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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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Inkjet - the Devil's work?
Old 01-31-2014   #1
Bill Pierce
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Inkjet - the Devil's work?

I have several friends who feel that black-and-white inkjet prints are the devil’s work. “Silver is better.” is the usual rant, although I’m not quite sure what that means. If more and more silver papers and top flight enlargers disappear from the market, silver is going to become what platinum printing was when silver was at its height - interesting, beautiful, expensive and with limited controls compared to silver. The limited controls of silver printing when compared to digital printing are simply the limits of contrast and brightness controls, overall and local, inherent in the wet darkroom as compared to a digital image whose tonal qualities are being controlled by a computer. For the most part, when we talk about the inkjet print, we are really talking about a digital image, computer processing and an inkjet printer. I see both good and bad prints from such a process. Usually they are the result of good and bad printers - not inkjet printers, good and bad human printers, same as in the silver days.

In many cases we are judging the quality of an inkjet print from what we saw in the good silver prints of the past. That’s fair. But a “straight” print from a digital file does not normally have the same tonal distribution produced by a film negative with an H&D curve printed on a silver paper, also with an H&D curve. May I suggest that digital photographers take a look at computer programs that emulate those curves. DxO Filmpack and Silver Efex Pro 2 are good examples of such programs, and, while the same effects can be created with basic image processing programs, many folks are going to find it easier to emulate film and that wet darkroom silver print using the add-ons. Hopefully, they will also be much happier with their black-and-white inkjet prints.

Any other thoughts for those embarking on making black-and-white inkjet prints from their digital files?
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Old 01-31-2014   #2
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There seems to be a mind set among many that digital printing is done at the mere press of a button and the computer via software controls the output ... which is true to a point I guess.

A good digital print requires a lot of skill and judgement though.
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Old 01-31-2014   #3
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I don't print optically, or inkjet, but I do send off for prints. I'd probably rather get an optical print than an inkjet, but that would mean find somewhere to send a 4x5 negative.

I don't know if one is better than the other, but I must say that the idea of all these digital 'film' packs to make digital look like film just seems inauthentic to me.
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Old 01-31-2014   #4
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Originally Posted by thegman View Post
. . . I don't know if one is better than the other, but I must say that the idea of all these digital 'film' packs to make digital look like film just seems inauthentic to me.
Strawberry flavouring, anyone? TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) "beef"?

A food technologist friend explained to me once: "The first generation imitation is very good, and half the price of the real thing. The first generation imitation then becomes the standard. The second generation version is only slightly cheaper, but nothing like as good."

All right, far from a perfect analogy. But I'd rather have a good, honest digi print (such as Cone Editions Piezography) than a fake silver halide print.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 01-31-2014   #5
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I just stopped caring 'what would have been possible had I still a darkroom studio' when my reality is that now my apartment is too tiny for one, just like I don't care how far a Porsche would get me in an hour's drive while I only own a bicycle. I'm very happy with the printing tool and control that my inkjet printer gives me, compared not not being able to print at all. It might be a problem if museums would regularly call me for prints maybe, but that's hardly a reality for me or anyone here I suspect. While in offset print that difference will be moot anyway.
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Old 01-31-2014   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jippiejee View Post
I just stopped caring 'what would have been possible had I still a darkroom studio' when my reality is that now my apartment is too tiny for one, just like I don't care how far a Porsche would get me in an hour's drive while I only own a bicycle. I'm very happy with the printing tool and control that my inkjet printer gives me, compared not not being able to print at all. It might be a problem if museums would regularly call me for prints maybe, but that's hardly a reality for me or anyone here I suspect. While in offset print that difference will be moot anyway.
As someone who was a darkroom printer since I was 12, and now a digital printer, I'd never go back.
Humour included, jipiejee's comments are my sentiments also. Bill's & Keith's comments are on target for me as well.
To state the obvious posters sometimes seem to forget that what satisfies one person, probably won't satisfy everyone.
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Old 01-31-2014   #7
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Strawberry flavouring, anyone? TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) "beef"?

A food technologist friend explained to me once: "The first generation imitation is very good, and half the price of the real thing. The first generation imitation then becomes the standard. The second generation version is only slightly cheaper, but nothing like as good."

All right, far from a perfect analogy. But I'd rather have a good, honest digi print (such as Cone Editions Piezography) than a fake silver halide print.

Cheers,

R.
Hi Roger,
I know there is a lot of inauthenticity in the world, it does not mean I have to like it, or indeed embrace it as part of my hobby.

Say if it was possible to make something which tasted identical to Lagavulin (or perhaps Laphroaig, if you prefer) without 16 or 10 years in the barrel, I'd still want the real thing, as it just feels good to have something that is "real".

I know we could get into very grey areas talking about what is "real", but I like the idea of seeing an oil painting and knowing someone has created it with oils, rather than applied an effect in a computer program. My entire livilihood comes from computer programming, so I don't have a problem with computers, but I do have a problem with fakery.

Like I say, nothing in the world against digital prints. A digital print made to look like film is too Instagrammy for me.

Garry
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Old 01-31-2014   #8
Bill Clark
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I don't make ink jet prints. Send everything to a lab via the internet. Maybe I'm missing something, however, for me at least, there are only 24 hrs. to each of my days!
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Old 01-31-2014   #9
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Of course nothing can replace the harmony of going film - develop - print. So now I go film - dev -scan - Hard drive/Some Tumblr/Faves for Blurb Book/Some Prints.

I miss my darkroom printing days. I wasn't half bad. If I had space/water/drainage for a print darkroom, I'd do it. I have a Leitz Enlarger I snagged for $100 in my garage, so I hope...

With scans I can remove dust and scratches easily, and do my burn/dodge and get repeatability. I read that Leica Monochrome owners have access to a service that prints traditional from digital files. I was thinking today and remembering words like kodabromide, Agfa grade 6 -- I'm old enough to remember as a teenager the announcement of the blasphemy of resin coated RC photo paper. Now they call paper without a light sensitive emulsion "photo-paper." And people who've never known the art of having their hands move like wings between the enlarging lens and paper call themselves photographers.

It's all pluses and minuses -- but we're still shooting and doing our thing... What was the question? Oh Devil's work -- perhaps, he's a sneaking guy that Beelzebub.
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Old 01-31-2014   #10
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My only advice would be if you do inkjet prints, take great care if you choose to use the Baryta papers, they are very touchy and sensitive. White gloves not a bad idea, and the protective spray after the print has dried for a day is a very good ideal.
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Old 01-31-2014   #11
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I live by a very simple principle in life: Trust all joy. Maybe we should just stop judging each other (devil? is what I like diabolic suddenly?) on our processes and gear choices. We see the Fuji people here every day screaming for recognition because of this. We all share a love for photography, yet we seem to try so hard to divide each other into opposing camps: the 'real artisan ones', 'the fake and lazy ones' etc.

My father came by today and really liked this bar shot I had printed on my table. He never mentioned the lack of silver halide grain. He really liked the subject and composition of the photo. Maybe that's what counts more to me.
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Old 01-31-2014   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jippiejee View Post
I live by a very simple principle in life: Trust all joy. Maybe we should just stop judging each other (devil? is what I like diabolic suddenly?) on our processes and gear choices. We see the Fuji people here every day screaming for recognition because of this. We all share a love for photograpy, yet we seem to try so hard to divide each other into opposing camps: the 'real artisan ones', 'the fake and lazy ones' etc.

My father came by today and really liked this bar shot I had printed on my table. He never mentioned the lack of silver halide grain. He really liked the subject and composition of the photo. Maybe that's what counts more to me.
Thank you.
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Old 01-31-2014   #13
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Originally Posted by jippiejee View Post
I just stopped caring 'what would have been possible had I still a darkroom studio' when my reality is that now my apartment is too tiny for one, just like I don't care how far a Porsche would get me in an hour's drive while I only own a bicycle.
Yep, me too. I concentrate on what I can do instead of what isn't really available to me.
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Old 01-31-2014   #14
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There are laser printers used for B&W printing on silver halide papers.

These are generally called digital silver halide prints.
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Old 01-31-2014   #15
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There are laser printers used for B&W printing on silver halide papers.

These are generally called digital silver halide prints.
Color printing can be done on them too (Fuji Frontier, etc.)

This whole obsession that amateurs have about authenticity is tiresome. It shows a profound lack of knowledge about photography's history. The False Idol of the "Silver Print" is just that, a false idol. Silver-gelatin printing was not invented until nearly 80 years after photography's invention and did not come into common use until even later.

There have been numerous printing processes in Photography's nearly 200 year history, including some that used copper plates with the image etched into them to print on non-sensitized paper....photointaglio printing. No one back when that was a popular process among artists like Alfred Steiglitz and Edward Steichen ever suggested that it was not 'authentic.'

Take note that I said Photography has had a nearly 200 year history. The first photographs were made in the 1820s, and they didn't even involve prints! Early processes like Daguerrotype used metal plates that developed directly into a finished photo. No paper!

It just amazes me that people can spend so much energy defending such narrow-minded bigotry about what is 'authentic' in Photography. We've had, what, three threads dedicated to this idiocy in the last week? If these people spent half the time they spend spouting half-baked bigotry and actually cracked a book they might actually learn something about what this great form of art is capable of. I'll simplify it: No one ever became famous for the process they used, except possibly the early pioneers who actually invented photography. After that, it was the image that mattered. Nothing else.
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Old 01-31-2014   #16
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I don't find digital prints inferior to darkroom prints at all.
My preference depends on the individual print.

Having said that, I simply find darkroom printing immensely more satisfying for me to do than sitting on the computer and printing on the printer.
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Old 01-31-2014   #17
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Originally Posted by thegman View Post

I don't know if one is better than the other, but I must say that the idea of all these digital 'film' packs to make digital look like film just seems inauthentic to me.
On one hand I really like the results you can get by processing digital files through some of the different "film packs" On the other hand I've never really thought the results really look like the real thing. Which is why I joking refer to them by terms like Fakachrome
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Old 01-31-2014   #18
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Silver Prints! Holy cow you guy make everything too complicated.

A camera obscura a piece of paper and a #2 pencil.
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Old 01-31-2014   #19
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Bill-

Care to illuminate the uninitiated on H&D curves? Much as I understand the convenience of the software packages you recommend, I like to try my hand processing images with less automation in order to better understand the process.

In terms of digital printing, I've always been more than happy with the results, even in my early days with black-only prints and pietzography. Now the new printers make it even easier to achieve great results with minimal or no metamerism and very neutral tones. Despite spending many years in the darkroom, I have few prints that I truly love whereas with the Epson and LR, I'm usually extremely satisfied with the processing and the print, and I create photographs that my skill set would not be able to easily match with wet prints.
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Old 01-31-2014   #20
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Hello Bill,

I'm glad you brought up this point, and it's good to read the other opinions.

My question for you or anyone else out there is about the environmental impact of b/w film developing and darkroom printing vs digital capture and inkjet printing. I'm sure there is much lower impact going digitally, and this is my main reason for wanting to get away from the chemicals.

Has there been a study showing how much less we would pollute going digital? (all things considered). I know we can do silver recovery from the fixer, so that's something, but what about all the other chemicals? They have got to be bad news - and don't get me started on stuff like selenium toner.

I'm a long time darkroom/silver print guy, but once really good b/w papers were available for inkjet printing, I thought this would be the way to go, and assume that papers and printers will only get better. I am now scanning my old b/w 35mm negs and find I can really do a lot more precise dodging and burning etc. on the computer than I could do if printing conventionally. It still takes a while to get an image done, you have to put the work in, but this is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately some gallery owners are still a bit wobbly about prints that are not silver gelatin, but hopefully that's changing as well.

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Old 01-31-2014   #21
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I'd like to touch on the above environmental concerns.

In the very near past laboratories were (at least in Europe) responsible for making sure all chemicals used during the processing of film and papers were disposed of environmentally.

In 1992 laws passed here in the EU made it mandatory for all labs to have wash water tested for trace elements too–we were tested at least twice a year–an unannounced test from the local water authority.
Most processors went to the cartridge based model, where super stabilisers were used instead of wash-all 100% recovered.
The effluent was collected by a company on a month by month basis from the 5000 L tank and we were charged depending on the cost of disposal vs recovery of silver.
Basically after 1992 it was against the law to put any chemicals to ground.

B&W Chemicals used by consumers are less of a problem, developers being mainly organic benzine derivatives which break down during water/sewerage treatment.
Fixer was silver bearing so many had to dispose according to the law in their area, we as a lab accepted fixer from photographers for a small fee.

It is much harder to assess the pollutants from ink jet printing and digital as a whole so I'm not going to.
I think if you live any sort of modern life, drive a car, travel on a plain, heat your house, clean your toilet, change your phone every two years etc.
you have far more impact on the planet than film photography has at least here in Europe since 1992.

Trouble with the issue is most people think chemical=bad without thinking about their daily use of shower/oven/toilet cleaners etc
There are substances currently used in the manufacture of PCB's that are deadly, some of those very chemicals used to be in silver Photo paper too until the 1980's when Photographic companies were told to stop using them.
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Old 01-31-2014   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam Kanga View Post
My question for you or anyone else out there is about the environmental impact of b/w film developing and darkroom printing vs digital capture and inkjet printing. I'm sure there is much lower impact going digitally, and this is my main reason for wanting to get away from the chemicals.

Has there been a study showing how much less we would pollute going digital? (all things considered).
Its likely the other way around (and I realise photography and printing is a small part of this, but its the same impact) - e-waste. Considering how many people would likely be involved in optical printing versus the number contributing to digital printing along with the associated peripheral support - PCs, storage, etc.
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Old 01-31-2014   #23
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On one hand I really like the results you can get by processing digital files through some of the different "film packs" On the other hand I've never really thought the results really look like the real thing. Which is why I joking refer to them by terms like Fakachrome
Or perhaps the new Fauxtra 400...
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Old 02-01-2014   #24
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Photo Smith and craygc

Thanks for the info.

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Old 02-01-2014   #25
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I just stopped caring 'what would have been possible had I still a darkroom studio' when my reality is that now my apartment is too tiny for one, just like I don't care how far a Porsche would get me in an hour's drive while I only own a bicycle. I'm very happy with the printing tool and control that my inkjet printer gives me, compared not not being able to print at all. It might be a problem if museums would regularly call me for prints maybe, but that's hardly a reality for me or anyone here I suspect. While in offset print that difference will be moot anyway.
Yeah, but turn that around a minute. "Your reality" is the reality you choose out on the range of realities available to you. This is often a question of priorities. Most of the best photographers I know have been quite a lot more obsessive about their photography than I am, and from all I can see, I'm quite a bit more obsessive than most others on most forums. Darkroom over new furniture? Easy choice.

There's an old Spanish proverb: "Take what you want, and pay for it, saieth the Lord." If you don't want to take much or pay much, fine.

When I say "pay" I don't mean just money. Time, effort, concentration, giving up other things: that's all a part of what you pay to do what's important to you. Would you work at McJobs to pay for your photography? If not, how much do you care about your photography? And don't pull the "I have kids and responsibilities" argument. Those were your choices too.

This is written principally to play Devil's Advocate, but hey, look at the title of the thread.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-01-2014   #26
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The title of this thread will be a bit of a problem for aetheists. After all, you can hardly have the devil without the existence of god...

... so who designed the Babel fish then?
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Old 02-01-2014   #27
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I think that silver prints will always have their specific appeal, just like a pistacchio ice cream does... However, if we concentrate on the question, if digital prints underperform or outperform silver ones, the answer, as is often the case, is: it depends.
In the first place, say we compare a silver print made from a negative, and an inkjet one made from the same negative after scanning. If the scanning and post processing are state of the art - little if anything will be lost in terms of tonality. In terms of resolution, it is hard to say, but it appears, that at small enlargement factors, the silver prints outperform, and at large enlargements factors, inkjet prints outperform.
What remains clear to me, is that silver prints will almost invariably look better from a small distance, simply because of the almost infinite resolution of the emulsion, and a certain impression of depth. If I had to say what is a gold standard of B&W printing, it would probably be contact prints made on silver chloride paper. Perhaps one day the inkjets will achieve microscopic droplets so tiny, they will be indistinguishable.
On the other hand, if we have to compare a silver print from a negative to a silver print direct from a digital file, then currently the negative image will still outperform on any count except for resolution, no matter how many "film emulating" programs you apply to it, just like a state of the art analogue recording will outperform a digital one.
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Old 02-01-2014   #28
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. . . the answer, as is often the case, is: it depends.. . .
A firm, unequivocal "it depends".

And, if you can tell the different kinds of prints apart at all, it's also an aesthetic decision which you choose.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-01-2014   #29
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Digital prints made from scanned negatives look better to my eyes than those from digital camera files. Those of us of the old-time black and white persuasion grew up used to not seeing all 256 tones in every picture. A lot of the digital pictures and prints I see today show too much detail. Sometimes, what you don't see adds more impact than what you do.

Like it or not, digital is the here-and-now and the future. Younger people will see it as the norm and look at silver processes like we look at uncoated 1933 Leica lens pictures.
With admiration?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-01-2014   #30
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Well, it seems that an explanation of H&D curves is available on Roger and Frances site (http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subsc...20density.html). But I still have not heard anyone here who seems to have a grasp on their application in photo editing software -- is willing to share the knowledge. Isn't that Bill's point in the opening post?
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Old 02-01-2014   #31
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Well, it seems that an explanation of H&D curves is available on Roger and Frances site (http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subsc...20density.html). But I still have not heard anyone here who seems to have a grasp on their application in photo editing software -- is willing to share the knowledge. Isn't that Bill's point in the opening post?
Different programs can display the raw files with different tonal values and different films have different H&D curves; so, we have to settle for a broad generalization about the difference between a “straight” conversion and one that emulates a b&w film curve. In general, the lower values, like shadow areas, will be darker and have less contrast. Lightroom users could get a rough idea by taking an image and looking at it first with no adjustment to the “tone curve” and then with the darks set to -30 and the shadows set to -10 along with a healthy boost in “clarity.”. It’s your eye and your taste when it comes to producing a b&w film "look" with a file from a digital camera, but those are the basic tools.
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Old 02-01-2014   #32
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Every Epson printer I had was definitely the devil's work, and a good job he/she did too. They would suffer from ink clogs at the drop of a hat, cleaning cycles consumed huge quantities of ink, and more than a few of my prints faded after just 11 years, and that's w/ them being under the bed and not exposed to light. Yes, I used the best pigmented inks. I truly felt like I'd died and gone to heaven when I set up the darkroom, finally. Ink on paper is not silver in fiber photo paper. Big difference in archival quality too. I just tore up all of my inkjets one night, which was about 9 years worth of work, after seeing the difference between them and the darkroom work.
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Old 02-01-2014   #33
Bob Michaels
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Who has considered that any significant differentiation between a print being make via silver or quality digital process is in actuality a negative reflection of the quality of the photograph / photographer?

Sorry, but I have seen too many great prints of less than great photographs.
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Old 02-01-2014   #34
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Quote:
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There are laser printers used for B&W printing on silver halide papers.

These are generally called digital silver halide prints.
In Boston, Digital Silver Imaging
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Old 02-02-2014   #35
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Sitting at my computer in my office in a corner of the bedroom, I glance to the wall just on my left and there is a framed 11x14 inkjet print of an image I took back in 1973. I have silver prints I made of this same negative. Love both... No devil's work going on here ;-)
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Old 02-02-2014   #36
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I just stopped caring 'what would have been possible had I still a darkroom studio' when my reality is that now my apartment is too tiny for one, just like I don't care how far a Porsche would get me in an hour's drive while I only own a bicycle. I'm very happy with the printing tool and control that my inkjet printer gives me, compared not not being able to print at all. It might be a problem if museums would regularly call me for prints maybe, but that's hardly a reality for me or anyone here I suspect. While in offset print that difference will be moot anyway.
Well said.

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Old 02-02-2014   #37
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Inkjet printers are not the devil's work - they provide more precise control in the printing process than was ever available when making silver prints. Not exactly the ruination of humanity, IMHO.

However: Digital cameras are an invention straight from the pit of hell. Look at the painfully long list of magnificent film cameras - of all formats - that have been felled by the digital hysteria.

Digital cameras are evil - pure evil incarnate.
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Old 02-02-2014   #38
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Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
There are laser printers used for B&W printing on silver halide papers.

These are generally called digital silver halide prints.

This is what Ilford provide and where I send any stuff I want printed.
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Old 02-02-2014   #39
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Every Epson printer I had was definitely the devil's work, and a good job he/she did too. They would suffer from ink clogs at the drop of a hat, cleaning cycles consumed huge quantities of ink, and more than a few of my prints faded after just 11 years, and that's w/ them being under the bed and not exposed to light. Yes, I used the best pigmented inks. I truly felt like I'd died and gone to heaven when I set up the darkroom, finally. Ink on paper is not silver in fiber photo paper. Big difference in archival quality too. I just tore up all of my inkjets one night, which was about 9 years worth of work, after seeing the difference between them and the darkroom work.
Quite true. I have given up expensive ink jets because of this.. If I want a good print, I have decided to send it out for now.

But I do periodically look at what new to c if they have done better.

I miss my time in the darkroom but the papers that were my favorite are no longer being produced (Agfa Boveria and Portiga). What I don't miss is the taste of fixer after spending hours in a darkroom (even in good commercial well ventilated ones).

Gary
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Old 02-02-2014   #40
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I'm working hard to get good at inkjet printing, I know it's possible. Amazing actually, I've seen very good inkjet prints, wish I was able to achieve same. It's coming.
But Devil is hiding in the equipment, you have to be aware of the fact that once you're on the digital (inkjet)track, you have become a hostage of the hardware/software manufacturers. Stuff gets imposed on you that you didn't ask for, and you can count on sooner or later having to deal with incompatibility of your tools. You'll miss the control you had over your equipment in the wet (analog) darkroom. I.o.w. there is a price to pay. To the Devil.
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