How to get good black & white from digital?

Discussion in 'Australia Photography' started by mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007.

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    Oh, you were expecting *me* to supply some tips..? No, I'm a no-talent
    loser in this area!

    I was hoping to hear from those who have tried, successfully or
    otherwise, to get high quality black and white results from a digital
    workflow. I think it's a given that the printer is a big issue, and
    that you need a lot of resolution (eg 200 ppi is probably not going to
    suffice!). But I would like to concentrate on the *capture stage* -
    what is it that makes a superb b&w image?

    A great b&w has a 'look' to it that is often referred to, but rarely
    is an attempt made to explain *what gives it that quality* - is it the
    tone curve, the dynamic range, the nature of the media, ... I'm a bit
    sick of hearing "you just can't do quality b&w with digital" - while I
    agree that seems to be mostly true, I want to know *exactly why*...!!!

    Seems to me that if the issues can be defined, then maybe there are
    some workarounds and techniques that will help to let us digital-geeks
    begin to explore the final frontier... If the issues *can't* be
    defined, then that also tells me something.. (O;

    If I've missed a good site on this topic, *please* enlighten me!!

    PS - The answer "use film" - while technically correct - is not quite
    the answer I seek...
    PPS - Any attempts to answer this thread concentrating specifically on
    the issues while avoiding personality clashes, will be greatly
    appreciated. (O:
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007
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  2. mark.thomas.7

    Annika1980 Guest

    I don't agree with this at all.
    It is very possible to get quality B&W from a digital capture.
    So the question becomes, "Why can't you?"
    Annika1980, Oct 14, 2007
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  3. Mark

    Black and white looks "snapier" (nothing to do with photo snaps) becuase the
    toneal contrast can be adjusted in grays that are difficult to adjust with a
    colour shot without distorting the colour.

    Better digital black and white prints can be made from a colour digital
    image than can be made in the wet darkroom from black and white film. To
    learn converting colour digital to black and white there are many books
    available which contain a wide range of information (too much to give a
    quick reply in a network news reply) - I suggest you do a search on Amazon
    for black and white photography.

    A poor printer will give poor colour as well as black and white prints

    Malcolm Smith, Oct 14, 2007

  4. I used black and white 35mm film for years. Now I use digital b&w and
    I find it so much more convenient. For one, I don't have to keep
    changing filters on the lens, which incidently takes away the quality
    of the glass you spent so much on. But the main point is I love the
    results with digital. They are very sharp with as much contrast and
    tonal range as you want. I've pretty much had it with most labs. They
    have screwed up my film more than I care to think about. There is an
    excellent one here in Toronto that specializes in b&w, but it can get
    expensive. I have done extensive comparisons with 35mm b&w film and
    digital and I believe that you can get the same great contrast with
    beautiful tonal range with either. It depends a lot on the quality of
    your printer as well. Of course the best black and white is large
    helensilverburg, Oct 14, 2007
  5. Fair question. And I'll probably never be a good b&w imager - I just
    don't readily see scenes in b&w... I tend to experiment with images I
    have already taken, and (more by accident than design), 'discover'
    those that look good (or at least better than they did in colour...)
    in b&w.

    But I don't often see striking b&w images that have been *captured* in
    digital, and often my results have the boring 'look' that I got with a
    recent SI submission:
    or, say, from this portrait:
    neither of which is quite what I wanted - plus with the first one I
    ran into posterisation problems (granted, it was not shot raw..).

    And I often hear comments about the difficulty in getting the quality
    achieved from a good b&w film and them legendary platinum prints...
    here are a few examples of the 'look' I mean - of course you could
    (accurately) say these images are more about the image content and how
    they were lit. But any tips on how to approach this sort of tonality
    (for want of a better word) would be appreciated.

    Anwyay, I'm sure I've heard you say that b&w is mostly a waste of
    time! Are you turning? (O:
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007
  6. mark.thomas.7

    D_Mac Guest

    He can't Bret, because he piles rubbish, scorn and insults on those
    most able to help then expects he'll just blather in and ask for help!
    It's a bit like the dog who bites his master and still expects to be
    fed. I second your opinion (for once). I've been doing it for years as
    no doubt, you have too.

    D_Mac, Oct 14, 2007
  7. I'll ignore the insults and simply ask him to show some of these
    successful images he has created, in the spirit of educating the
    lesser mortals such as myself.

    I've posted a couple of bad ones of mine - so why not, Doug?
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007
  8. That's encouraging to hear, Helen - thanks! I guess it boils down to
    two areas - one is of visualising what will work in b&w, and then how
    to achieve the perfect spread of grey tones, along with nailing the
    black and white points.

    I tend to avoid complex curves (I prefer just tweaking the sliders in
    Levels) when adjusting my images - maybe I need to spend more time on
    that area. If your capture seems flat or uninteresting, what approach
    do you use to get the tonality right?

    cheers, mt
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007
  9. Just to add a bit of a partially relevant story to this post.. here's
    a b&w image I took that I'm a little happier with:

    This rather ugly looking tree trunk has quite a history - a famous
    image was taken of it back in the 1930's by Harold Cazneaux, who
    called the image "Spirit of Endurance" - see here:
    and click on the first image to see it (it hasn't survived the years
    very well..).

    I tried to emulate that image with my shot, as a bit of a tribute to
    Harold and to show the effect of the passing years on this beautiful
    tree - my shot was taken a few years ago (yes, digital..!).

    This tree forms a majestic marker to the Wilpena Pound/Flinders Ranges
    in South Australia, and in the early 70's it still looked like this: *

    Since then the tree has lost some of its beauty (having lost a lot of
    the crown and with the lower trunk covered in regrowth as shown in my
    b&w shot) but it is still an awesome sight.

    * - I have a b&w version of this image somewhere, too, if anyone is
    interested, but the original was shot on colour film (K64).
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007
  10. I'm not exactly sure why he thought we needed a new thread..

    For the sake of completeness, Doug has posted an example of his b&w
    work here:

    He has obviously used a 100% red channel mix. Imo (which isn't worth
    much), the image could use a bit less red channel with green added, to
    avoid the ghostly IR appearance of the woman, and a little blue so the
    car isn't quite so blackened. Take a look at the various channels -
    which looks more natural? What would others have done?

    (and I know this isn't about composition, but the cut off arm and the
    burnt foreground areas (surely not flash!) are pretty distracting..)

    Thanks, Doug. (O;
    mark.thomas.7, Oct 14, 2007

  11. I don't have Photoshop. All I have is Microsoft Picture Manager. If
    I need to "tweak" the contrast or even adjust the tonality I can do it
    there. I have nothing against people using Photoshop. It's no
    different than when someone does burning, dodging, etc. in a
    For digital, when I set the camera in b&w I always make sure I've set
    the yellow filter on as well.
    helensilverburg, Oct 14, 2007

  12. That's an excellent black and white shot Mark! Well done!

    Thanks for sharing the history of that tree. It's very interesting.
    helensilverburg, Oct 14, 2007
  13. mark.thomas.7

    Summer Wind Guest

    This article might be helpful.


    Summer Wind, Oct 14, 2007
  14. mark.thomas.7

    hickster11 Guest

    no neg, no silver, no paper, no chemicals, you're prolly not going to get
    any kind of quality print. Machine prints on plastic paper are the norm, so
    people accept that. Bob Hickey
    hickster11, Oct 14, 2007
  15. mark.thomas.7

    AAvK Guest

    By Michael Freeman: " Mastering Digital Black and White Photography "
    ISBN-13: 978-1-57990-707-5
    ISBN-10: 1-57990-707-5

    ....which I am currently reading. Mostly related to Photoshop and it's most basic legacy tools,
    the_later_the_version_the_better of course but this book contains method_after_method_after_
    method for genuine conversion to beautiful mono. There's all kindza ways to do it in this book.
    Some methods may be used in the GIMP too, no doubt.

    No film camera required!

    But: scanned medium or large format film is still the best way to attain a HI_REZ digital image.
    Somtimes you get a neighbor that bought a Nikon D200 and matching lenses... get a 6x7, lenses,
    and the bigger Nikon (9000?) scanner, and shoot color negative films in order to get awesome
    results with the methods in the book. It's always color to begin with. You can also use an older
    Umax or Epson or Microtek flatbed with a light lid or film drawer for film, I use a Umax
    Powerlook III and it's TMA lid, and it's FAR cheaper than a 9000.

    Printing is yes, quite another issue, but you can dedicate an Epson printer such as a 1280 silver to
    B&W inks by Lyson. If you do, use the ink maker's papers and use their color spaces (color profiles)
    for both their papers and inks.
    AAvK, Oct 14, 2007
  16. mark.thomas.7

    Annika1980 Guest

    I don't swing that way.

    Anyway, the images you linked to looked to be more
    about excellent lighting than anything having to do with
    B&W vs. color. And that's what B&W is all about ...
    light and shadows.
    Annika1980, Oct 14, 2007
  17. mark.thomas.7

    Annika1980 Guest

    I see nothing really wrong with that conversion. However, I don't
    think that was the best image to choose as an example. In the
    original, the color was actually the subject. All that is lost in the
    B&W version.

    I've heard many B&W shooters say they prefer it because the color
    distracts from the image. In Doug's example, I think the color makes
    the image.
    Annika1980, Oct 14, 2007
  18. mark.thomas.7

    AAvK Guest

    Helen Helen HELEN! Download the GIMP! it is a free
    image editor of good repute. News group:
    AAvK, Oct 14, 2007
  19. Thank you for that link.
    helensilverburg, Oct 14, 2007

  20. What I remember Bret saying is that b&w in not good in many cases.
    And I agree. For his type of photography, such a wildlife, macro
    shots of insects and flowers, and panos of those gorgeous places in
    the area that he lives, are definitely best done in color. (I do love
    those IR panos though). I use b&w to mainly tell a story, such as in
    portraits of people or a street scene.....I guess it's best described
    as photojournalism.
    helensilverburg, Oct 14, 2007
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