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Friday, August 1, 2008

Print Like Ansel Adams

Tips and techniques from one of the experts at Nash Editions will help you make your best black-and-white prints ever

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Figure 1
As the digital march continues onward, there’s one thing that will never change: the pure aesthetic quality of elegant black-and-white imagery. My position at Nash Editions has exposed me to a wide variety of photographic art, and with that variety comes a plethora of problems. Much 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 here, I’ll focus on some of the more unique techniques I use to improve black-and-white images.

Meaningful Black Point, Meaningful White Point
Contrast, contrast, contrast. It’s 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 the 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. 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.

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

Most images benefit from setting a meaningful black point and a meaningful white point. Keep in mind that there always are exceptions. For example, finding a black point and white point in a foggy landscape may not be appropriate. Doing so increases the contrast of the image and renders an unnatural atmospheric look, where the expected gradation of the tones isn’t as smooth as one expects. Remember that you always have to approach each image on an individual basis.


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