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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

Midtone Contrast
At Nash Editions, Mac Holbert and I have worked on countless images over the years. One common issue we find with images is a lack of contrast in the midtones. In the beginning, we added contrast to these areas by using a basic curve, locking down the lighter and darker tones and targeting additional contrast to the midtones. Although this worked to increase the contrast in the midtones, we knew there was a better, more direct way of accomplishing this. True story—as Mac was sleeping in bed, he came up with what we called the Midtone Contrast layer.

Figure 6
Here’s an overview of the workflow. Create a Stamped Visible layer at the top of your layer stack. Select the top layer in your Layers palette. With the Option key pressed, go to the menu Layer > Merge Visible. This creates a flattened version of your image at the top of the layer stack. Rename it Midtone Contrast.

Change the mode of the Midtone Contrast layer to Overlay and lower the Opacity to 20%. Once this is done, go to Filters > Others > High Pass. In the High Pass Filter dialog, set the Radius to 50 and press OK. We want to remove all colors if there are any from this Midtone Contrast layer. Use the Desaturate command from Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

This next step is important. In the blending options of the Midtone Contrast layer, change the values for Blend If. With the Midtone Contrast layer selected, go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options (Figure 6). In the bottom center of the dialog box, there are two gradated sliders for the Blend If option. Set the slider under This Layer to 50/70 for the black and 185/205 for the white. We have to split the slider to get the values we want. Splitting the slider is accomplished by holding down the Option key, clicking on the slider and dragging it apart.

Figure 7
The Blend If setting fades the contrast out of both the black and white areas of the image, focusing the contrast to the midtones of the image. You can increase or decrease the midtone contrast by changing the opacity of the Midtone Contrast layer. The finished result is in Figure 7.

In no way is this the best or the only workflow for black-and-white images. Please take from this what makes sense for your own workflow.

Ming Tshing is an educator, photographer and digital-imaging specialist at Nash Editions. He has been photographing in the United States and Asia since age 16. Tshing teaches at the Art Center College of Design and at Santa Monica College, participating in numerous workshops across the United States. You can find Photoshop Actions dealing with what has been covered in this article at www.tshing.com.


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