes out as nice as I know I could get it. I spent most of High school in the darkroom developing and printing for our newspaper and year book. So I learned how to get the most of the shots. Most photo labs don't take the time or care enough to get the most from a negative.

So since I am not in a position to set up my own darkroom (my wife would kill me) for both space and money reasons I am trying to get a feel for converting color to B&W digitally. Much harder (to get just the right feel) than I ever expected, by the way.

After some experimenting, I have come up with a base preset. I have been looking at it too long so I am asking for opinions and advice on how to make it better. I used this image since it had a good tonal range to work with so while I am very partial to the model (one of my twins) I am not looking for C&C on composition.

Thanks in advance


Original image:


B&W conversion in Lightroom:



Tweaked in PS CS4 using NIX Silver EFEX. tweaked B/C and added grain:



100% Crop of above:



Sorry for the image sizes, the option to add wide images is gone...

01-14-2010, 06:10 PM   #2
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If the expense of a wet darkroom isn't out of the question, you might look at the Nik software alternative -- Silver Efex Pro. There's a 15-day free trial at their web site and some excellent tutorials/demos there too.

No affiliation - I just like this software and I have much the same B&W background as the OP. I'm just re-starteding to develop 135 & 645 B&W (with minimal effort - Diafine) and scanning to digital. The economics work out about the same with a lot less 'negative-noise' from the spousal-unit.

H2
01-14-2010, 08:43 PM   #3
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Welcome to the wonderful world of digital B&W. I've been wrestling with this for a couple of years now and still don't have it down. However, here's some things I've learned I can share:
1. the best "program" out there is Silver Efex Pro, it's better than anything you can do in PS but it still falls short of the kind of contrast/acutance you saw in film;
2. you're going to need to build you own process and then use it carefully only on images that "fit";
3. to get images that "fit," you're going to have to shoot for B&W color, i.e., your composition has to be chosen to give you a color range that converts well to B&W instead of an image that looks good in color... if that makes any sense.
Okay, here's my latest workflow that seems to work well for me:
1. shoot RAW and make whatever corrections you want in ACR or whatever to get the best contrast possible;
2. import into PS then run USM twice (yeah, I know this will raise some hackles, but this is my workflow, so I'm sticking with it until something better comes along)
3. using levels (or curves) boost contrast as much as you can, perhaps set the clipping points
4. flatten everything to this point
5. switch to Channels and select/copy to a new layer the channel that gives you the best contrast
6. adjust opacity and flow for that channel layer, but don't flatten
7. copy and convert background layer in Silver Efex
8. mask and blend the channel layer (#6) and the Efex layer for best contrast
8. flatten and run Smart Sharpen
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Here's an example, original and then conversion. Good luck,
Brian

01-14-2010, 09:40 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by FHPhotographer Quote
Welcome to the wonderful world of digital B&W. I've been wrestling with this for a couple of years now and still don't have it down. However, here's some things I've learned I can share:
1. the best "program" out there is Silver Efex Pro, it's better than anything you can do in PS but it still falls short of the kind of contrast/acutance you saw in film;
2. you're going to need to build you own process and then use it carefully only on images that "fit";
3. to get images that "fit," you're going to have to shoot for B&W color, i.e., your composition has to be chosen to give you a color range that converts well to B&W instead of an image that looks good in color... if that makes any sense.
Okay, here's my latest workflow that seems to work well for me:
1. shoot RAW and make whatever corrections you want in ACR or whatever to get the best contrast possible;
2. import into PS then run USM twice (yeah, I know this will raise some hackles, but this is my workflow, so I'm sticking with it until something better comes along)
3. using levels (or curves) boost contrast as much as you can, perhaps set the clipping points
4. flatten everything to this point
5. switch to Channels and select/copy to a new layer the channel that gives you the best contrast
6. adjust opacity and flow for that channel layer, but don't flatten
7. copy and convert background layer in Silver Efex
8. mask and blend the channel layer (#6) and the Efex layer for best contrast
8. flatten and run Smart Sharpen
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Here's an example, original and then conversion. Good luck,
Brian

Thanks for the advice. I will try it.
Frank

01-17-2010, 12:56 PM   #5
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I like this technique, many thanks for sharing
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01-18-2010, 10:32 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by mtroute Quote
I really miss B&W photography. ...
So since I am not in a position to set up my own darkroom (my wife would kill me) for both space and money reasons ...
You don't have to settle for imitation, color converted gray scale with light capturing range that is much less than real BW. And you don't need a "darkroom" to develop BW film if you scan. Most likely, you can do it easy with the facilities you already have.

Do you have a bathroom without a window? If you do, just shove a towel under the door and hang a dark cloth over it with thumbtacks. Load the film in the tank and you're good-to-go. It's all daylight after that.

In the bathroom, utility room or kitchen you can develop the film. You don't need much equipment to do that.

Last edited by tuco; 01-19-2010 at 06:31 AM.
01-18-2010, 07:41 PM   #7
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This is using Gorman-Holbert Conversion Method.

01-18-2010, 08:50 PM   #8
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My opinion is that fake grain looks unattractive. The image without it is much more appealing.

It just feels different than a frame of Tri-X.

I totally agree, though: shoot film, and scan it. Film is cheap (you can get Tri-X rebranded as Arista Premium from Freestyle for about $2 a roll). Use Rodinal or some other concentrate developer so you don't have to keep a gallon jug (unless you want to). And get a good scanner, like an Epson.

I am particularly fond of Fuji Acros in Rodinal. Stunningly sharp results on 645.

Warning: eventually you will be buying an enlarger because someone has it on Craigslist for $15.

01-19-2010, 06:30 PM   #9
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by song_hm Quote
I really like these results, thanks for the tip.

QuoteQuote:
My opinion is that fake grain looks unattractive. The image without it is much more appealing.

It just feels different than a frame of Tri-X.
I wish I could replicate the feel of Tri-X with digital...I'll keep trying. You're right about the enlarger though, I saw one last week for $30....
01-20-2010, 06:08 AM   #10
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I experimented a bit with fake grain, too.

In my (very limited) experience it's very hard to get it "right", but somehow it's still essential to replicate that old-time film-b/w feel.
01-20-2010, 06:52 AM   #11
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My experience is that digital BW conversion looks good, but doesn't feel right.

Whether this is purely psychosomatic (and insane...sorry) or there're some real reasons behind it, I don't. Perhaps the psychology is a good enough reason.

There's more to BW than just generic "grain" sliders and a the spectrum response (the spectrum response is important, very important!)

There's the choice of dev, the time, the temp, the film...all these are factors. Very important factors. There's agitation, and whether you're scanning or wet printing.

The trouble with BW conversion plugins is that there's no choice of any of these things. Granted, it would probably take a few hours on a supercomputer to simulate it, but it's like decorating a ready-made cake instead of making your own and decorating it. You have a choice of icing, but not of what the cake tastes like.

The film is barely half the battle.
01-20-2010, 07:43 AM   #12
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A couple of useful books I've found on this topic:
Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop by Vincent Versace
Mastering black and white digital photography by Michael Freeman

The Freeman book is a bit more down to earth and text book like, the Versace is inspirational and very much explains some exacting post processing. These ought to be available via the library, and actually the current version of Freeman's book might be:
The Complete Guide to Black & White Digital Photography

Both books suggest doing the conversion with channel mixer layers - each one with a different extreme mix, then blend and mask to suit. The over arching idea: in the golden age of b&w photography, printing paper was deep, nuanced, and full of poisonous substances. And printing was an art in itself, the interpretation and artistic expression of the negative.

Being a former printer, you knew that already
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