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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.

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St. Elmo's Keep
"There are many classic printing styles," says photographer John Paul Caponigro. "Expanded tonal range with a high degree of both contrast and separation in shadows, midtones and highlights is the most popular. Ansel Adams’ work is an excellent example of this. Another printing style favors high contrast with a reduction in shadow detail—less frequently of highlight detail—and midtone separation. Brett Weston’s work is an excellent example of this printing style."

Proofing is probably more important than anything. While the 72 dpi resolution of a computer screen gives a great approximation of how an image looks, proofing a print allows you to compare differences in the real world. Thankfully, digital provides a lot more flexibility than test strips did. The Easy Photo Print Pro Photoshop plug-in that comes with some Canon printers, for example, uses a pattern print that can contrast an image in up to 36 different version of brightness, hue, contrast and color.

Printers themselves also need to be proofed. Many companies, such as Datacolor, Pantone and X-Rite, offer color-management systems that calibrate computer monitors to printers to paper and ink profiles. As black-and-white’s popularity increases, these systems are adapting modes that target black-and-white specifically, such as Datacolor’s Spyder3Elite, which includes an Extended Grays Target. Printers themselves often include test images, too.

Ink systems, available as dye- or pigment-based, now include wider selections of densities, blacks and grays for more accurate hues and smoother tonal transition. Third-party inksets and papers exist for extended printing options (and budgetary constraints), but swapping of inks can take a lot of time and often gums up the works of a printer, so pros suggest choosing one inkset and staying with it.

In contrast to the days of film, many modern papers can be used for either color or black-and-white prints. Most of them are interchangeable with ink systems, too. With quality paper manufacturers like Hahnemuhle, Harman, Moab and Red River, there may never be one perfect paper for every situation, but there’s a perfect paper for each situation. Surfaces like glossy, matte, canvas and others provide a subtle, but visceral feel to a print. When selecting your paper, watch for gsm weight, which denotes strength. Basic papers range from 220 to 285 gsm, while more durable fine-art papers are in the 300 to 400 gsm range. The whiteness of the paper and the density of blacks, specified by ISO brightness and D-Max, are especially important for black-and-white printing. Be leery of brightening agents, though, as they can decrease the longevity of your print.

These are only a few of the possibilities to keep in mind as you experiment with technologies and processes. As with most science, once applied to art, the final product you’re happy with ultimately depends on your own sensibilities.


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