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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Your Perfect B&W Print

Ansel Adams called the print “The Performance.” OP shows you, in-depth, how to use Photoshop to get your image ready for the best performance possible.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Even in an age of photo sharing online, the print remains the ultimate expression of a photograph. To make your black-and-white images print with maximum impact, follow Ming Tshing’s step-by-step process.

As the digital march continues onward, there’s one thing that will never change: the pure aesthetic quality of elegant black-and-white imagery. While the aesthetic stays constant, there have been changes in technology, so we’re reexamining and updating how to prepare your image to make the very best fine-art print possible. Working at Nash Editions has exposed me to a wide variety of photographic art. With that variety, comes a variety of problems. Many of my Photoshop skills are a direct result of problem-solving. Every day I work with photographers, optimizing their images, helping them to realize their vision on paper. Rather than covering a comprehensive overview of my black-and-white workflow, I’ll focus on some of the more unique techniques I use to improve black-and-white images and get them ready for printing.

Black Point, White Point
Contrast is the framework of black-and-white imagery. A proper black point provides a solid base for your image. Like all workflows, it’s important to get started on the right path. Setting a black point and a white point is the process where we tell Photoshop which areas of our image should be black and which areas should be white. This is crucial when dealing with the overall contrast of your image.

Every image is unique. Technically, setting the black point is finding the darkest pixels of the image and setting that to a value of 0, and setting the white point is finding the lightest pixels of your image and setting that value to 255. The technical approach is rarely the appropriate one, however. It’s important to establish what I call a meaningful black point. You must visually identify the area of your image that you want to be black and then set that to be a black point. Very often you end up sacrificing unimportant shadow details in other areas of the image. Keeping some detail in the lighter areas of the image is important; giving up detail here leaves these areas printing with no information, essentially, allowing the paper color (paper white) to show through.

This is an image of salt beds in Badwater, Calif. (Fig. 1). In this photograph, I wanted the shadows under the pills of salt to have a meaningful black point as opposed to the mountains at the edges, which are technically the darkest portions of the image. The result is a more defined image with subtle shadows in the foreground.

Most images will benefit from setting a meaningful black point and a meaningful white point. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions. For example, finding a black point and white point in a foggy landscape may not be appropriate. Doing so will increase the contrast of the image and render an unnatural atmospheric look.

Shadows/Highlights is an adjustment tool that’s often overlooked, yet it’s an invaluable tool when you want to establish the full tonal range of an image.

Shadows/Highlights is a recovery adjustment, used to recover information from the shadow and highlight areas.

Shadows/Highlights isn’t an adjustment layer, and without utilizing Smart Objects, any application is a permanent change to your image. Thus, it’s a tool that should be used with an exit strategy in mind. A good workflow incorporates duplicating your layer for the Shadows/Highlights adjustment.


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