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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”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

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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B&w
Old 11-24-2016   #1
Bill Pierce
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B&w

The fondness of some photographers for black-and-white is not without good reason. Color can make a routine picture more enjoyable, but, on occasion, it can also take what could be an outstanding and powerful image and reduce it to something unexceptional. Fortunately, the digital raw file can be used to produce a color image or a black-and-white image - your choice.

I’ve read a number of lengthy and complicated articles on converting color files to black-and-white, but it just isn’t that difficult. Most digital processing programs convert a color image to black-and-white with a single control click. At that point the color controls of the program act much like colored filters in film photography, and you can adjust them to do anything from bring out the clouds in a sky, smooth a complexion or emphasize the brightness of a specific element in the picture.

Now, do you want to make that black-and-white digital image have much of the look of a silver print from a film negative? For most folks, the answer is yes. Here are a few techniques that will help. Add some “clarity.” That’s the name most programs give to mid-range contrast. When you do that, the overall contrast of the picture may seem too high. If it does, just lower the overall contrast of the image. Consider throwing away some of the darkest details in the image. Digital can do a better job of holding the very darkest details than film and silver paper. I know it hurts, but just throw those lowest values away anyway. While you have increased the midtown contrast, you may want to add to that effect with a curves adjustment. Add a film-like curve to the image by lowering the contrast in the shadows, raising it in the midtones and lowering it in the highlights.

All of this can be done with most basic imaging programs. Some like PhotoNinja have a variety of preset black-and-white styles. Iridient Developer has settings designed to maximize the quality of monochrome images. There are specialty programs, add-ons, that can make it a lot simpler offering a variety of clarity adjustments, film curves and other useful conversion tools. Two of the most popular are Silver Efex Pro 2 and Tonality Pro. And there are presets from folks like VSCO and Mastin Labs that do conversions to black-and-white that mimic specific films. You can usually duplicate the effects of the specialty programs and presets with your basic processing program, but they certain speed up the process. Besides, if you are a used-to-be darkroom junky who now sits at a computer desk with the lights on - these are almost as much fun as messing around in the darkroom.

Your thoughts???
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Old 11-24-2016   #2
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The provided recipe for digital b&w cooking is interesting, but too complicated for guy like me who rather write something naive on forum instead of performing act of intelligent (like knowing what I'm doing) PP.
So, I'll do it again:

What I was able to find regarding dBW comes from common forum (where I like not only write, but read) wisdom. Some (here, on RFF) are saying how great M8 BW is, others tells how Monochrom bw need PP, before it is OK (kinda). So far I was able to find two cameras which has next to SOOC BW I like. One is Leica Q bw. Which is expensive and not something I want to have. The second one is more scary for elite gear hunters stories. The BW I like a lot which comes digitally is available from my 40$ 8MP f2.8 super compact Lumix.
You know, I spend a lot on darkroom paper, but the bw I like comes from camera which fits in any size of the pocket, cost nothing and gives Leica like bw almost SOOC.

Isn't it scary?
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Old 11-24-2016   #3
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Bill, that's a very helpful tutorial, thank you
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Old 11-24-2016   #4
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I find it simply enough as I use DXO Filmpak. I guess I still love that Tri-X look.
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Old 11-25-2016   #5
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Once I understood the effect of adjusting the white balance while converting to B&W I have started to get better results from the conversion process. White balance adjustments are not just for color ; )
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Old 11-25-2016   #6
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I've been recovering from surgery for the last few weeks so I'm kind of stuck around the house and the occasional short walks in the neighborhood. Since my subject matter is familiar and limited, I started shooting B&W JPEG images exclusively just to change my normal routine and keep things interesting. First of all, I decided to forget about trying to achieve a "film look". That's why I settled on JPEGs after I started by first shooting Raw and converting to B&W. A little touching up the JPEG in Lightroom was all that was necessary prior to printing. Oddly enough, Bill's procedure of adjusting clarity and contrast is pretty close to what I've been doing so maybe I'm pursuing more of a "film look" than I realized.
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Old 11-25-2016   #7
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I agree completely about how to handle shadows and dark details. I would add it's important to use a calibrated monitor. I gave up on printer ownership. I use a print lab that happens to work well with my calibrated monitor.

Cameras with high signal-to-noise ratios make it possible to selectively push shadows. This is often useful. After the novelty wore off I realized most of the time it's better to let shadows be dark.

I too find Silver Efex Pro 2 to be very useful.

With 'watercolor' papers I am pleased with B&W prints from digital media (scanned negatives and camera raw files).
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Old 11-25-2016   #8
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I aggressively tried Digital Conversion about 8 years ago. I read and read how to do it, did learn much from these tutorials. I went back to film for a few reason, but I still use these 'tricks' to improve my scanned files.
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Old 11-25-2016   #9
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I like to shoot RAW + jpeg in BW. This lets me see if I like the image better one way or the other. Most times if I prefer the BW, I will convert the color RAW file as the controls mentioned by Bill will give a more finite control over the final image.
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Old 11-25-2016   #10
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After chasing various B&W conversion tools, I finally landed on Photoshop after purchasing and reading through a book by B&W landscape photographer Chuck Kimmerle:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-White-A.../dp/1608959651

I have arrived at a pretty much set process for my B&W conversion in PS: conversion, levels, curves and contrast - in that order. Then selected local operations depending on the image. The layers are then flattened and the resulting TIFF goes into LR where I stack it with the original raw image.

I do not strive for a "film-like" image.
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Old 11-25-2016   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darthfeeble View Post
I like to shoot RAW + jpeg in BW. This lets me see if I like the image better one way or the other. Most times if I prefer the BW, I will convert the color RAW file as the controls mentioned by Bill will give a more finite control over the final image.
Me, too. Color raw and b&w jpg just as a rough preview to let me see both.
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Old 11-25-2016   #12
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I have landed on Lightroom as my sole processing program. Does for me just about everything I need. Like Daseus, I don't care to do "filmlike". I am a nut for detail and that probably explains why I do digital nearly entirely.
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Old 11-25-2016   #13
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Thanks Bill - useful stuff.
After any B&W conversion from RAW files, I like to use Duotone in PS - and might use anything from Duo through Tri to Quad toning depending on the image and what I'm after. Most often I use Tritone with Pantone Warm Grey tones.
Only occasionally do I bother with DXO conversions to emulate film.
Thanks again
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Old 11-25-2016   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
The fondness of some photographers for black-and-white is not without good reason. Color can make a routine picture more enjoyable, but, on occasion, it can also take what could be an outstanding and powerful image and reduce it to something unexceptional. Fortunately, the digital raw file can be used to produce a color image or a black-and-white image - your choice.

I’ve read a number of lengthy and complicated articles on converting color files to black-and-white, but it just isn’t that difficult. Most digital processing programs convert a color image to black-and-white with a single control click. At that point the color controls of the program act much like colored filters in film photography, and you can adjust them to do anything from bring out the clouds in a sky, smooth a complexion or emphasize the brightness of a specific element in the picture.

Now, do you want to make that black-and-white digital image have much of the look of a silver print from a film negative? For most folks, the answer is yes. Here are a few techniques that will help. Add some “clarity.” That’s the name most programs give to mid-range contrast. When you do that, the overall contrast of the picture may seem too high. If it does, just lower the overall contrast of the image. Consider throwing away some of the darkest details in the image. Digital can do a better job of holding the very darkest details than film and silver paper. I know it hurts, but just throw those lowest values away anyway. While you have increased the midtown contrast, you may want to add to that effect with a curves adjustment. Add a film-like curve to the image by lowering the contrast in the shadows, raising it in the midtones and lowering it in the highlights.

All of this can be done with most basic imaging programs. Some like PhotoNinja have a variety of preset black-and-white styles. Iridient Developer has settings designed to maximize the quality of monochrome images. There are specialty programs, add-ons, that can make it a lot simpler offering a variety of clarity adjustments, film curves and other useful conversion tools. Two of the most popular are Silver Efex Pro 2 and Tonality Pro. And there are presets from folks like VSCO and Mastin Labs that do conversions to black-and-white that mimic specific films. You can usually duplicate the effects of the specialty programs and presets with your basic processing program, but they certain speed up the process. Besides, if you are a used-to-be darkroom junky who now sits at a computer desk with the lights on - these are almost as much fun as messing around in the darkroom.

Your thoughts???
Thanks again for a thoughtful post Mr. Pierce. I bolded and underlined part of what you said. I think it is good advice for B/W whether from film (my preferred) or digital. B/W should have black as well as white. I still have problems with that myself. I guess I figure that if I saw it and the film captured some of it, I want it all in the print. That often isn't as impactful.

Thanks again.
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Old 11-25-2016   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darthfeeble View Post
I have landed on Lightroom as my sole processing program. Does for me just about everything I need. Like Daseus, I don't care to do "filmlike". I am a nut for detail and that probably explains why I do digital nearly entirely.
Actually, you can do "filmlike" very easily in Lightroom. For openers just try moving up the clarity slider to about 45 and adjusting the overall contrast. Easy and quick to see whether you like the look or not.
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Old 11-26-2016   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Actually, you can do "filmlike" very easily in Lightroom. For openers just try moving up the clarity slider to about 45 and adjusting the overall contrast. Easy and quick to see whether you like the look or not.
This is pretty much my procedure in SilverEfex. The clarity sliders can be applied specifically to midtones, highlights, and shadows. Lightroom's slider seems to favor midtones but also applies globally.

And I think SilverEfex's Amplify Whites and Amplify Blacks sliders provide better control of those tones than Lightroom fills. Unlike LR's sliders, they seem to provide fill without affecting local contrast.

I've never heard of Tonality Pro but see they have a trial option and will give it a go. Can anyone comment on it? It seems unlikely that SilverEfex will evolve much.

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Old 11-26-2016   #17
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Tonality Pro doesn't hold a candle to Silver Efex. The main problem with Silver Efex is that you have to be careful and gentle in pushing or pulling the sliders: the sliders shouldn't have should have a "smoother effect" as you use them; but you get used to it and can also enter numbers instead of using the sliders, which is fine when you know what you want. The other problem is that Silver Efex is probably an end-of-the-road product since it was bought by Google.

Tonality Pro is not worth bothering with.

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Old 11-26-2016   #18
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I rediscovered film a while back and no longer own a digital camera, but I did use SilverEfex extensively before. I found it to be a very creative way of converting a colour image to B&W, with lots of easy to use yet powerful options. It's a really lovely bit of software.

Just not as lovely as Tri-X ;-)
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Old 11-26-2016   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nowhereman View Post
Tonality Pro doesn't hold a candle to Silver Efex. The main problem with Silver Efex is that you have to be careful and gentle in pushing or pulling the sliders: the sliders shouldn't have should have a "smoother effect" as you use them; but you get used to it and can also enter numbers instead of using the sliders, which is fine when you know what you want. The other problem is that Silver Efex is probably an end-of-the-road product since it was bought by Google.

Tonality Pro is not worth bothering with.

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Thank you for that. I see that it's also Mac-only, and I'm a PC user.

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Old 11-26-2016   #20
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Hi Bill,
I used to have access to a professional darkroom and did development of film and printing myself. The films came out spotless, no dust, no scratches and was pretty satisfied with the printing as well, after I got a little further down the road in that learning curve. I moved and lost the opportunity of the darkroom use. The results from commercial labs were just OK but not really how I imagined the prints to look like.

After I got a Monochrom I have never looked back to b&w dark room work. I don't need to mess around with the chemicals, I don't need to plan a darkroom sessions that eats up all night and I don't have to clean up for at least half an hour.

With digital I can dial in the ISO that I need in whatever situation and I am not stuck with the TMY in my camera. I can just quickly open up LR or close it, no mess, no clean up. I am not a wizard of post production and I usually don't like playing around with computer software but the results I can achieve with just a few general adjustments are far beyond anything I could ever achieve with film and working in a dark room.

I am not after emulating a film look when I process my MM files. Reality doesn't have grain for me. I do see that a film look, esp. "film noir" look is a crucial part of the appeal of some photographer's work. The same image might not work being represented as a plain file, a more or less accurate representation of the actual scene. It might be boring and giving it some grain and a certain curve of contrast makes it much more interesting. I played around with SFX at the beginning when I got the MM and I didn't like the results. Just my $0.02.

PS: The MM might be a different case as far as digital b&w is concerned.
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Old 11-30-2016   #21
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Hi Bill,

My experience is similar to Kaus. I had a dark room either through work and/or at home from the early 1980s until 2007. I shot and printed both my personal work both color and B&W and printed both commercially to.

The only B&W digital I warmed up to is the MM. I also am not try to imitate the look of film but I embrace the look of files from the MM. I never cared for SE or LR eve though I have them both. I use CS6. All personal preference but I find photoshop CS6 more in line with the way I work in a wet darkroom.
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