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Monday, January 7, 2008

Aesthetics Of Black And White

Digital technology and equipment give you more control and the ability to make the finest black-and-white images ever, but there's an art to coaxing the best print from your image files



Optimization
“Classical print criteria apply,” notes Caponigro. “Crisp detail. Dark blacks. Bright whites. Subtle shadow and highlight detail. Smooth tonal transitions without posterization or noise. The differences between making color and black-and-white inkjet prints are very small.”

Blacks and whites and grays that extend evenly throughout a print are vital. Dodging and burning can help to intensify or reduce locally, either through burning and dodging tools or through an adjustment layer, which can be removed later. The same can be said for Curves for manipulating contrast as needed.

“There are many classic printing styles,” says 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.

“Some artists use extreme contrast, reducing the number of tones in an image to as few as two—Harry Callahan occasionally worked this way,” continues Caponigro. “Yet another printing style favors reduced contrast with lighter blacks, darker whites and exceptional tonal separation in the midtones—Alfred Stieglitz's work is an excellent example of this. Other printing styles limit the tonal structure of an image by shifting it toward one end of the tonal scale or the other, dark or light—Matt Mahurin uses a very dark palette while Joyce Tenneson's early work was extremely light. Each of these black-and-white palettes directs the viewer's attention to specific aspects of an image and imparts a distinct mood.”

Proofing
When optimizing for a print, the 72 dpi resolution of your screen gives a great approximation of how an image looks, but to get really great prints, proofs are a must. Anyone who has ever printed in a darkroom remembers the laborious test-strip method of exposing stops of slightly varying exposure levels. The method hasn't changed too much. It's a question of alternating through systematic trial and error. Thankfully, numerous programs now exist for comparing images. The Easy Photo Print Pro Photoshop plug-in that comes with Canon high-end printers, for example, uses a pattern print for contrasting an image in 36 different versions of brightness, hue, contrast and color.

Developing an understanding of color management and how an image will convert also will help you to visualize in black-and-white while you're shooting.

Proofing the printer also is necessary for consistent prints. A variety of companies, such as Datacolor, Pantone and X-Rite, offer color-management systems that calibrate your monitor to the printer to the paper. As the popularity of black-and-white increases, these systems are adapting modes for dealing specifically with black-and-white images, such as Datacolor's Spyder3Elite, which includes an Extended Grays Target for adding precision gray and near-gray data to profiles. Test images also exist online, or often are included with a printer, to ensure that blacks, whites and everything in between are scaled correctly.


 

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