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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 09-02-2012   #76
venchka
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Cool

Quote:
Originally Posted by maggieo View Post
To be fair, that was several generations ago. That's like saying you tired wet plate colloidal photography and that new film stuff can't possibly be better.
That is true.

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Old 09-02-2012   #77
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Things are constantly evolving, so it's difficult to honestly make a blanket assessment of the state of digital imaging and printing.
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Old 09-02-2012   #78
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astro8 View Post
Is it just me or does it seem that all these film simulation softwares want to apply too much contrast, crush the blacks and apply too much grain?
No, it's not just you, as I find the same to be true as well.

Quote:
I find the best way is to start from scratch and 'develop' each image on it's own rather than any preset.
I agree, although (apparently) unlike most people, I'm quite happy to "roll my own" B&W conversions using the Channel Mixer tool in ACR / PS. In fact, I have yet to find any software that even comes close to the B&W conversions I do myself.
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Old 09-02-2012   #79
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maggieo View Post
To be fair, that was several generations ago. That's like saying you tired wet plate colloidal photography and that new film stuff can't possibly be better.
I like colloidal wet prints, don't you?

And I still haven't warmed to many B&W conversions, especially mine. I still go though the motions at times and don't find I'm rewarded. I admit to being a little through back, but if you don't like it, don't waste any more time. At least, until you see something that says: wow.
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Old 09-02-2012   #80
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Yes, but it is often very subtle indeed and barely detectible (or not at all) on a monitor, when scanned. A lot of the colourised results seen in the digital era contain much stronger hues.

A print off Ilford MGWT in PQ or MG developer is about as strongly off neutral as I go for most of my work. Adox MCC is darned close to neutral. Much documentary work just does not look good with an obvious hue, although some project can, so you end up having to make a cracking print that is neutral. Agfa Record is/was one of the warmer papers ever made, like polywarmtone or some of the Foma papers, and certainly not typical.

IMHO the problem is often that photographers have no idea how good a neutral B&W print can look and they lack the skills to do so. When you see such prints, toning is seen in a different light and becomes far less important for many subjects. For me, that revelation was going to see a Salgado exhibition printed by Phillippe Bachelier. I had a similar response when I saw quite a bit of work printed by Robin Bell, in London. I endeavoured to reach a similar standard, but I'm still some way short (of course).

The problem is how simple the problem is! Its 'just' in the relationships between the tones LOL, but its in this area that the nightmare begins, but hopefully, the magic emerges. Toning (for colour) just is not necessary to make astonishingly sumptuous prints, if you are a great printer. The reality, however, is that most get nowhere near close and so rely on colour toning to make up for deficiencies elsewhere. Toning for subtle colour can still benefit a print, but unless that print is already amazing, it is still likely going to look decidedly inferior to an untoned one produced by a master.

I could be wrong, but see no reason why the digital process would be any different, although technology is perhaps such that achieving the same sumptuous tonality is more difficult.

The last 40" print I made on an inkjet (drum scanned B&W film) was as close to neutral as my eye could detect. It did not need colour; that just did not remotely come into it. Everything was made easier by inherently having the original film grain, but the curve had to be created from scratch due to the very flat scan (to preserve everything) and the nuances of the output vs what was on my screen.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Photo_Smith View Post
Yet in days gone by all traditional prints had a colour. This was because the emulsions were bromide (cool) or chloride (warm) or a mixture to make more neutral.
The greyscale image is not found in traditional wet prints.
That's why adding a little colour makes it look natural, it not 'hipstermatic' or whatever that means, just basic colour science–the eye likes it and it's what's missing from digital, it's why most digi mono images look flat and sterile
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Old 09-02-2012   #81
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I've tried a whole bunch of apps, too.

I always wind up back with PS. I now also use Silver Efex and color efex and ocassionally OnOne Perfect suite.

But the first and most important step is to process as much as possible in Adobe Raw Converter and only then convert to BW.

I also have LR but just can't understand why I should use it more - I guess I'm just too used to PS and I don't use LR for catalog/archive at all (use Photo Mechanic and Media Pro for that).

Silver Efex is just the greatest as far as I'm concerned.
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Old 09-03-2012   #82
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We should also not forget that b&w film does not come out of the camera ready to look like a Salgado print. It requires a lot of skill from exposure to development and to printing. I see some film scans online that are terrible and far worse than digital because most of them were badly exposed and developed.

And then even if you drum scan a perfectly exposed negative, you end up compressing it to 1% of its original size if you wish to upload it online...

In the end of the day there is no quick fix for a bad photo. A good photo will make its impact through the medium and not use the medium as a cheap cover... A dish cannot taste good with presentation only.
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Old 09-03-2012   #83
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Turtle View Post
Yes, but it is often very subtle indeed and barely detectible (or not at all) on a monitor, when scanned. A lot of the colourised results seen in the digital era contain much stronger hues.

A print off Ilford MGWT in PQ or MG developer is about as strongly off neutral as I go for most of my work. Adox MCC is darned close to neutral. Much documentary work just does not look good with an obvious hue, although some project can, so you end up having to make a cracking print that is neutral.
I have printed quite a few exhibition prints, some on the papers you mention, Adox MCC and the Agfa emulsion it was based on. Both are warm-neutral black papers, not really neutral despite their brightened white paper bases, possibly in cooler than standard developers they may approach that but never greyscale.
A closer Neutral paper would have been Brovira in Neutol NE but even that couldn't be considered neutral in the same way a digital greyscale is.

If you doubt what I say just pop a mid tone of a 'neutral' print under a densitometer, all the values will not be equal you'd be surprised.

Lighting in an exhibition, will play a large part too, many printers forget that.
I think that a neutral print would look somewhat disconcerting, in 18 years as a printer I never saw a mono print that was 'greyscale' in the way I see digital images.
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Old 09-03-2012   #84
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I promised at the beginning of this thread to say how I convert digital images to black-and-white. In many cases I DON'T CONVERT AT ALL. I primarily shoot raw. In the majority of cases I would throw away my jpegs when the camera firmware insisted I make jpgs alongside the raw. Then one day I thought why not set the camera to make black-and-white jpegs and use those as a crude preview of what a conversion of RGB color files would look like. What I found out was that, with many cameras, the b&w jpgs were often as good as my conversions.

After a while I learned that setting a camera to make a low-contrast, long tonal scale jpeg gave me a jpeg that, not always, but close to it, could be manipulated quickly and easily in programs like Photoshop and Lightroom to produce a good looking, full scale b&w picture. As to whether I used the in-camera jpeg sharpening or sharpened in the computer depended on the camera. There was always greater flexibility, though, sharpening in the computer.

While I may drop the b&w jpeg into Silver Efex Pro 2 to add a film like border and tweak few values, the real work, “the burning and dodging” has already been done in Lightroom. It’s something I learned in the “wet darkroom.”

I spent a lot of my early time in NY with Gene Smith who was, not only an incredibly good photographer, but an amazing printer. Probably the main emphasis of Gene’s printing was to draw your attention to the important parts of the picture. The main subject in Gene’s prints were often just a touch brighter and more contrasty than the rest of the frame; the surrounding area, just a little darker and lower in contrast - emphasis on “just a touch” and “just a little.” He did this with multiple filter printing on variable contrast enlarging paper and potassium ferricyanide bleach. With digital printing we have local contrast, brightness, clarity and highlight controls that we can use to emphasize or deemphasize areas of the image. Overdone, it turns your pictures into melodramatic, unbelievable crap. Done with taste, it guides the viewer though that complex, uncontrollable mess that often confronts a news, street or documentary shooter. It was so drilled into my head that I can’t do b&w family snaps without going into Gene’s printing mode.
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Old 09-03-2012   #85
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Bill, that pretty much describes how I use Silver Efex Pro 2, but with the Fujifilm X100, it works best with the RAW file and not the .jpegs.
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Old 09-03-2012   #86
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Hi I've recently purchased an M8 and I shoot it in BW mode (Jpeg + Raw). The BW jpegs look pretty good and in my opinion needs just a bit of tweaking whether in LR or in SilverEfex.

Is the general sentiment that the out of camera BW jpegs of the M8 are a fairly good "starting point" for making a BW picture (requiring less tweaking than usual)?
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Old 09-03-2012   #87
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I agree that silver gelatin prints are never perfectly neutral and I agree that papers such as MGWT show a noticeable off neutral hue when scanned etc, but the point I am making is that even when you do make a print that to all intents and purposes is neutral, the print does not lose anything if it is a good print. I've made inkjets from absolutely neutral digital files which blew me away. Sure, the printer might have injected a very subtle hue (if it did, I cannot tell you what it was with the naked eye), but the same is true of digital files shown on various monitors, which are almost never perfectly neutral. Once we add exhibition lighting into the mix, it seems fairly plain that prints 'in the ballpark of being neutral' might as well be considered the same thing and, to me, prints in this realm lose nothing to those with noticeable colour casts if they are well made (unless toning induced colour proves particularly sympathetic to the image).

A case in point was the exhibition of a number of my prints made on different papers. Most were on MGWT and had a slight warmth to the naked eye. A few were on Adox MCC in a different developer, which was closer to neutral. Behind glass and on the wall, the difference was negligible and they hung fine together, but in the portfolio the difference was much more obvious. But up on the wall, the MGWT prints certainly did not look better for having a more obvious cast.

I think the reason why you (and I) think so many digital greyscale files look bad on monitors is that the tonality stinks. Its the same reason why great neutral prints, when scanned and shown on a monitor, sometimes also stink.

Perhaps this is a real issues then? All this time I have been thinking 'print', which is all that matters to me. Neutral prints are just fine to me. however, on the computer screen, B&W greyscale looks poor. Is the issue something t do with the way monitors display the tonal range of a file compared to a print?

The above must have an element of truth to it, because we have to tweak files to print well and the 'tweaked file' often looks pretty shocking on the monitor.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Photo_Smith View Post
..
A closer Neutral paper would have been Brovira in Neutol NE but even that couldn't be considered neutral in the same way a digital greyscale is.

If you doubt what I say just pop a mid tone of a 'neutral' print under a densitometer, all the values will not be equal you'd be surprised.

Lighting in an exhibition, will play a large part too, many printers forget that.
I think that a neutral print would look somewhat disconcerting, in 18 years as a printer I never saw a mono print that was 'greyscale' in the way I see digital images.
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Old 09-03-2012   #88
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Interesting, Bill. My approach is actually similar to yours. I use Picture Window Pro pretty much as I used the wet darkroom years ago--the digital tools you mention each have a roughly corresponding "wet" technique. I have found, though, that RAW files converted to 16-bit TIFF are a bit more flexible in terms of dodging, burning, local contrast, etc, before they start to show the strain. I also like the ability to use custom color channel mixing appropriate to each subject. I have a couple of starting points ("Tri-X-like," yellow-green filter), but will do whatever works.

Some cameras do better JPGs than others. I use mostly a Leica M8, and you really need to shoot RAW to get the best out of it.

Thanks for the reminder about potassium ferricyanide. Used wisely, that orange stuff could really make a print sing. I also did multi-filter printing with Polycontrast paper--or, when I could get it, Gevagam 8.
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Old 09-04-2012   #89
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Interesting approach, Bill. Curiously enough, after finding my own groove in Lightroom for converting colour raws to b&w images I find consistently pleasing, I went back to the camera to fiddle with the image settings so I could get a b&w preview in camera on the back of my screen, that was as close as possible to what I got in Lightroom with my base conversion process.

What surprised me, was that I was able to tweak the image settings in my camera to give me a good b&w image, something I had failed to do before, but with a bit of added determination was able to succeed at this time. Right now, I know I would be happy with the out of camera b&w's my camera would spit out if asked, but mainly use it only to provide a good preview image on the back of my screen when shooting, and use the higher bit depth 14 bit raw files my camera produces instead.
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Ricoh GXR in camera B&W jpg
Old 09-04-2012   #90
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Ricoh GXR in camera B&W jpg

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I promised at the beginning of this thread to say how I convert digital images to black-and-white. In many cases I DON'T CONVERT AT ALL. I primarily shoot raw. In the majority of cases I would throw away my jpegs when the camera firmware insisted I make jpgs alongside the raw. Then one day I thought why not set the camera to make black-and-white jpegs and use those as a crude preview of what a conversion of RGB color files would look like. What I found out was that, with many cameras, the b&w jpgs were often as good as my conversions.

After a while I learned that setting a camera to make a low-contrast, long tonal scale jpeg gave me a jpeg that, not always, but close to it, could be manipulated quickly and easily in programs like Photoshop and Lightroom to produce a good looking, full scale b&w picture. As to whether I used the in-camera jpeg sharpening or sharpened in the computer depended on the camera. There was always greater flexibility, though, sharpening in the computer.

While I may drop the b&w jpeg into Silver Efex Pro 2 to add a film like border and tweak few values, the real work, “the burning and dodging” has already been done in Lightroom. It’s something I learned in the “wet darkroom.”

......
Thanks for your follow up Bill. May I ask a question then when you shoot your Ricoh GXR? What settings are you using for Contrast and Sharpness in the B&W Image Settings when you shoot B&W jpg with DNG Raw?

It would seem by your explanation above that I probably have my contrast set too high at 8 and sharpness also too high at 7.
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Old 09-04-2012   #91
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Shoot RAW+JPG and set the jpg setting to B&W, that way you have the b&w jpg as a reference to edit and work with the raw file.

Or shoot raw and then use Picasa to preview the images in B&W or batch convert to b&w later on with better controls.
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Old 09-04-2012   #92
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Turtle View Post
I think the reason why you (and I) think so many digital greyscale files look bad on monitors is that the tonality stinks. Its the same reason why great neutral prints, when scanned and shown on a monitor, sometimes also stink.

Perhaps this is a real issues then? All this time I have been thinking 'print', which is all that matters to me. Neutral prints are just fine to me. however, on the computer screen, B&W greyscale looks poor. Is the issue something t do with the way monitors display the tonal range of a file compared to a print?

The above must have an element of truth to it, because we have to tweak files to print well and the 'tweaked file' often looks pretty shocking on the monitor.
Makes a lot of sense to me. I do not have a lot of B&W images, including those scanned from film, that look really great on the screen of my Macbook. But when I print them with my Epson R3000 using ABW mode, they seem to always look very good to my eyes.
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Old 09-04-2012   #93
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Cool

Quote:
Originally Posted by fstops View Post
Shoot RAW+JPG and set the jpg setting to B&W, that way you have the b&w jpg as a reference to edit and work with the raw file.

Or shoot raw and then use Picasa to preview the images in B&W or batch convert to b&w later on with better controls.
Or use LR to make a virtual copy of the RAW file and then play with the sliders to your heart's content.

Bill,
Thanks for your method. I plan to do a bit of controlled testing on your basic average landscape scene. Set the monochrome sliders in my Canon 1D Mk III's menu all the way to the left for sharpening and contrast. Work my up through the 1 step increments until I see something I like. Then add the filters and see if they make any improvements. Too bad the menu doesn't allow filter stacking. I am very partial to B+W's yellow-green & yellow-orange filters. Alas, camera manufacturers aren't that clever.

Cheers!

Wayne
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Old 09-05-2012   #94
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Here is the result of my investigation last night.
Canon 1D Mk III. $50 (new) 28-85 lens. f/8.0.
Monochrome JPEG Settings: Sharpness = 0 / Contrast = -4 / No filters.
Click the small image for a 1600 pixel long side version.



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Old 09-12-2012   #95
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Here is another tip that might be helpful for those who want a more smooth digital B&W look.

Once again using my trusty sample image.



And...




Both of these files look identical but if you look closely the second one looks a little more refined. It has a much smoother transition between the tones that one can notice even in this small web sample.

What I have done is to increase the size of the second image in Camera RAW to 25 megapixels from its original 10 megapixel. Increasing the resolution from 3776x2520 to 6144x4100. Even at hundred percent there is absolutely no degradation in image quality in the up-scaled file. On the positive side the noise pixel size along with other pixels becomes smaller with the up-scaled size file giving it a much smoother look without that digital edginess that usually is due to noise pixels.

This is especially great for posting images on the web. I have not printed this experiment but there is no reason why it won't translate to print as well.

This image is from an outdated P&S, with some of the new cameras one can go ever higher before any noticeable image degradation sets in.

I learned this technique after reading this thread: http://forums.adobe.com/message/3055935
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Old 09-12-2012   #96
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Thanks to Bill and everyone else who contributed to this thread, I am encouraged to try digital B&W. A recent effort that goes opposite to fstops wonderful work above.

A digital attempt to mimic Kodak Tmax p3200.



Thanks everyone!

Wayne
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Old 09-12-2012   #97
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Imo (and a lot of articles online) CCD sensors provide much cleaner RAW files which work well with digital B&W. Get the biggest CCD sensor in a camera that you can find, if not even smaller ones are not bad.

For example Nikon D200 will give you much better looking B&W conversion than even more advanced Nikon DSLRs like D7000. Don't take my word for it, experiment.
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Old 02-27-2013   #98
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I've heard the term "converted to B&W" so many times you'd think I was used to it by now, but it still grates on my ears. The pedant in me must rant a little.

- Raw data is raw, whatever came off the sensor plus/minus what the manufacturer pounded it with on the way to a set of intensity numbers per pixel. It is neither color nor B&W.

- Raw conversion processing does two things: it takes the raw data and applies a gamma correction so that the intensity map tracks what our eyes want to see, not what a sensor records, and it organizes the data into red, green and blue component channels by deducing the color mix per pixel from the surrounding photosite intensities.

- Once the data is raw converted, how you display it is up to how you set your image processing parameters. You're not "converting" it from one form to another anymore, you're rendering the image file as an RGB component mix by adjusting the values in the present form. Make the RGB components equal on a pixel by pixel basis and you have a grayscale image.

So B&W in the digital capture world is a rendering process, not a conversion process.

End of (mostly senseless) rant. ;-)

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