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Contrast control with Black & White

Pete Plus
17 18.8k 97 England
19 Mar 2013 10:05AM
With the announcement of new leader to this group I had a quick look in and notice there's a wide range of styles in processing of black and white in here, and I thought a good idea for a thread would be to discuss your processing style.
Many will remember black & white from the film days. For those who don't here's a little bit of history.

When you print a photo using an enlarger you have a choice of grade of paper. This isn't a measure of quality of paper or thickness - it is the tonal range (contrast). By using a different grade you can control how the tones in your photos display (tones being from black to white and all the shades of grey in between). Grades range from 0 to 5 (0 is known as flat or low contrast, 5 is hard or high contrast). There are fixed grade papers and variable grade papers that you can change contrast using filters. You can also rescue a poor print by choosing a suitable grade. Those who have flat negatives lacking in deep tones can use a hard grade to increase contrast, and those with hard contrast negatives (used to be referred to as soot and whitewash) can reduce contrast using a low contrast paper. A well exposed and processed negative with a full tonal range had the choice of going either way depending on preference. Different developers could enhance the results too.

So with that in mind. How do you process your digital photos? Do you go for high contrast, low contrast or does it depend on the photo? Do you ignore those ways and just tweak until it looks right? Do you try to emulate specific papers tonal ranges that you did when printing? Do you still print from negatives in a darkroom.
There's lots to discuss about processing styles Smile

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stevie Plus
14 1.2k 2 United Kingdom
19 Mar 2013 10:51AM
I've used many different digital methods over the years, for a long time I used the levels in Photoshop, more recently I've used the black and white conversion facility in Lightroom. However, the past couple of weeks I've been trying out Topaz Labs black and white converter (converting some African animal shots, mostly)since their rep at Focus somehow convinced me to part with cash on the spot. It's really simple to use (I'm sure some will not like it as being too simple!) but I personally have found it very effective indeed.

The 'look' I like for black and white (for most subjects, not all, of course) is a full tonal range, deep blacks to full whites, with a high-ish contrast to give the image punch. I also like just a hint of warmth in the tone (Kodak 'Bromesko' rather than 'Bromide' for those that remember that far back)
Carabosse 15 41.1k 270 England
19 Mar 2013 11:17AM

Quote:How do you process your digital photos?

For B/W, I click the appropriate button in the CS6 panel and fiddle with the sliders! Wink

For colours which come out a similar tone in B/W, I try to differentiate by use of these sliders. Also use levels, curves - and , if necessary, the brightness/contrast and shadows/highlights controls.

Sounds laborious, but it isn't... it's quite an intuitive process and very quick.
Hop-A-Long 11 52 1 England
19 Mar 2013 2:36PM
Interesting subject.
I personally use split grading alot when processing digitally as I still do when in the darkroom, of course PS makes it easier. I keep my background layer as the flat layer, then using a mix of levels and curves I process another layer to gain what could be classed as a grade 4-5 image. Using the layers opacity I slowly reveal the flat background layer until I find what I feel is the perfect mix.
I then use dodging and burning on any points that require a tweak.
I like all my images to have a good depth of contrast.
19 Mar 2013 2:53PM
As Hop-A- Long writes ' Interesting subject' I also think so, but for me I am still out of my depth with all the studies of how to get it right, but thank you all for your
attempts at giving your methods. One day maybe my ship will come if I do not drowned first. Eric.
ajed Plus
12 60 England
2 Feb 2014 11:06AM
I just desaturate and then make Feathered selections with the Lasso tool and use Curves, use the Clone tool onto itself with various modes to lighten, darken and add contrast into specific areas, use the Eraser in amongst layers, and sometimes the Dodge and Burn tools. I tone with the Colour Balance tool and finely tweak that with the Hue and Saturation tool.

I am unwilling to use the tools that claim to 'do it for you' I always find that they never do it how I want it and I have to use the above to correct what I see as their sledgehammer approach.

Nick_w Plus
11 4.3k 99 England
2 Feb 2014 12:59PM
My mono processing has evolved over time. Now I tend to know how I want it to look before I start processing - I often sit on an image for ages until I know how I want to treat it.

Therefore I use numerous ways of getting the image I want, from different channel mixes (layered with masks), levels/curves, different blend modes to alter contrast, gradiant maps etc etc.

As above I always keep the base colour image as the background layer. I can then always use a copy to try something. I've had a number of comments that people recognise my images from thumbs, however no 2 images have the same treatment.
Sooty_1 8 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2014 7:35PM
I'm with Nick W. I know what I want the image to look like before I start the process, as I usually know at the taking stage what I want to achieve. I now use LR mostly, as the latest iteration is very good, but I still sometimes export into PS to use layers and masks. (The good thing is that LR only exports a copy). Sometimes I use Silver Efex 2, and it is also very good for certain things.

I think just like the old days, there is no one single best process, you just find the most appropriate chemistry/paper or digital process/paper for your needs. If you only process one way, you will be limited like only ever using one grade of paper.

Having grown up with b&w film, I tend to use colour (channel mixing) to adjust tonality like using filters, and dodge/burn tools like I do in the darkroom for local adjustments, but I have been known to use other techniques too.

MrDennis 9 261 Wales
9 May 2015 6:47PM
I use any one of these---B&W Styler---Silver Efex Pro---Perfect Photo Suite B&W---But now my favorite has become Dx0 Labs-Dx0 Film Pack..I also use the Extras within the programs to tweak and get what I want. I will finish with a B&W, then same changed to Sepia tones, or PseudoLith or a Bromoil looking image.

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