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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Your Ultimate B&W Print

Ansel Adams didn't have a digital darkroom at his disposal, but you do. Learn how you can make the most of it.

Click Images To EnlargeThis Article Features Photo Zoom

In film-based wet darkrooms, photographers would spend years in pursuit of becoming a master printer. Digital printmaking is every bit as much a matter of technique and art as it ever was. It all comes down to style and knowing your medium.
The big three of printing, Canon, Epson and HP, now offer technologies that have made black-and-white printing more exciting than ever. With inks, papers and printers providing black-and-white prints that can last well over a century, it's time to learn a little more about how to get quality black-and-white prints from your images.

While most cameras offer black-and-white in-camera conversion for amazing prints, it’s generally accepted that it’s best to shoot in color. In-camera black-and-white or sepia modes are great for previewing images, but you’re essentially throwing away information when capturing that way. Also, digital technology has made black-and-white conversion as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, so there’s little reason to take images only for grayscale use.

There are numerous ways to do black-and-white conversion, many of which have already been covered in OP. A few methodologies include Lab-color, Photoshop’s Channel mixer, the new Black and White mode in CS3 and grayscale conversion. Essentially, the more complex the conversion process, the more sophisticated the level of control you have over the final print.

During the black-and-white conversion process, whichever method you choose, it’s important to maintain a nondestructive workflow by using layers that can be altered or removed. This gives you more options later and even can be reversed from black-and-white back to color if necessary. For that reason, it’s best to process the image in color first, which gives a properly optimized color print, ready to go and right from the same image file.

Personal tastes aside, every great print, black-and-white or color, will have sharp details with highlights that aren’t blown out and blacks that are rich and full. A print also needs contrast with smooth transitions. This is something to think of when printing as well as when choosing your subject matter. Blacks and whites and grays that are evenly and gradually spread throughout a print are vital, too. Dodging and burning with digital dodging and burning tools, or through removable layers, help to reduce or intensify smaller, localized areas for a print. For larger areas, curves adjustment is often best for tweaking contrast.


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