Saturday Evening Post:#60 A touch of Black and White

Facing a blank sheet

is an artist’s terror
Deng Ming-Dao

It is a most interesting thought for those who try to find a medium of expression.

It’s not just an urge to create something, but to express something.
But what, and for each of us that answer is different.

One of the joys, rather than terrors of our art is finding that vision and then pursuing ways to bring to life for the enjoyment or the edification of others.

On his web, “The Online Photographer”, author Mike Johnson has been examining and critiquing where Black and White digital photography has been heading, and what are some of the challenges.

I had the good fortune, to work, at least for a short while,  with one of the great black and white printers of the 1970s. A critical time in the world of black and white imaging as the new kid on the block was the expanding colour print market.

Wedding albums were still hand-coloured.  Bridesmaids dresses where pastel shades, people had ‘blue’ eyes, and a good handcolourist was a prized asset to a studio.

As Mike points out in his article the difference between the work then, and a bulk of current digital b&w was a rich deep black, a stunning white, and a superb range of middle tones.
As Mike sees it, the mid tones are now a thing of the past, as we stretch our Tone Curve Sliders left and right to make, St Ansels “Soot and Chalk”. (A term coined by Ansel Adams for washed out results)

The Lab I worked in had the most wonderful Durst A600 4×5 inch enlarger and a range of Nikon and Rodagon Enlarging lenses. Optics that were indeed cutting edge, if there had been an edge to cut.
The philosophy of the lab was simple. The craftsman said, “If its not good enough to hang on my wall, its not good enough for my customer.”.
And a print was examined, and if not up to standard, it was reprinted.  And woe to the printer, if that happened the second time. Kept us on our toes.

Blacks were indeed, Black. Mid-tones sparkled, and whites, did infact hold detail.

Trip forward a number of years, and I no longer make black and white prints.  I look at the results from highend black and white printers (the machinery, not the operator), and in-spite of fantastic inks and amazing rag papers, I usually am confronted with soot and whitewash.
On screen results are no more encouraging.

Yet, truth be told, I still see in Monochrome a lot.

My fav way of getting there these days is via Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro.

I think the last image I shared here was of a Grey Butcherbird, and strangely here is another.
When I found this Butcherbird just recently, I thought, “Oh, how good you will look in monochrome”, and worked to get a respectable backdrop for it, and SExP did the rest.
I chose a film style of an old Ilford favourite Pan F and added a touch of Selenium tone to hold those wondrous mid tones.

13 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post:#60 A touch of Black and White

  1. There is such clarity and crispness with the monochrome captures your butcherbird David. Reading your post, reminded me of my days as a teen with my small camera when all my pics were black & white, and when I was studying medical science we had to develop photos, they are so much more crisper in detail. My daughter is a pro photographer and she will, like yourself, on occasion see an image enhance in monochrome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ashley, I used to shoot studio commercial, a long long time ago. Mostly 4×5 inch film. Its easy to day to say, “Oh, my 46megapixel camera gives so much better results than my old 2meg of 10 years ago, but the quality difference is nothing comparing say 35mm to sheet film. (Mind we didn’t blast of 15 frames a second either)
      Some of the best early bird photography by Eric Hosking was on glass plate (from memory). And with ISO speeds so slow we can’t imagine it today.
      Its hard not to get a touch nostalgic about where we’ve come from, and wonderfully excited about what the future holds for the technology.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A fine result with the Butcherbird, David. Indeed, digital photography has changed the quality of images, especially B&W, just as digital audio has changed my life’s work. Easier to work with and manipulate but never the depth and clarity of analogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David, yep fair comment. I’m not an ‘fine-art’ photographer, just a bloke with a camera. I’d not want to return to the days of chemistry any time soon, pretty much the same way that daguerreotypes were soon replaced by the silver halide process.
      I’m also not ready anytime soon to invest in a digital printer for mono work.

      Just everysooften, I see something that has such fine tones that speak so much more than the splash of colour.
      The great thing about an art is it needs to constantly grow and develop, else all photos would look the same


    1. Hi Rodger, thanks for that. It’s a bit like working in latin scienfific binomial names for birds we either use it or we avoid it.
      Mostly I try to keep to an accurate as possible image of the bird. However sometimes I the ‘this is how I saw it’, wins for me. ::-)


    1. Thank you Eleanor. Glad you liked the result. I guess I try to be a bit more reflective on Sat Evening Posts. Sometimes the frenetic nature of the week leaves me a bit terrorised by the blank sheet. But a good image always seems to get me going.
      I had anticipated this would get some treatment to mono if I found the time, and its always good to see someone else wrestling the same challenges. Mike Johnson was a longdistance, ‘mentor’ via the PhotoTechniques magazine he edited years ago. Still got several copies laying around in a cabinet Gone are the days of sodium sulphite and borax for buffering processing solutions and hello are the days of sliders in programmes like Silver Efex Pro.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. G’day David, I’ve obviously left the reading of this post for a festive season because it deserves a special treatment, like your work with digital b/w conversion.
    This Butcherbird photography shines and sparkles in its Black & White glory indeed.
    I am not confident enough to try any of the available conversion tricks with my photos as I consider this some top shelf skills I don’t have. Back in the old days I had no choice but I feel that the present digital technology obliterated all my abilities in this domain, provided I’ve had any at all. So I just admire your work, thus enhancing my second day of Christmas…


    1. G,day Adam,
      Don’t be too hard on yourself mono really is best at seperating tonal ranges and making shapes and form dominate. I’ve seen lots of your pics and you have a masterly eye for doing that in colour.
      The tricky bit, (if there is any) with products like SilverEfx Pro is playing about getting the right shade of grey to match the intent of the colour. Back in the days of fil(um), we used to use green, yellow, blue, filters to control a shade to either light or dark. Same applies.
      This image is no exception and I ended up with a ‘pretend’ green filter to lighten off greens in the background.

      SFXPro, is not cheep, and comes as part of the Nik bundle from DxO, There are any number of good ways of doing it. If you are Lightroom(ish), then at the top of the of the Dev module is a TREATMENT section or simply tap “V”. Then the HSL sliders work as filters, and its fun to experiment.
      (SFXPro also has film characteristics, but really its only another effect, and nothing like the film I grew up with, and also some clever ‘toning’, which I do like.

      Else its just a matter of playing about.
      Good luck with your images in 2020


      1. Thanks David for your kind/wise words and the encouragement. I actually use DxO but without the Nik collection. Maybe I should give it a thought… or two. All the best!


  4. G’day Adam, I’ve had Nik for just about as long as. Mostly started with Nikon Capture NX, then added Nik first of all as individual addins. (costly way to do it, looking back).
    i got a trial of DxO mid of the year, when I updated the Nik Collection. It is beginning to do a lot of the heavy lfiting photo enhancement for me now. Long learning curve, but when its great its unbeatable.

    I’d be hard pressed to recommend moving to Nik, as its a big outlay for something that is only used a few times. Worth playing with though.
    Good luck


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