A Word or Two on Black and White
I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there on digital black and white conversions while it was on my mind. Nothing comprehensive just a couple of things to note. I have started shooting a lot in the last two weeks. So much so that I really haven’t had the time to seriously go through all the images yet. Not a bad thing since I like to sit on them for a while anyway. My editing - as in culling is a lot more effective and objective if I do.
On to the black and white part. On one of the sessions that I shot I targeted quite a few of the setups for black and white output. I tend to think a little different when shooting black and white. To tell the truth one of the reasons I still like shooting film is that when I load up black and white film there is no recourse - that’s it - I have no color information. When shooting digital there is always that little nagging feeling that I need to be shooting for color as well. That tends to compromise and muddle my thought process a bit. Sort of this little voice telling me “make sure it will work in color to - just in case you change your mind down the road” Yet another example of how more options is not always a good thing.
Even when I shoot digital I am really glad that I grew up as a photographer shooting actual black and white film. It informs a lot of my decisions when doing a digital black and white conversion. The topic for today is clarity. If you haven’t noticed the clarity slider in Aperture and Lightroom and just about any RAW conversion software goes both ways. Too bad a lot of people only move it in one direction - namely to the right. Hey man more local contrast is always better right?
I am of the school of thought that it’s not. In fact one of the reasons that I have shot far far more Tri-X and Plus-X film than I have APX 25 or PanF or Techpan or Panatomic-X or other really fine grained film has nothing to do with grain or practical film speed or anything technical. I shot those two films specifically and chose my developer because they made my main subjects look great - which happens to be people. Yea even back in the film days there were Techpan heads, APX 25 freaks, etc. Where everything must must have tons of micro contrast - great if it works for what you want but it’s not the end all be all. This above all is visual art and should look like you want it to look.
The reason I liked TRI-X and PLUS-X so so much in both 35mm as well as 120 is because of the lack of actual resolution combined with high sharpness of broad detail. In today’s world this is pretty easy to emulate and may be the missing link in making some of your black and white conversions look the way you want them to. I won’t give you a specific recipe - it varies by taste, camera, glass you are using, and lighting conditions but as an example the shot at the top was a quick and dirty conversion with minus 20 clarity along with a bit of grain. To my eye this is really how TRI-X in 120 should look in terms of local contrast and micro detail - not too much. In other words not super high resolution at high line frequencies but great sharpness at lower line frequencies.
Here’s another one with the same lower clarity and quick and dirty conversion. It’s the same one I used for a post on hard light that I originally posted with some funky VSCO presets. This one actually has even more negative clarity. That setup was one that I was shooting for black and white in the first place…
Play around with a bit of negative clarity and you might be surprised that you actually like lower resolution looking images - doesn’t have to be just people - a lot of subject matter can benefit from a lower resolution look. Not blurry just not so much emphasis on the fine detail.
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