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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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B&W Conversions
Old 08-28-2012   #1
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B&W Conversions

I’m fairly typical in being someone whose professional film work was 99 percent color and whose personal work was 99 percent black-and-white. Now of course, in the digital age, the great majority of consumer cameras produce color files that have the option of being quickly and easily converted into black-and-white files. Basic programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, RPP, Silkypix and DXO offer conversion settings. There are also specialized programs like DXO Filmpack and Silver Efex Pro that can work within programs like Lightroom and offer more avenues of control.

I’ve used them all. When I want to make a really good black-and-white image from a color raw file, even after a long time shooting digitally, I may still run a file through several programs to see which does it “best.” If this thread lasts a little while, I’ll tell you which conversion process is becoming the one I like the most and, more important, why. But, for now, I would like to hear your thoughts on converting digital color to black-and-white, how you do it and why you do it that way before I go into some egocentric “this is the way to do it.” I think this is probably something a lot of us are interested in.
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Old 08-28-2012   #2
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I am certainly interested as I have come to the conclusion after much trial and error that ... digital files converted to B&W is where I want to go with my hobby.

In fact, just this past weekend I downloaded both LR4 and Silver Efex demos to give them a try. I am looking forward to this thread!
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Old 08-28-2012   #3
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I'll be looking forward to following this thread,I'm not having the easiest time with the conversion process. Thanks,Bill
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Old 08-28-2012   #4
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Two years ago I started with photoshop conversions, but now it's all Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro2. I'm very happy with the intuitiveness of this combination, but will be interested to see other's takes on it indeed.
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Old 08-28-2012   #5
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Wish I had enough experience to add to this discussion. But since I don't, like others, I look forward to learning from whatever gets shared in this thread.

Thanks,
Randy
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Old 08-28-2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jippiejee View Post
Two years ago I started with photoshop conversions, but now it's all Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro2.
That is about where I was and am ... I see that you have an M8 -that is about where I started with the process. I was shooting RAW and converting in PS or even PSe. Upon selling my M8 and flirting with some other gear, I had the good fortune to attend a regional RFF meet. Some of my favorite shots from that weekend were not film ... I found that converted B&W was what I was looking for and that I needed a complete direction change. By all accounts, Silver Efex seemed to be the tool of choice and I decided that was where I was going to focus my energy.

While news for another thread, I have started to pare down my gear. I bought a pair of Sigma DP's and a laptop capable of handling their potentially massive pseudo-RAW files. I have had some teething issues with the proprietary Sigma files and converting them and that is about where I am now. I actually jumped back to the wintel platform for the raw HP/$ ratio and as mentioned have downloaded both the LR4 and SE. My intent (still in its infancy) is to develop an entire new workflow from start to finish. So, for me -a line was drawn in the sand about two weeks ago.

I have been pleased (not something typical for me and my photography) with the early results. One thing I am struggling with is the re-introduction of grain or perhaps a "grittiness" to the files. They almost have a sterility to them otherwise. But, I am not sure that that is not just what they are -and that I am struggling to make them look like what I am used to on film! Some of the SE filters are just a bit over the top to me. I need to find "THAT" balance.

My question(s) to myself now are: Why can't they stand on their own? Do they HAVE to look like film? Is that somehow faking it? How far do you take it before they really aren't what you shot? All tough questions.
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Old 08-28-2012   #7
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I am a LR4 and Silver Effex II guy as well. I am also quite impressed with the Jpg algorithm for B&W straight from the M9. Read Thorsten's blog about the M9 Jpgs and gave it a try and was really quite impressed.
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Old 08-28-2012   #8
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I have been clicking the B and W button top right in LR 4 and then work my way down, sometimes increasing exposure, often pulling up shadow detail, dropping blacks back down a little and raising Clarity a bit only. The only default is LR's 25% input sharpening. Invariably I'll push Luminance up a bit to smooth the noise. I only add grain if the shot seems to need that unifying touch, and then I'll add a lot. Otherwise i like the idea of embracing digital black and white. Every shot needs some slight variation on the approach. Having only just allowed myself to be more liberal with cropping, I have wanted to try my hand without yet leaning on SE Pro which I haven't tried.
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Old 08-28-2012   #9
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DXO Filmpack has fooled me so many times that I now consider as good as film. Wow, did I just say that?
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Old 08-28-2012   #10
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I use photoshop (currently CS5) and Silver Efex Pro. I like Silver Efex Pro for a number of reasons.

I am definitely not a master of selections in Photoshop; for that reason, I am especially appreciate of SEP's u-point technology to do for me what other people can achieve with selections, in order to make localized corrections.

I also like the fact that SEP's pre-sets are starting points. I also like the fact that SEP doesn't hide what the pre-sets are doing in terms of "grain", curves, and colour adjustments (like colour filters, but not exactly). I can then make adjustments to my likely. For example, I might want a "grainy" look, but find that the pre-set simulations for fast film block up my shadows; therefore, I might start with the pre-set for a slow film, that gives me the curve I want, and then add "grain"/noise afterwards.

I don't always start with pre-sets, in any event.

Also, in some instances, and more frequently than in the past, I will increase saturation, or change colours, in colour file, before conversion, because I am getting a better sense of how SEP handles these things.

I should also add that I shoot raw+jpeg, and sometimes find that the black and white jpeg is just fine, or close enough to fine, that I can simply tweak it in Photoshop.
(cameras used: R-D1, GRD3, and M9)
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Old 08-28-2012   #11
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My method, still in it's infancy:
Start with RAW files into Lightroom 3.6.
Adjust for a pleasing color photo.
Select Lightroom's "Edit in CS4" command.
Open a Lightroom rendered copy in CS4.
Work through a list of B&W conversions which I purchased from TLR.
Select the action that I feel works best for the image at hand.
Apply Platinum toning occasionally. Also from TLR.
Flatten, save & close the resulting TIFF file.
Exit PS4 to Lightroom.
Apply any final tweaks, usually not needed, in Lightroom.
Print.
Export for my L.U.G. Gallery.
I forgot why: I'm too cheap to buy software.

I look forward to Bill's methods.

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Old 08-28-2012   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by burancap View Post
My question(s) to myself now are: Why can't they stand on their own? Do they HAVE to look like film? Is that somehow faking it? How far do you take it before they really aren't what you shot? All tough questions.
Sometimes it's easier to translate questions to another medium. While you could draw a perfect black line with your mouse in MSPaint, you'll always remember the beauty of the line you drew on paper with charcoal. Digital photography is too often like MS Paint and if you have no desire to go back to real paper, it's not so bad if a plugin adds some of that soul to a photo. It's fake. But at times fake is just more real.
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Old 08-28-2012   #13
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Personally, I take the B&W digital conversions exactly as they are.
If I want grit, I load Bigfoot with p3200 and go forth into the night.
That's all the personal stuff this thread needs. In my personal opinion.

Wayne
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Old 08-28-2012   #14
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As a photo hobbyist and unix / linux user, I use the GIMP to edit my photos.
I don't generally do major picture surgery, but very often convert color digital jpg's to grayscale, using the GIMP.

Actually, that is a very exciting part of making images, for me.

My practice is to get the color image a bit punchy in the colors (to separate the layers that will come in a moment). Then decompose to R-G-B layers, and twiddle with the opacity and other properties of each layer, then flatten the image.

A while back, I added a page to my photo website that walks through this process:
http://www.cafephotos.net/Grayscale/Grayscale.html
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Old 08-28-2012   #15
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For Lightroom only, the latest X=Equals presets are very useful. You can separate color sensitivity from contrast from grain, which can be useful.

For prints I try to produce a low contrast Lightroom file, including local adjustments and graduated filters, then use Silver Efex 2 in Photoshop. I generally experiment with dynamic contrast and brightness in SEP2, but if I can't get the look I want I will go to the standard BW tool in Photoshop, adjust color sensitivity to taste, then work on tonality.

My (not terribly helpful) conclusion is that each print requires a lot experimentation in order to get the look I want.

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Old 08-28-2012   #16
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Old method:
- Get the white balance aproximately right in Capture One Pro.
- Generate a 16-bit TIFF color file
- Open the color TIFF file in Picture Window Pro
- Use Transformation-Color-Monochrome (similar to Photoshop's Channel Mixer, but easier to use) to adjust the proportions of RGB. I have a starting "recipe," but reserve the right to use any, all or none of the three channels, depending on the subject.
- Save to a B&W 16-bit TIFF.
- Levels and/or Curves adjustment.
- Local contrast adjustment, sometimes.
- Dodge and burn with Lighten and Darken tool as needed.
- Local sharpening with a mask, and/or overall sharpening.

For all steps above, when in doubt, underdo the adjustments rather than overdoing. Or create two versions, and then I know a day or two later where I want the final result to fall in between the two extremes.

New method: Do the color filtration with the equivalent tools in Capture One, now that it has B&W color proportion editing built in. The Clarity control can stand in for "local contrast" adjustment. But if I'm really serious about the picture or am going to print it, I still want to use Picture Window Pro for much of the workflow, as I prefer the PWP's tools. The more I'm going to adjust the picture, the more likely it is I'll end up in PWP.
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Old 08-30-2012   #17
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The first help to getting decent B&W is doing your initial selection in B&W. The only software that allows you to do this without a batch conversion is Picasa, otherwise do a batch conversion of all the RAW files into b&w jpgs using your favorite software in a separate folder. This is better than using monochrome setting for camera jpg and then shooting RAW, you retain the option of color previews.

Do all your major adjustments including dodge and burn in the RAW processor (with control points), prep the image as much as you can.

There are countless conversion methods but the one which is closest to B&W film is the lightness channel method with LAB color space. Here is a popular exmaple: http://www.blackandwhitedigital.com/...ty/gorman.html
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Old 08-30-2012   #18
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A combination of Photoshop (for me, but maybe Lightroom for you) and Silver Efex Pro is the way to go. Silver Efex Pro not only simplifies into a small job many Layers and Masks that in Photoshop would have been a big job, but also adds many other tricks. Added into Photoshop as a plugin you still get the traditional darkrooms ability to dodge and burn (plus other things like dust removal etc), and you give yourself a massive chance to come up with something you like from a colour RAW conversion.
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Old 08-30-2012   #19
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I have just recently tweaked my conversion workflow. In PS5 I open my raw file in either Vavesa or Color Efex Pro and make my initial corrections/adjustments. I then open the file in Silver Efex Pro, do my conversion and make any additional corrections/adjustments.

My primary digital cameras are an M8 and a D700. I am going to scan several rolls of b&w film and am a bit anxious about the workflow with them.

Best regards,

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Old 08-30-2012   #20
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I use Apple's Aperture to maintain my photo library. I've also purchased the complete Nik Collection. I really like all the flexibility that Silver Efex Pro offers but I can "waste" a lot of time "tinkering" with one image.

For time sake I've come up with my own presets in Aperture to convert my color images to B&W. And often do this as the images are imported saving a lot of time.

If there is one image I really want to spend time with I can take the original RAW image into Silver Efex Pro.
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Old 08-30-2012   #21
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Everyone has their own method.

I like the Photoshop B&W filter. In essence, I can apply a "filter" at post-processing time instead of on the lens at exposure time. Here's an example, a cold clear day after snowfall on the Boston Common:

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Old 08-30-2012   #22
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I am still experimenting. I usually do BW conversion in Lightroom/Photoshop. I was given Perfect Photo Suite 6 as a gift and am now trying the Effects module. My goal is to create a preset for a particular result that I like. I have not tried Silver Efex yet.

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Old 08-30-2012   #23
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I have been using Aperture to basicaly do the b&w conversion of shots I took when I was not carrying a film camera. Did all the adjustments to my liking in color and then as a last step did the b&w conversion. After that make minor adjustments with the color sliders. In the past have used similar technique with photoshop.

I have really not been as happy with results as compared to what I would have expected from film. Ok to good results but not great.

I downloaded the demo version of silver efex pro tonight and I have to admit the results so far have been better then what I have gotten in the past. Since it is plug-in to Aperture, it makes life easier

I just started experimenting with using RPP to do b&w conversion as well... Overall slightly better than what I got from manual technique using ps or aperture but not for all shots I tried. Silver efex was faster and easier to use and so far looks better than what I was doing using any other technique.

Plan to play with the demo until the 15 days are up, but if initial impression remain the same, looks like I am going to buy it.

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Old 08-30-2012   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by burancap View Post
....One thing I am struggling with is the re-introduction of grain or perhaps a "grittiness" to the files. They almost have a sterility to them otherwise. But, I am not sure that that is not just what they are -and that I am struggling to make them look like what I am used to on film!....

....My question(s) to myself now are: Why can't they stand on their own? Do they HAVE to look like film? Is that somehow faking it? How far do you take it before they really aren't what you shot? All tough questions.
This is the major obstacle that I personally have to shooting digital. Why can't digital images 'stand on their own'? When I scan film I just invert and adjust curves/levels to suit, no other post processing (apart from very very light dust removal if absolutely required - I will even clean the neg and re-scan to avoid doing this in post!)

If, and it's a big if, I ever move over to digital capture I would only feel truly comfortable with a dedicated monochrome sensor such as the Leica MM.

Now, getting back on topic - this thread is about B&W conversions, well, my question, raised partly by burancap is with a monochrome sensor, do you still need to run through the same sort of post processing as you would do for a colour file, sans the B&W conversion part?

BTW - in the past when I have converted a colour image to B&W I use the following method:
- Convert the image to LAB colour mode
- Remove the colour channels
- Convert to greyscale
- If required, I then convert the greyscale image back to RGB for further post processing such as curves/levels adjustment.
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Old 08-31-2012   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by c.poulton View Post

BTW - in the past when I have converted a colour image to B&W I use the following method:
- Convert the image to LAB colour mode
- Remove the colour channels
- Convert to greyscale
- If required, I then convert the greyscale image back to RGB for further post processing such as curves/levels adjustment.
I'm sure that's not a good method, any method where you throw info away like that..
Let me explain; I've been using L*a*b mode since Photoshop 2 the luminance channel is not a good starter for a mono conversion, its just like a greyscale but sans the residual density you get in the a & b channels so you just end up getting a light greyscale conversion.
Converting to greyscale is throwing info away too, so those destructive methods aren't the way to go unless you wan't weak sterile looking files.

The channel mixer tool is a much better way, as is keeping the file in RGB mode. I have found that putting a little colour into grey images makes them look dynamic, the eye hates that bland grey just putting in 5-6 yellow and 1-2 magenta will give the resulting file more depth.

Try it!– take a sterile grey file and make RGB and put a little yellow makes a world of difference, just the merest hint of colour gives better apparent tonality illusion:


I've tried Silver FX and just about every other 'miracle snake oil' out there and while I still have film I think they are a waste of money, time and effort–if you don't want to mess with film Photoshop and lots of time is a better choice.
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Old 08-31-2012   #26
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This one was a color JPG from my D80 forgot to shoot RAW.
Capture one was used for editing.
Simply desaturated, clarity control to 34, vignetting -1.5 EV, very small curves adjustment to lift the skin tones and unsharp mask.
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Old 08-31-2012   #27
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This one was simply desaturated in iPhoto, exposure increased to 1.1 and contrast increased to 100
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Old 08-31-2012   #28
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This one was converted to B&W using Neopan 1600 setting in DXO film effects.
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Old 08-31-2012   #29
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Here is one more from DXO film pack. This time it's the HP5 preset.


Now I don't really believe that these presets look like the films they are trying to emulate but they stand up OK on their own so I just pick the preset I like the best for a particular image. I don't really believe that digital images have to have grain added to them to make good B&W conversions. Many people shoot medium format or slow B&W films in 35mm so they can enjoy grainless prints so why not also take advantage of digital as digital is also great for grainless prints.
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Old 08-31-2012   #30
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I'm interested to hear Bill's method. My preferred method in LR2-3 was based on some suggestions of his in an earlier thread. Now I'm playing with LR4, trying to find a good balance, but working with a touch of clarity and a heap of highlight slider works nicely.

I do agree with photo smith above, and use the toning feature in LR often.

Here's one toned, for example:
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Old 08-31-2012   #31
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I can only describe the methods I've used with LR and CS, as this is the software I own. I've seen consistently good results here with SEP, so it might be a better tool.

My approach to bw conversion depends on the original file, and the (most often pre-visualised) end result I want in a print - am I working with a dark and moody landscape on PhotoRag, or light skin tones in a bright portrait on Baryta.

I mostly work with LR4.1., exporting to CS4 for further adjustments, and very occasionally I use a plug-in called PhotoLooks. Before using LR I had mostly used Channel Mixer, and layered and masked Curves in CS.

With most files I start by adjusting saturation to zero, setting highlight and black clipping points and then playing with the development sliders to get an approximation of what I want. Often that means boosting contrast quite high and then raising the shadow detail. Use the Highlights and Lights sliders to control white clipping and roll-off. I also play with the colour control sliders to approximate the effects of colour filters. Sometimes checking the b&w button improves tone, sometimes not.

I use the brush tool for local dodging, burning, and other adjustments.

Lately I've been using split tones to provide subtle highlight/shadow colour contrast to bw prints. Also to convert to sepia.

Depending on the image, I may boost Clarity, mostly not exceeding 30%, and avoiding artefacts. I've started using LR's portrait or landscape presets for input sharpening, then adjusting as necessary.

Sometimes I add grain, but often I find higher ISO sensor noise is as good or better, if I can use it when shooting. I've always liked the look of film grain - digital can look clinical by comparison. When processing I try to avoid that clinical look.

After LR I export to CS4 and check if autotone improves the tone characteristics, and do any touching up with the healing brush. After resizing in CS4 I apply output sharpening and save a print file. I print from either CS4 or LR.
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Old 08-31-2012   #32
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Old 08-31-2012   #33
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Old 08-31-2012   #34
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I think I'm going to opt out of shooting digital with the intention of converting it to black and white for personal reasons. I'm genuinely concerned with what is happening with film at the moment. The way options are being reduced and smaller manufacturers going under! (Efke)

I accept that digital has won the battle on all fronts and I don't take issue with that but I do want my favourite medium (black and white film) to survive. I'll shoot digital exclusively for colour because to be honest the range of colour film available these days is limited, pricey and dwindling at an exponential rate. E-6 will fairly obviously be totally gone very soon ... the way of Kodachrome!

I've seen some impressive results from the M9M tonality wise but they still don't have texture ... that has to be software added and it's not inherant at the point of capture. This is important to me! The new Leica Monochrom could be the beginning of the end if other manufacturers follow it even in a minor way with smaller, cheaper, dedicated mono cameras! X100M anybody ... black and white will become highly fashionable, trendy, call it what you want!

If the new Plustek is reality and can deliver what it promises that will me my next major purchase for my black and white future. Not a camera or a piece of software!
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Old 08-31-2012   #35
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I guess converting to 16 bit grayscale and flattening the layers is tantamount to treason?

Keith,
There will always be carbon printing and glass plate photos.

Wayne
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Old 08-31-2012   #36
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I need some advice. I can get the Nik Complete Collection for a significant discount ($250), but I see that there is a Lightroom or Aperture only version that is $100 cheaper . Should I opt for the LR version, or spend more for the version that works in PS as well as LR? I use LR 4 and CS Prod Premium 6. Will I limit myself with the LR version?
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Old 09-01-2012   #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith View Post
X100M anybody ...
You know, I shoot mostly color, but I would buy this camera in a heartbeat!
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Old 09-01-2012   #38
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This is a great thread. I have been fooling around in LR3 and Aperture, but dont really have a "method." I have been thinking about getting SEP. I think I'll wait and see where this thread goes...

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Old 09-01-2012   #39
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Interesting discussion. I am not settled on a method, myself. I am still shooting B&W film (sometimes chromogenic, like T400CN and sometimes traditional silver) and scanning. But the majority of my BW images these days are converted RGB files. Here is a scanned film portrait from last week.



This particular scan was made by the photo shop in town when they developed the film. Viewing it on my uncalibrated laptop rather than on the monitor where I did the scanning, I see that I could have bumped up the blacks a little. The key line comes from SFex 2.

Later today I will add a picture of tghe same subject but with a Silver Efex 2 conversion of a Sony RGB file.

[Watch this space.]

Edit: here is the SEFex 2 file:



I am amazed when I see my own film scans. I was so much more into the grain of my 400 speed film in my film-only days.

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Old 09-01-2012   #40
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Originally Posted by gdi View Post
I need some advice. I can get the Nik Complete Collection for a significant discount ($250), but I see that there is a Lightroom or Aperture only version that is $100 cheaper . Should I opt for the LR version, or spend more for the version that works in PS as well as LR? I use LR 4 and CS Prod Premium 6. Will I limit myself with the LR version?
Buy a Leica Monochrom and Silver Efex 2 comes free with it...

But seriously, save your money and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLvfweHBhLM
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