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Thread: I'm losing my freakin' mind

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    I'm losing my freakin' mind

    B&W conversion is killing me. I can't consistently get the tonality I love from my digital B&W. Sometimes it seems easy, others it's just immensely frustrating.

    I recently shot a few rolls of BW400CN for a friend's wedding and was reminded of exactly what I'm missing: the easy tonality of B&W film.

    I'm about to trade my R-D1 for an M6 at this point. Talk me off the ledge, please. Or not.

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Forgive my ignorance of your camera, but does it shoot RAW? Are you shooting RAW or jpeg? How are you processing the files? Photoshop? Some other software?

    Film is certainly wonderful, but digital has its advantages too. Don't give up yet!

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    Senior Member simonclivehughes's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Kevin,

    Are you talking about print output or the conversion? You might try Nik's Silver Efex Pro if it's the conversion process that's the issue. You have tremendous possibilities with the software and you can save your settings as presets for consistency. They have a trial you can download.

    Cheers,

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Hi, my camera does shoot RAW and I did try Nik's Silver FX Pro already. It still doesn't look like film, IMO, though it's entirely possible I missed something. Their simulations of particular film stocks were rather a joke, I thought.

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I feel your pain Kevin, film is nice, especially for B&W

    The biggest difference I have found is in the response curves; digital is more linear than film and creates relatively abrupt transitions in both deep shadows and upper middle highlights. Try creating a curve with a longer toe in the lower quarter-tone; a steeper 2nd and 3rd quarter; then about half-way through the third and the full upper quarter, flatten out the curve for a longer highlight shoulder. IOW an "S" curve with a longer top than bottom...

    Even in that, you will not replicate grain very easily as it is differential based on tonal area on film, and then there is the highlight halation that occurs in most B&W films that is tough (not impossible) to replicate in digital. For the halation effect you can make an action that uses the diffuse glow filter with light settings on an automatically generated highlight mask, which renders pleasantly well, but still "different" than film...
    Jack
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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I've really grown to like the Nik Silver Efex pro plugin, but the presets are only starting points (the film types are interesting to look at but I almost never actually use them). Regardless of which method of conversion you use, there's a fair amount of trial and error and adjustment that needs to happen to get what I want. There's no perfect one-click solution that renders B&W the way I remember it from film.

    IMHO, the least successful method is to simply desaturate, regardless of the software used. Prior to my reliance on Silver Efex Pro, I would often add a Black and White adjustment layer in photoshop, play with the sliders a bit, and then add another adjustment layer below that (and above the color layer) using the "Selective color" adjustment. By manipulating the various color sliders, especially the neutral and white sliders in that adjustment type, I could often get some nice results. It wasn't uncommon to also add a curves and/or levels adjustment layer to it as well.

    So it's something of a process. I like to think of it as similar to the time I used to spend in the wet darkroom fine tuning development times and formulas to get the look I wanted from film.

    I'm not sure that my methods reproduce a B&W file that's as good as, better than, or if in fact it's something entirely different. But I'm liking some of them very much and feel they certainly hold up in their own way to anything I was able to get out of 35mm film.

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Like Tim, I think the options available to you in Silver Efex Pro are only starting points. The really nice thing is that you can start with one of those points, or from a simple desaturation and work up whatever preferences you have for contrast, brightness, structure (grain), etc., and save those as your own preferred choice. In other words, with a good subject shot, you can create the same look you now get with film. It may take some time and tweaking and experimenting, but once you have what is essentially the same "chemistry" working, you should be able to apply however you wish to images.

    There are going to be some differences in tonality, but that will be more controlled by what the digital camera is able to deliver. THAT part is both camera controlled and processor controlled. I found that I was getting way better conversions in some RAW converters like RAW Developer and even C1 than from ACR. Those become your starting points for further work with something like Silver Efex Pro, which requires you to work from a color image. I think the tonality control, in this case, comes from RAW conversion that preserves or delivers the most DR and stuff that your camera delivers to your files. Things may look a bit flat in color, at first, but those become very important for extracting the best B/W renderings, I find.

    As far as I know, there is no magic bullet on the digital side to get things quite as easily as you may now get from some specific film choices, but I think if you take some time, experiment with things a bit on good RAW conversions, you should be able to get the look you want, and once you have that, it will be a lot easier going forward.

    LJ

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by kevin View Post
    I recently shot a few rolls of BW400CN for a friend's wedding and was reminded of exactly what I'm missing: the easy tonality of B&W film.
    Why not go ahead, get an M6 and shoot film then?

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    asabet
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I can relate to you Kevin. When I go a while without looking at B&W film photography, I think I'm doing okay processing digital to B&W. Then I see some film prints, and I am reminded what I was going for in the first place.

    The best results I have gotten are with Alien Skin Exposure. However, I still can't emulate the look of B&W film. It's funny that you mention BW400CN, because I keep reading that C41 B&W film is digital-looking in terms of response curves. I've been using Ilford XP2, again for the convenience of C41, and I still see better results than I get with digital.

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Thanks for all the replies so far!

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I often have to convert hundreds of images to B&W, and have tried just about everything.

    Film still looks better without even trying.

    However, the best techcnique to get me close when working with digital is to process the RAW file with as broad a tonal scale as possible and save them out as a 16 bit RGB tiff ... then use the Gradent Map B&W in Photoshop.

    Try it. It may surprise you.

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I tend to find that to get the best B&W rendition, the technique varies by photo - the color and tonal of the subject(s) and background, the inherent contrast, etc., etc.

    For some CS3's B&W adjustment and tweaking with filters (or creating your own such as orange) does it. For others it's the Gorman method or using Gradient Map (a very nice and quick B&W conversion) or Channel mixing.

    I try and get as proficient with each and various tinting layer techniques as possible - working with actions so I can try the different techniques quickly if my first choice just doesn't bring out the best in the photo.

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    Senior Member helenhill's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Well Kevin
    I'm in a similar situation
    I still luv digital for the quick & easy fix and sometimes its Phenomenal But
    when I see & shoot Film I'm transformed...its a Drug

    Right now i'm just shooting film

    & thinking about getting either the GX100 (cheap) or the up & coming DP2
    just to have a small compact in my pocket
    (unfortunately I sold my Grd 1 & 2)

    Cheers -Helen

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    karrphoto
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I haven't tried Nik's software, but I do love.. Alien Skin Exposure 2. Somehow they did figure out how to emulate some good emulsions.. hopefully one day they'll come out with an expansion pack!

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    nei1
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Digital is different.Grain cannot be painted on..Why pay for an m8 if you want film grain,(inexplicable).Digital is beautiful,film is beautiful.______ Digital is different.

    (large number of expletives removed)

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    I often have to convert hundreds of images to B&W, and have tried just about everything.

    Film still looks better without even trying.

    However, the best techcnique to get me close when working with digital is to process the RAW file with as broad a tonal scale as possible and save them out as a 16 bit RGB tiff ... then use the Gradent Map B&W in Photoshop.

    Try it. It may surprise you.
    Works pretty good Marc

    Watch this normal color number one
    Number 2 is the gradient map
    Number 3 is selecting B&W in the adjustments and hitting auto.

    The gradient map seems to give a broader tonal range
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    There are also some very nifty tricks to converting to B&W during raw, and with C1 you can assign this as a dedicated "recipe" thus generating multiple output versions on the fly... (Of course C1 has some nice built-in B&W profiles too!)

    If you want to try a RAW version, my suggested approach works in both LR/ACR and C1: First desaturate the image; then push contrast up to between 50 and 90%, (I start at 70%); now tweak brightness for midtone adjustments; then shadow and highlight sliders to taste for the shadow and highlight response; now back to contrast for final "paper grade" balance. Voilla, a pretty nifty B&W
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Hi Marc, long time no see. It's funny how people working separately will often reach the same conclusion....I've noticed that if I make my digital file look good in color, then a simple click of the gradient map is all it takes to make a nice-looking "standard" B&W image.

    I do feel slightly less crazy after doing a bit more research this weekend. I've been trying to consolidate my workflow and make a decision to shoot either film or digital, but it appears that the best answer might be to shoot both. I have yet to see any photographer on the web who can get digital files to consistently look exactly like B&W film; sometimes I can't tell the difference, but other times, ouch, my eyes!

    I visited Joe Buissink's site over the weekend and marveled over his B&W images. I was ready to plunk down cash to buy his processing actions, but it turns out he's still shooting B&W film here in 2008. Check it out and tell me these aren't the nicest B&W images you've seen in awhile: http://www.joebuissink.com/

    And, FWIW, here is what caused me all this stress to begin with: I agreed to shoot a friends wedding at the last minute this summer and the only gear I had ready to go was a film body. This is a low-res JPEG scan of Kodak BW400CN with minimal PS work:



    Resolution be damned, that's the look I like.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Well just for kicks I processed it again in C1 and selected B&W panchromatic from the styles menu. This also looks real nice
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by kevin View Post

    Resolution be damned, that's the look I like.
    Then you need to add the curve I described earlier to your digital files -- that will blow the highlights similarly and block up the blacks similarly, and add contrast to everything inbetween similarly
    Jack
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    Then you need to add the curve I described earlier to your digital files -- that will blow the highlights similarly and block up the blacks similarly, and add contrast to everything inbetween similarly
    I agree Jack - Kevin, I think the look you showed (incidentally, I like both the photo and the tonality of it, despite the blown highlights and blocked up shadows) is achievable with digital. However, the tonality of Joe Buissink's B&W work which you linked (thanks for that!) is something that I've not seen with digital.

    This is a great thread. I had no idea about the gradient map tool. It is superfast, and I like the results!

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by asabet View Post

    This is a great thread. I had no idea about the gradient map tool. It is superfast, and I like the results!
    It's also very easy to make it an action and then batch process a group of files
    Jack
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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Today I went to a local photo shop and discovered that they will process and scan 35mm film! Largely because of this thread I have decided to take the plunge and have just now loaded a roll of Tmax into my Nikon F3 for the first time in about 20+ years. Holy cow! Wish me luck.

    Tim

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Holy cow! Wish me luck.
    And I bought some "real" (not C41) B&W film and I'm going to try processing and scanning it myself. Ah, the smell of fixer!

    Good luck to both of us.

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    Senior Member helenhill's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by TRSmith View Post
    Today I went to a local photo shop and discovered that they will process and scan 35mm film! Largely because of this thread I have decided to take the plunge and have just now loaded a roll of Tmax into my Nikon F3 for the first time in about 20+ years. Holy cow! Wish me luck.

    Tim
    WooooHoooo Tim!!
    Three Cheers......
    Can't wait to view your posts

    Best to You
    -Helen

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Thanks Helen! Maybe if I really fall in love with film, I'll be able to resist the S2 when it comes out and spend my money on more important stuff. Like an old Rollieflex, or (gasp) a film M!

  27. #27
    asabet
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    It's also very easy to make it an action and then batch process a group of files
    Here's a 2 second gradient map conversion of a recent Canon G10 photo:



    I like this method!

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    One more "trick" with the gradient map --- add a hue/sat adjustment layer between the gradient map layer and the image and adjust saturation to tune the final effect
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    asabet
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Thanks Jack, I'll give it a try!

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    Super Duper
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Nice catch Jack.

    Just a note: The Gradent map is already an Action under "Default Actions."

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Gradient Map does a nice job with great flexibility. I pick B&W (third from top left) from the gradient options, usually start with the smoothness at 33% and then clicking on the bottom RHS pointer to set it at 50%, play with the color slider on either side of 50% to get the initial mid point I'm looking for. The ability, as Jack states, to add a slight silver or platinum tone layer is also very nice.

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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    If you want to try a RAW version, my suggested approach works in both LR/ACR and C1: First desaturate the image; then push contrast up to between 50 and 90%, (I start at 70%); now tweak brightness for midtone adjustments; then shadow and highlight sliders to taste for the shadow and highlight response; now back to contrast for final "paper grade" balance. Voilla, a pretty nifty B&W
    The above is what I do for newsprint. In C1 after the tonal adjustments I go play with the color tool to tweak tonal balance. Most of the time a straight desaturation will look like it was shot with a red filter, sliding the center point on the color circle towards cyan fixes this. Also, when processing raws for B&W I use a fixed 5500K and ignore AWB values. I find this produces a better starting point for what the image 'really looks like' (so to speak). This also makes it easy to work with an entire folder in B&W.

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    Registred Users MoJo's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Hi:

    This thread is fascinating to me, as i am always fiddling around with my conversions methods...... this was done with the Gorman action, then a Photokit Platinum toning applied. I think it was a tricky photo to print, as there wasn't a whole lot of mid-tones. I would like to know what you folks think, please!

    thanks,

    Josef
    My photoblog: http://josefskye.tumblr.com
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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by MoJo View Post
    Hi:

    This thread is fascinating to me, as i am always fiddling around with my conversions methods...... this was done with the Gorman action, then a Photokit Platinum toning applied. I think it was a tricky photo to print, as there wasn't a whole lot of mid-tones. I would like to know what you folks think, please!

    thanks,

    Josef
    Hi Josef:

    In general I like the image, it has great tone and good contrast, but I think the highlights look a bit too blown and the upper quarter-tone shadows are too "open" -- at least from a film replication standpoint. Maybe if you could reduce the overall brightness by about 1/2 stop it would cure both issues?


    My .02 only,
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Registred Users MoJo's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    thanks so much Jack for your comment. It seems that my prints come out bit denser on the papers i print on, ilford gold fiber silk, and the harmon gloss fb al, so when i wind up turning these files into web jpegs, they seem a bit more open and light. Maybe i need to devise a curve to apply for web reproduction?
    My photoblog: http://josefskye.tumblr.com
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    Registred Users MoJo's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Ok, I tried to match my actual print....(it is a digital file, btw, canon 5d).

    Is this better?
    My photoblog: http://josefskye.tumblr.com
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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by MoJo View Post
    thanks so much Jack for your comment. It seems that my prints come out bit denser on the papers i print on, ilford gold fiber silk, and the harmon gloss fb al, so when i wind up turning these files into web jpegs, they seem a bit more open and light. Maybe i need to devise a curve to apply for web reproduction?
    Well for sure both papers have a larger gamut than sRGB for web so maybe... However I print my B&W's on Harman using my color profile and so get pretty much WYSIWYG output and jpeg conversions...
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Super Duper
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I've been using the Gradient Map method for years since Marc told me about it some time back in 2005. I add a little extra, a Local Contrast Enhancement (USM 20/50/0 at 60% opacity) and the results are really nice for wedding work.

    For my landscape stuff I usually use the Gradient map with a B&W Filter layer on top and adjust opacity/mask to taste while playing with the B&W filter settings.

    I don't have a B&W film background particularly (I used to manage a colour lab but that's a whole different story, I know exactly what NPS/H should look like!) so when I'm processing I just go for the emotion I'm trying to convey and screw matching it to film.

    The shoulder is somthing I still miss though as a wedding photographer, with the new Local Adjustment Brushes in ACR/LR, you can pretty much replicate it, at least unless you try and analyze the effect. What I mean is that you can have the face perfectly exposed and still hold back the dress smoothly in a kind of 'shoulder curve' type way without having to mess around in PS with layers and other time wasting stuff!
    I am not a painter, nor an artist. Therefore I can see straight, and that may be my undoing. - Alfred Stieglitz

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I'm not sure I can articulate my first reaction to this discussion, I may be over my head but I'll give it a try. I know that it's important to have a grasp of the technical aspects of things like response curves, dynamic ranges, etc. But one of the most important factors contributing to the success of a capture (to me anyway) is a real sense for the light. That little tingle of recognition that comes when looking at a print in which the subtlety of the afternoon sun (for example) contributes something to an image that is just as important as the subject itself.

    I often find myself being trapped by the exercise of trying to make every value in an image fall perfectly into place only to lose the subtlety of the light that may have attracted me to the scene in the first place. Maybe only the person taking the photo who was actually there at the time of the shot is in a position to judge if the light feels true.

    For instance, in Mojo's example, I can't tell if it's morning or evening, Fall, Summer, hot or cold. Which makes it hard to comment on what needs to change or how to change it. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that perfect fidelity in terms of dynamic range can take away from certain images as much as it adds. Some interpretation and rule bending can enhance the impact of a photo.

    In the example, the strong light raking across the ground between the truck and the fat lady looks weak and my mind wants it to be stronger. There are ways to make that happen, but they would likely move things into "improper" ranges. But doing so might actually enhance the quirky juxtaposition of the dog and the fat lady poster.

    [whew, that was hard.... thanks for your patience]

  40. #40
    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by TRSmith View Post

    I often find myself being trapped by the exercise of trying to make every value in an image fall perfectly into place only to lose the subtlety of the light that may have attracted me to the scene in the first place. Maybe only the person taking the photo who was actually there at the time of the shot is in a position to judge if the light feels true.
    Excellent point, and something we discuss on our workshops during editing: a "perfect" histogram does not mean you have a perfect image

    However re film, what I'm referring to is the way the film responds to quantity of light, specifically in the upper and lower quarter-tones (shoulder and toe). It is not linear as compared to digital, and hence with film, the mid quarters usually also steeper (show higher contrast) than digital. Hence when shooting film, we need to make a more conscious effort to capture the important light at the proper point in the middle two quarters, or "zone" if you prefer. We can do that in digital too, and should, but at the same time, the toe and shoulder need to be appropriately dealt with to benefit the image, and that's where good post-processing technique comes in. (An added difficulty in B&W film is the response curve doesn't hold co-curvilinear for the different color channels -- it varies with color and exposure -- making emulating B&W emulsions from digital captures doubly difficult.)


    Cheers,
    Jack
    home: www.getdpi.com

    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    I grok some of what you're saying Jack. Alas, I am not blessed with a natural grasp of the finer technical/scientific aspects of film sensitivity and have to be content with a slow accumulation of information that eventually leads to a deeper understanding.

    But I have enjoyed experimenting with the aspect of Silver Efex Pro that allows for the addition of colored filters which try to emulate the effect on black and white film of actual glass filters on the lens of a camera. It is interesting to see how the various colors mask or enhance certain wavelengths in order to more closely match film's color sensitivity. It's not that different from my attempts at using the Selective Color adjustment layer in combination with others to make a B&W conversion.

    I have to wonder though at what point the digital rendition of B&W will stand on it's own and be judged separately from a film capture of the same scene.

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    Registred Users MoJo's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    TR Smith: what a thoughtful post! It makes me reflect on the fact that i am working on doing thing in a series, with a "look" to them that carries across, rather than 1 "fine art" shot at a time. E.G, this may be part of a series I am working on of New Mexico stores and ephemera, many of which are on my website. But I am having trouble with this one, which is why I put it up here for input. It was late afternoon, early Fall. so at the great risk of beating a dead horse, i am putting a revised version up, taking Mr. Smith's input, and I just may like it better, in some ways. What think? This is more of an intrepetation, rather than trying for an accurate depiction of the light.....
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Quote Originally Posted by MoJo View Post
    TR Smith: what a thoughtful post! It makes me reflect on the fact that i am working on doing thing in a series, with a "look" to them that carries across, rather than 1 "fine art" shot at a time.
    You mean like using a specific film for a specific series. Wish it was more used in the digital realm, working on a specific look to convey a certain emotional response throughout a series.
    I am not a painter, nor an artist. Therefore I can see straight, and that may be my undoing. - Alfred Stieglitz

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    Registred Users MoJo's Avatar
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    Re: I'm losing my freakin' mind

    Ben, that is correct. Since I don't shoot film anymore except in using Toy cameras, I am trying to develop some portfolios that hang together. Again, I am finding it difficult when a particular project has been a mix of film (from the past) and digital...
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