Enhance Your Photography: Look Into the Smaller “Landscapes”

 

My personal work includes a lot of landscape shooting, and I usually try to take in a large swath of territory. I often like the grand vistas, the sweeping plains and looming mountains. In urban landscapes I might include wide-angle shots of buildings crowded together, along with bustling streets and milling people. But sometimes it’s the things at my feet that intrigue me too. Here’s a few images from a trip to Bodie, California, a 100+ year-old ghost town built around a gold and silver mine.

These were originally shot in digital color and converted to black and white.

These images are all from the machinery used to extract the gold and silver from the rock ore.

_MG_5783 stamps copy

 

_MG_5773 nuts copy

_MG_5779 detail copy v copy

Complete Text – “The New Black and White” – Article Pub in Photo Technique Magazine May 2012

The New Black and White: Digital/Darkroom Large Format Printing

I’ll always remember my first experiences in the darkroom, watching my prints come up, feeling like something magical was afoot. In recent years, I’ve frequently wished that there was an effective way to use my digital images in the darkroom, and make prints on fiber-based paper that have that special silver-based depth and luminosity.

Mesquite Flats, © David Saffir 2011

Hewlett Packard Company has developed updated technology* that makes it possible to create a “digital negative” using a digital file or film scan. That digital negative can be used in a traditional darkroom to make prints of any reasonable size. HP calls this the Large Format Digital Photo Negative Solution. In this article, I’ll review the process in detail, including some of the methods used in the darkroom-printing phase.

The process consists of six steps:

1. Creating a base digital file via camera capture or film scan
2. Performing normal editing of the image through Photoshop or other application
3. Adjust image file for correct printing density
4. Flip and invert file
5. Print to HP Designjet Z3200 printer using the Photo Negative pre-set for the printer driver
6. Make a contact-style darkroom print, using your preferred chemistry

*Printing large format photo negatives with inkjet ink is an old concept. There are a number of books and methods that helped pioneer this. The goal in creating this solution was to make the process of printing large format photo negatives easier, and to achieve maximum quality using the HP Designjet Z3200 printer.

Creating a Base File

Image quality is, as always, a key driver in final print appearance. Obviously, a high-quality DSLR will (all else being equal) yield a better digital file and final print. Similarly, a high-resolution drum film scan will give better results than a scan made on a low-end tabletop flatbed scanner.

At the end of the day you’ll want a digital file that would also provide excellent quality as an inkjet print−a print the same size as the negative you plan to make. So, if you want a 16×20 negative, ideally you’ll want to have a digital file with pixel dimensions equivalent to a 16×20 @ 300 dpi. You can improvise at lower resolution, but your mileage may vary.

Image Editing

Initial image editing follows a normal path, with adjustments as needed. Keep a close eye on highlight and shadow detail−remember that you’ll be printing to inkjet film, not paper−and the film is somewhat sensitive to clipping, particularly in the shadows.

Flip and Invert

You’ll be making a negative, so of course you’ll flip the on-screen image horizontally, and invert it.

Flip and Invert The Image

We’ll make one last adjustment to the file before printing the negative−but first, we have to create a test chart and evaluate the results.

Adjust Image Density

HP recommends printing a test chart, and making a test print to set image density correctly. I’ve found that one can in many cases use a shortcut for this. I’ll review the process by the book in summary form, and then describe the shortcut. (Please refer to the HP instructions for full details).

The adjustment for image density enables creation of a negative that will yield a darkroom print with best possible shadow, mid-tone, and highlight values.

Print the 256-step target generated by the HP software. Here’s the original test target:

(The digital test target is printed on the inkjet film, and then a test image is printed in the darkroom.)

You can print from an image-editing application, or directly through the HP Z3200’s Embedded Web Server (otherwise called EWS−Postscript model). Quoting from the manual “If the printer driver is used to send the image to print, make sure to select “no color management” in the application used to print the image and “application color management” in the driver. Select the plug-in preset for the digital negative film type using “HPPhotoSilverNegative 1.0 for clear film, and HPPhotoSilverNegative 1.0d for translucent film. The printing parameters must be “maximum quality,” “no gloss enhancer” and “more passes.””

The figure below illustrates the settings to use when printing using the EWS’s “job submitter” interface.”

This “gray” chart negative can now be used in the darkroom to create a print using your silver paper and your standard printing time−once completed, find the patch that yields “paper white”. The “value” of this patch in this case is 200. This value is used to adjust the digital image file when printing the digital negative (described below).

Final Image Adjustments: Printing the Negative

First, go to the Channels palette, and fill the Red channel with black. (Select the Red channel, then Edit> Select All, then Edit>Fill>Black).

Next, click on RGB in the channels palette to reselect all channels. Create a Curves adjustment layer, select the Red channel. Left click, hold and drag the low left point of the line upward until the output level indicates 200.

Generally, an adjustment in the red channel between 195 and 210 will get the job done. Keep in mind that small adjustments may have significant impact on image appearance, particularly in shadow detail and midtone transitions.

Printing On Inkjet Film

Print the negative the same way you printed the test target, above. Please keep in mind that these negatives are a bit fragile; handle the film and printed negative with care. Use lint-free gloves. Carry the negative in a folio with interleaving sheets to prevent scratching.

Darkroom Printing

We used fiber based fine art papers in our darkroom printing. Here are a couple of examples of methodology:

Example 1
Silver Halide Paper: ADOX Premium MCC VC FB (glossy)
Enlarger: Omega Super Chromega D Dichroic II
Developing: LPD, Hypo cleaning, Selenium Toning,
Archival Wash and Dry

Example 2
Silver Halide Paper: Ilford Multigrade FB Fiber
Enlarger: Devere 810 w/ Dichroic Head
Developing: Dektol D 72, Sprint Record Fixer/ Sprint Archive Fixer remover
Archival Wash and Dry

Prints are made using a contact frame. You can purchase one or simply adapt an old picture frame as we did. Ensure that the frame is completely flat, and that there are no gaps or spaces between the glass, negative and paper.

Given the size of these negatives and the material used, tend to attract dust. When possible, handle with lint-free gloves and use a hand-held blower when mounting/dismounting from the contact frame. We also used an archival-style washer that featured continuous low flow of clean water.

We used enlargers listed here for a number of reasons, including the ease of filter selection, and high quality adjustable lenses. On the ADOX paper, for example, we finalized settings of f/22 or f/27, approximately 24 seconds, with magenta filter (ranged from 45-80).

Islands in the Stream, © David Saffir

Tips and Hints:

The manufacturer suggests that any light diffused light source can be used. Certainly we tried this; however I have found that sharper prints can be made with a lens mounted in the enlarger. Another benefit of this setup is that an adjustable aperture makes exposure easier to control.

Use reasonably fresh chemistry. Once you immerse the exposed paper in the developer, try to be patient. It may take a while for the print to come up (be visible) and then the process seems to accelerate a bit to completion. If you’re working with a low-key image, watch the shadows carefully; it seemed that even with the modest contrast of the ADOX that it was possible to over-do and lose detail in this area. I suggest in-process inspection (after initial wash), as you may find that you’ll want to make small adjustments.

Some photographers suggest that they like the idea of using dodging/burning to enhance the image in-darkroom, however, it’s a pretty big negative for this. My personal preference is to do as much of the image editing on the digital file− if nothing else, once the adjustments are “locked down” in the digital file, the printed negative can provide very consistent prints.

We also found that image contrast continued to improve, as did some high-light detail, after dry-down. Take a close look at this stage−if you find that shadow/highlight detail, or transition areas are not exactly as you’d like, consider making a small adjustment to the density of the negative using the curves adjustment described above. You might also try adjusting the enlarger filter settings.

Results

It all starts with the negative−it has to hold its own in critical areas. The darkroom work is straightforward−just be sure to attend to the details. We made a number of prints, ranging in size from 8×10 up to 20×24. I feel that image quality was excellent, showing good depth and dimensionality, holding up well in shadow/ highlight areas. One model I had photographed had very fine blonde hair and the detail shown was remarkable. Another image with strong textures held up very well, even at larger sizes. And of course, silver-gelatin fiber-based prints are unequaled for their inherent luminosity and presence!

This process asks that the photographer/printmaker adopt a modified workflow. I found most of this work to be only moderately demanding, with the curves density adjustment requiring a few trial and error cycles be-fore I felt completely comfortable. Overall, the prints looked great and it was well worth the effort!

My sincere thanks to Tony Zinnanti, print-maker, of Santa Clarita and Eric Luden of Digital Silver Imaging for their support in this project.

Photo Technique Magazine

SPECIAL NOTE: We have a new photo tour and workshop in the Palouse (Pacific Northwest) coming up in June 2012. For more information, click here.

Update, “A Look at Nik Silver Efex Pro 2” for black and white imaging……

Nik Software Education just published an updated version of my overview of Silver Efex Pro 2, my all-time favorite application for creating black and white images. I think you’ll find it is readable and provides a good overview, plus some useful tips and tricks for making the most of this great piece of software.

If you do decide to acquire the software, or any of the others on the NIK site, remember that the code DSAFFIR will get you a 15% break on the cost.

Here’s the link:

http://education.niksoftware.com/2012/04/12/a-look-at-silver-efex-pro-2/

Making Large Format Photo Negatives from Digital Images

Until recently, our main options in photographic printing lived in two worlds—analog and digital. It didn’t seem possible that we’d ever have an option that would let photographers easily move back and forth between them. HP has introduced a solution that extends a bridge between those worlds, one that lets us print our digital images using traditional, darkroom-based silver halide/silver gelatin process. HP calls this the Large Format Photo Negative solution…..

Read more:  http://www.ppmag.com/web-exclusives/2012/02/lgformatprint-digneg.html

Large Format Digital Negative

Archival Print Wash

Photography Quote of the Day – February 3

Poppy Fields © David Saffir

..

 There are always flowers for those who want to see them. ~ Henri Matisse

I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Join us in our upcoming workshop in the Palouse!

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2: Review and Basic Workflow

by David Saffir

Whether you’re considering using SEP2 for the first time, or upgrading, you’ll find that the software is well-designed – it has an intuitive interface, good balance between presets and customization, improved editing options, runs faster, and produces excellent image quality.

Some might say that the presets and other tools available in programs like Lightroom or Aperture are sufficient to create good black and white images – but I can’t agree that they are the best choice.

The high level of control and customization available in Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) make this an excellent tool for serious photographers. And even if you’re only occasionally converting a color image to black and white, you’ll find the software to be well worth the investment in time and money.

Here’s the original color image that I worked on for this article:

Highlights

The opening screen, launched from CS5. Note that SEP2 always starts out applying the default “Normal” preset (outlined in orange) – and in this case the image looks a bit dark to me. That’s going to change, of course. (click on any screen shot to enlarge)

Silver Efex Pro 2 has a great lineup of pre-sets – one click on a pre-set converts your image into your selected black and white “look”. (left side of screen shot).

There are some new ones, and all have been organized into categories for easy reference. You can use presets for a one-click conversion, as a starting point for further edits and adjustments. You can also save your own adjustments in a custom preset.

Brightness – previously had one slider adjustment. Brightness can now be adjusted in highlights, midtones, and shadows. A “dynamic brightness” adjustment has been added (the Dynamic Brightness slider automatically adapts the brightness applied to each area differently – more detail later in this review).

Contrast – Now provides three sliders: Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks, and Soft Contrast.

Structure adjustment (quoting Nik Software: “Increasing contrast within the objects without affecting the edges of each object. The result is the increase of apparent detail throughout the image without unwanted artifacts”.): This has been expanded/upgraded – adjustments can be made highlights, midtones, and shadows. There’s also a new adjustment for “fine structure”.

Selective adjustments: uses Control Points to make local changes to brightness, contrast, structure, amplify whites, amplify blacks, fine structure, and selective colorization.

Color Filters – you can apply color filters to the image, which are the digital equivalent of using a similar filter on-camera.

Film Types: provides 18 presets for applying the “look” of a particular black and white film. There are also adjustments for grain, color sensitivity, and a levels and curves adjustment.

Finishing Adjustments: toning/split toning, vignette, image borders, and burn edges. The toning tool set is particularly sophisticated, and even includes controls for things like silver toning.

Loupe, Histogram, and Zone System tools – more on these later, including the Zone System.

History Browser – records all of your adjustments, step by step. Similar to Photoshop. You can roll back and forth between steps. Very useful tool and a great improvement.

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Workflow

This section provides a more detailed review of features, and an example of workflow, using SEP2. There’s more than one way to approach image editing – its relatively easy to work through your options and get the best result.

Most reviewers jump right into using the software, but I’d like to suggest a different starting point: convert your first layer in Photoshop into a Smart Object. Smart Objects “remember” your adjustments in SEP2.

Once you convert the layer, you can adjust via SEP2, close it, and later click on the Smart Object – this will re-open SEP2 where you left off, and remember all adjustments from your earlier session. Very efficient and powerful.

Here’s how you convert a layer to a Smart Object in Photoshop: Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Smart Object:

Note: I’ve inserted a second layers palette into this illustration. The palette marked “1” shows a standard background layer. The palette marked “2” shows a background layer converted to a normal layer, and then to a Smart Object. A Smart Object is identified by the square icon lower right in the layer thumbnail (see arrow).

To launch SEP2 from Photoshop (assuming you’ve installed it), go Filter>Nik Software>Silver Efex Pro 2.
Here’s the opening screen again.

(click on any screen shot to enlarge)

The opening screen is organized into three columns. On the left, the column shows the presets I mentioned earlier in this article. The red rectangle includes a toggle button to hide the presets column, and a second button to reveal it.

There are many presets. They range from “normal” to some impressive special effects. A single click on any preview thumbnail temporarily applies the pre-set adjustments to the image. They are not finalized until you click OK at bottom right.

I frequently test a few presets at the beginning of an editing session to see if I can shorten my work cycle to a finished image, or at least get to a starting point for customized adjustments. Inside the green rectangle, the first button shows a single image view. The second button displays a red line down the middle to show “before” on the left and “after” on the right as a split preview.

You can move the line where you wish, or change the orientation of the two previews. The third button creates two smaller images showing a “before” and “after” side-by-side. In my own workflow, I usually use the line tool. It’s also possible to zoom in and out for closer inspection.

The third column, on the right, has a wide range of image adjustment and editing tools.

Global Adjustments

I generally make global, or image-wide adjustments first, and work on details second.

I may go to the Color Filter or the Film Types first. These are similar to on-camera filters we are all familiar with. For example, the red filter is a good choice with this model’s skin tones. Note that the filter can be adjusted for intensity and hue – click on the Details triangle icon and the submenus will appear:

Red filter applied, before/after view.

These are non-destructive edits – they are not applied to the image until I press the “OK button. If I find that they are not fitting into the workflow at the beginning, I’ll probably return to them later on.

Film types

Another global adjustment. The film types tool provides 18 different black and white film types that do a remarkable job of emulating some of the more popular black and white films. If you mouse over them you’ll see a preview of its effects.

You have a couple of options here. Like the presets provided in the left hand column of the software screen, you can use these as a quick path to a finished, or nearly finished image. In my workflow, I usually use them as a starting point for further editing.

Note the Grain adjustment panel, right under the film type drop-down. This is a highly flexible adjustment, and it does an excellent job of emulating actual film grain – it is very natural in appearance. Left side shows “before”. I’ve used a fairly intense setting for demo purposes – you have complete control on-screen.

If you select a film type, you’ll see changes in both the Sensitivity and Levels/Curves panels. These are adjustments in the response of the “film” to the color in the underlying, original image. (Also note the change in the grain adjustments, which are part of the “look” of the film selected.)

Both of these can be adjusted further to suit your needs. One can adjust Curves and Levels as well – in fact, one could say that there is rarely a reason to leave SEP2 and return to Photoshop for adjustments.

I usually move through the next part of workflow in the order provided in the global adjustments panels.
Brightness/Contrast/Structure adjustments. Note that each adjustment slider can be expanded by clicking on the triangle next to each tool name:

This division is a welcome improvement. For each segment:

Brightness

Divided into highlights, midtones, and shadows. This is more or less self-explanatory. There is a fourth adjustment, Dynamic Brightness. Quoting Nik Software “intelligently applying different brightness values to different areas of the image. Moving the slider to the left will darken the image overall, while keeping highlight detail. Moving the slider to the right will brighten the image overall, while keeping shadow detail”.

Contrast

Amplify Whites and Blacks – moving the whites slider to the right selectively increases tonal values of brighter areas, which can be adjusted without blowing out highlights. Moving the blacks slider does the same for tonal values in darker areas.

The Soft Contrast tool is one of my favorites. It quickly applies a “softer” look to the image – when I see the change, I think “smooth” – in terms of overall contrast and transition areas. In this case, I’ve applied a Soft Contrast adjustment at 25%. “Before” view to the left of the red line.

Structure

The structure adjustment is a pretty unique tool. Quoting Nik: “(Increases) contrast within the objects without affecting the edges of each object. The result is the increase of apparent detail throughout the image without unwanted artifacts”. An example of a structure adjustment in the shadows area (I made a modest adjustment. Note the structure slider. “Before” view is to the left. You can click on  screen shot to enlarge)

Fine Structure is pretty self-explanatory – it works on the smaller details in the image.

History Browser

This is a good time to introduce you to the new History Browser. Move the slider up and down your editing steps to either change your workflow, or review the impact of changes step-by-step. This tool is toggled on and off using the third button from the left in the panel (button outlined in red, arrow points to slider):

Note that unlike Photoshop you can’t delete an individual step from the middle of an editing stream and leave the remainder intact.

Selective Adjustments

Nik Software created the Control Point (they also refer to this as U-Point technology). Control points are highly adjustable tools that provide brightness, contrast, structure, amplify white, amplify black, fine structure, and selective colorization.

One creates a control point by first clicking on the “Add Control Point” icon. Then, you click again on the part of the image you want to adjust.

The size of the adjustment, or “area of influence”, is provided in the first slider on the control point:

Note that the Control Point is a very smart tool: it analyzes the area it is controlling, using the place where you first clicked (orange dot) as its reference. Adjustments made to the control point will generally affect only similar tones, textures, etc within the circle of influence. Adjustments made here would have minimal effect on the model’s hair.

Control points can be placed at will in the image. You can also place multiple control points – these can be controlled individually, or they can be grouped. When grouped, an adjustment made to one affects all in the group. They can also be adjusted from the right hand control panel, turned on and off, and more.

Control points are very sophisticated tools. There are many more ways to mix and match them.
_________________________

Finishing Adjustments

Nik provides a number of tools for enhancing and finishing your image.

These include:

Toning/Split Toning
Silver Toning
Paper Toning
Vignette
Burn Edges
Image Borders

One of my favorites among these are the toning tools.

If you click on the toning drop down you’ll see something like the screen shot below. When you move your mouse pointer over each one you’ll see a live preview on screen.

Note that I’ve selected sepia toning; there are many others to choose from. Note the inclusion of cyanotype and ambrotype adjustments. The strength of the toning is adjustable.

If you choose silver toning, you’ll see color in parts of the image that would, if this were a darkroom print, have silver on them. White areas obviously do not. It’s a different look: (remember – you can enlarge any screen shot by clicking on it)

Paper hue and toning are more or less self-explanatory.

The vignette tool is very flexible. There are presets available through the drop down, you can control the intensity via a slider control, you can adapt the vignette from a circle to a rectangle, and adjust its size.

A burn edges tool is provided. There are presets available, you can apply the effect to 1, 2, 3, or all four edges, control the amount, shape, and size.

(click on any screen shot to enlarge)
detail of the breakout box:

The image borders tool is one of my favorites. Presets are provided in the drop down menu, and you can adjust size, spread, and whether the effect is “clean” or “rough”. There’s also a “vary border” tool which provides nearly random variations on a set of adjustments.

I’ve provided a split-screen view here so you can see one pair of options. (I previously applied one effect). The right side of the screen shows an image border resulting from maxing out the sliders to the right.

Last but not least is the part of the palette column that provides a loupe viewer, a histogram, and a zone map, or zone system- based selector.

The first two are pretty basic, so I’ll move on to the zone system selector. If you mouse over a particular step (here I’ve hovered over step 3) the corresponding areas in the image will be highlighted by red shading. (see the zone boxes in the red outline lower right)  You can also click on these and mark more than one zone.

This is useful if you want a particular area of your image to be in a particular zone – identify the zone, and make global or Selective Adjustments to suit.

Wrap-Up

When I drafted this article in Word, it stretched to almost 20 pages. That’s pretty unusual – I still feel like I scratched the surface and a bit more – and you have to ask, how could that be?

Silver Efex Pro 2 is NOT a complicated application – but it is truly fully-featured. It incorporates the best of both worlds – darkroom and digital – and the results can be outstanding. The folks at Nik come from a variety of backgrounds, including film and darkroom processing, hard-core digital, world-class lighting, and more. The variety of tools available, and their accessibility, make it a “must have” for those of us who are interested in digital black and white photography.

The results you can get from this application will speak for themselves. Get the free trial, and put it through your toughest challenges.

For more info, go to Nik Silver Efex Pro.

DISCOUNT: If you decide to purchase Nik Silver Efex Pro2 or any Nik software product, including upgrades, use this code on the order page: DSAFFIR. You’ll get a 15% discount.

For updates on my workshops use this link.

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Disclosure: I have been a beta tester for Nik Software. I did not receive compensation for this article.

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Released by Nik Software

Nik Software has just released Silver Efex Pro 2. I’ve long felt that Silver Efex is the best available software for transforming color images to black and white. It’s available for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture.

The flexibility and power of the new application is very impressive. Here’s some interesting features:

Control Points – selective image edits and adjustments

History Browser – like Photoshop, you can move back and forth at will in your editing history

Structure and Fine Structure expanded/upgraded – fine structure brings out more visible detail in details and textures

GPU Processing – true 64-bit processing

Image Borders – Natural and Customizable

Selective Color – easily mix black and white and color elements in your image

Dynamic Brightness – differential brightness adjustment based on tonal values

One-Click Toning and Split Toning

At the end of the day, though, it’s the image quality that’s got me hooked. It’s not just faster, it’s better.

I’ve found that images I’ve edited using Silver Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro 2 look very good on paper, whether I’m using lustre, glossy, fine art, or canvas materials.

I’ll have a complete review by the end of next week.

For more information, go to Nik Software. You can download a 15 day free trial if you wish. You can also receive a 15% discount upon purchase,  using the code DSAFFIR in your shopping cart.

Here’s a link to my earlier review of Silver Efex Pro.

I have a workshop coming up this Saturday, Feb 26. Here’s a link to the course description:

Creating Gallery-Quality Black & White Images Using Nik Viveza 2, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro 2 for Photoshop