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When I come across digital B&W images on Alamy, I see almost all as being washed out and dull looking. 

 

W. Eugene Smith was famous for his B&W picture stories in Life Magazine, but he was also famous for his B&W printing. He tried to include both a pure white and an inky black in every print, if possible. Johnny Depp will play Smith in a film that's coming next year.

 

 

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Maybe they've just done a straight colour to B&W conversion in Photoshop or Lightroom, that never works imho, always needs more contrast and/or playing with sliders. Fabulous picture, somehere I've got a very detailed article he wrote about just how he produced his prints.

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My first B&W darkroom tutor taught me the beauty of black and white is in the blacks and the whites!

 

He also said to always remember KISS...Keep It Simple Stupid😃

 

Phil

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The problem with trying to print like Gene in 2019, Is anyone still making fiber based paper that is any good?

 

I also heard the one of Smith's secrets was the whisky that he used to hide in his Dektol bottles......

 

PS:  Have always been a huge fan of Smith and his work.

 

Chuck

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7 minutes ago, Chuck Nacke said:

Is anyone still making fiber based paper that is any good?

Long time since I've bought any but Ilford still make it here in the UK, and Foma in the Czech Republic, there will be others I'm sure, whether they have as much silver in I don't know.

 

https://parallaxphotographic.coop/product-category/darkroom-paper/black-and-white-darkroom-paper/?pa_paper-type=fibre-based-paper

 

My favourite was Agfa Record Rapid - long gone.

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1 hour ago, Harry Harrison said:

My favourite was Agfa Record Rapid - long gone.

Same here, a pain to wash for an hour but a lovely tone even in standard dev. I still have a part box of 18x24cm Grade 2, if you can use it. Not sure what condition it might be in.

Holy smoke.... £50 a box for 10x8 RC!!!

It's been nearly 20 years, and that was one of the reasons.

Edited by spacecadet

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1 hour ago, spacecadet said:

I still have a part box of 18x24cm Grade 2

Beautiful stuff, I still use Record Rapid prints to compare with to see if I'm, on the right track with my inkjet "Giclee" prints, doesn't really come close though, unglazed Record Rapid is hard to beat. Inkjets are great for colour though. I  read that the late Fred Herzog was only really discovered because he could finally print his Kodachromes out how he liked them.

 

Thanks very much for the offer of the RR but I don't really see me setting up the print darkroom again even though I've never been able to part with the equipment.

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It seems to me one problem is that buyers have different needs. In offset printing, it's hard to hold more than a 95% dot in black or less than a 5% dot in white. So the input needs to be a little flat. For other uses, such as the Web, black should be black and white should be white. The safer route would be to go a little flat and let the buyer punch up the contrast if needed.  My personal preference in converting RGB to BW is to convert to LAB color and use the L channel. If I want the effect of a red filter, I would use the red channel of RGB.

Edited by DDoug
clarity

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4 hours ago, Chuck Nacke said:

I also heard the one of Smith's secrets was the whisky that he used to hide in his Dektol bottles......

 

5 hours ago, Ed Rooney said:

W. Eugene Smith was famous for his B&W picture stories in Life Magazine, but he was also famous for his B&W printing. He tried to include both a pure white and an inky black in every print, if possible.

According to the article I have that he wrote in 1977 he used Kodak Polycontrast F in Dektol but with a great deal of localised burning in and chemical reduction, a true perfectionist. But when he wrote the article in 1977 he had seen prints he'd made in 1951 and just couldn't get the paper to match them!

 

Quote from the article:

"I absolutely despise printing, I look at the negative, and I look at the print. I come face to face with all the mistakes, I know the print I want, and know I'll probably get it, but it's sheer drudgery. My formula for successful printing remains ordinary chemicals, an ordinary enlarger, music, a bottle of Scotch, and stubbornness".

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7 hours ago, Chuck Nacke said:

The problem with trying to print like Gene in 2019, Is anyone still making fiber based paper that is any good?

 

I also heard the one of Smith's secrets was the whisky that he used to hide in his Dektol bottles......

 

PS:  Have always been a huge fan of Smith and his work.

 

Chuck

 

Ilford makes a terrific black and white paper - actually two of them - one for a pigment printer and one for a commercial printer - a panchromatic, resin-coated paper using a silver-based emulsion  I've used both for my fine art work - the pigment-based when I print myself, and the other when I've had a lab do the work. The silver emulsion is great but I also find that the pigment ink mimics film quite well. I have had gallerists remark that I was shooting film when viewing both. I spend hours tweaking my B&W in Nik Silver Efex - I also use Color Efex and other programs to bring out textures. The real secret is to never convert to grayscale. You lose so much of the gray tones that way. B&W prints should be in the sRGB color space. 

 

 

I started out shooting black and white film and learned in a darkroom, so my expectations of what a good B&W print should look like is influenced by the masters such as W Eugene Smith - just wish I could get my work to even approach anything like that, LOL. I used Ilford paper when I printed black and white in the darkroom too in the 1970's and 80's as a student and then as a lawyer seeking a creative outlet. I had heard a rumor at one point that Ilford was going under and so we wouldn't have the digital paper - I was in a panic. 

 

I have also used a Moab paper for black and white portraits for clients that I really like. For those I was printing myself with pigment inks. Using the wrong paper, images often get that purplish tone - so it's important to find the right one. (I have a Canon Pigment photo printer, which I much prefer to the Epson printers I used when working as a photo assistant - though most people I know who print their own work swear by Epson.)

 

I don't think I've uploaded any of my B&W to Alamy, so no idea how it would look. Certainly not like the image Edo posted of Smith's - I could only dream! 

 

 

Edited by Marianne

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I've not been able to come near the appearance of a good B&W print from a negative using digital. 

 

I've a small handful of B&W images on sale here largely scanned from B&W negs dating back to the 1960s and some have sold.  One surprised me by making it onto a calendar.

 

My rather poor efforts at colour digital to B&W on sale here have never had a sniff. I often look at the B&W prints used in some cafes and many are pretty poor, but I've not been able to break into that market. I wonder do the interior decorators buy colour images  and convert themselves, or do they search for B&W originals?

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I've recently looked at my B&W prints from the 80s.  I think the heavyweight paper I used was called Gallery ? 

 

I would have real problems trying to re-create that feel with today's printers and paper.

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17 minutes ago, John Walker said:

I think the heavyweight paper I used was called Gallery

Ilford (now Harman Technology) are still in business and they do still list Galerie, though oddly only in Grade 3, probably because Multigrade has rather taken over the market. Still fibre-based, still heavyweight. Still the same? I'm not sure.

 

https://www.ilfordphoto.com/ilfobrom-galerie-fb-grade-3

Edited by Harry Harrison
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There are some beautiful fibre based inkjet papers available and the results can be astounding when printed on a quality inkjet printer I think. Most of the paper manufacturers produce a range of fibre based papers and many do sample packs. The Permajet Mono Gloss Baryta is superb for mono printing - rich deep blacks and great distinction in the shadows and highlights as long as the detail and contrast exist in the digital image. It has a similar heavyweight feel and appearance to an unglazed glossy fibre photographic paper. There are other fantastic papers in the Permajet Baryta range as well. No nostalgia for the darkroom here.

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Last year I scanned some of my 1980s B&W negs, 6x6 and 35mm and then reversed them in Photoshop and did some adjustments curves and managed to get results that I was extremely pleased with(on screen, I haven't printed any), and with a couple of scenes that in the original prints I was never happy with I managed to get results that far outweigh the darkroom.

This for example from 35mm. 

KX16WP.jpg

 

One of the luxuries that computer based processing gives us is the opportunity to stop at any point and assess how the image is before making more adjustments whereas in the dark if you weren't happy with a print it was back to the enlarger and try to add extra dodge and/or burn then hope the dev was still at the right temp(especially in winter!) and hope for the outcome to be closer to what you wanted...

I do miss the darkroom for the craft and the unique results, but not the time/expense and hazardous smelly chemicals!

 

Phil

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Eugene Smith could spend a great deal of time perfecting a hand print but then would generally make a copy negative of that print and supply prints from that to publishers. Even then he was frustrated by the huge differences in reproduction from different publications supplied with the same print.

 

High quality scanners combined with Photoshop or Lightroom etc. have meant that it's possible to get good results from negatives that were very difficullt to print, particularly under-exposed thin negs. Over-exposed ones are not so good as the scanner can't see into the blocked up highlights on the negative. These pictures by Howard Grey of the Windrush arrivals have lain unprinted for decades because they were very under-exposed:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/oct/12/the-homecoming-windrush-photographs-of-howard-grey

 

 

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9 hours ago, MDM said:

The Permajet Mono Gloss Baryta is superb for mono printing - rich deep blacks and great distinction in the shadows and highlights as long as the detail and contrast exist in the digital image. It has a similar heavyweight feel and appearance to an unglazed glossy fibre photographic paper.

 

I'll have a look at that, you just have to go to shows to see them all properly. I still haven't quite found anything that replicates the eggshell finish of unglazed Record Rapid.

 

There is indeed a bewildering array of different paper types and quite a lot of jargon to get to grips with. I was at the Photography Show trying to work out the difference between two high end cotton based gloss fibre papers, one Baryta, one not. The guy on the stand told me that it more or less just marketing, old darkroom guys like the smell of Baryta! I melted gently back into the crowd.

Edited by Harry Harrison

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On 21/10/2019 at 13:41, Ed Rooney said:

 

When I come across digital B&W images on Alamy, I see almost all as being washed out and dull looking.

 

My earlier comment had to do with the fact that images on a stock photo site are primarily intended for publication. With offset printing, either web or sheet-fed, there is gain to consider (contrast will increase). Someone starting with a B&W print such as the W. Eugene Smith example, would have to screen it (or, these days, digitize it) in a way that is a little flat compared to the intended final result. So for them to appear that way online might not be wrong. To me it's a different question than what looks best as an art print on a wall.

Edited by DDoug

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"When I come across digital B&W images on Alamy, I see almost all as being washed out and dull looking. 

 

W. Eugene Smith was famous for his B&W picture stories in Life Magazine, but he was also famous for his B&W printing. He tried to include both a pure white and an inky black in every print, if possible. Johnny Depp will play Smith in a film that's coming next year."

 

I've put my original post here again because the comments so far are mostly not about what I was trying to say. I feel that's my fault for adding the second paragraph about Gene Smith and posting one of his B&W prints. 

 

So let me try to be clear:

 

I was criticizing the lifeless looking B&W images I see on Alamy. I was not talking about printing, printing papers, chemicals or any other tech stuff. It is possible and not that hard to produce a good-looking B&W image in digital PP.  Good photography does call for good tools . . . but it's not about good tools. It's about visual sensitivity, taste, and perception. 

Edited by Ed Rooney

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Yeh, I don't think B&W comes across at all well on any computer monitor.You really need the physical thing to appreciate the depth of the image and the sheen of the paper. In some cases, the paper was just a little warm which could work. You want to see real disappointment, take a look at the truly awful B&W conversions some publishers used to make from colour transparencies. Those make digital conversions look terrific. But still not like the real thing though

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It's a bit difficult to comment without picking out any bad examples, and it would be invidious to do that. Tonality is much easier for 'Art' pictures where contrast, light and shade can be much more subjective.

 

If you do a search for 'England' and filter for B&W then that's not the overall impression that I get I must say though yes, there is a scattering of muddy lifeless ones as well. Looking at those pictures though it's clear that most are modern and almost certainly shot in colour, often colour and black & white versions have been uploaded.  It does make me wonder under what circumstances it's appropriate to do that. Just scanning through I quickly saw two pictures that I have on Alamy in colour, very similar compositions, should I do them in B&W as well I wonder?

 

 

Edited by Harry Harrison

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Hello Edo, a thought full topic as always. I do like monochrome with deep blacks and real whites, but I'd like to speak up for those pictures which engage sensitively with the silver's and grays of the middle tones. Although not on Alamy my favourite exponent of the silver and gray is James Ravilious. He said he became frustrated with water colours of the English countryside because there were so many greens and I think he still tried to capture their middle tones with Kodak. His work can be seen on the Beaford Archive website and there was a film on YouTube narrated by Alan Bennett. Well worth a look. So silver and gray is for photography as well, not just beards 😏

All the best. 

 

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Interesting point Ed. I love B&W and did a lot back in the days of film.

 

I've converted quite a few digital images to B&W in various editing programs, by and large, the results haven't been too bad depending on the colour original. The more colour, the better the result I have found.

 

Take a look at Sebastiao Salgado's latter day work. Apparently he's converting files taken on Canon 5D's and getting pretty close to his famous film shots from back in the day.

Sorry, I have no specific links, but a bit Googling with bring it up.

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+1 for James Ravilious, wonderful tonality though usually there was deep black and pure white somewhere there as well. I'm glad you mentioned him because I went back to the Beaford site and saw that they now have all his contact sheets there as well:

 

https://beafordarchive.org/photographer-category/james-ravilious/

 

James Ravilous was photographer in residence but he replaced Roger Deakins, now the acclaimed Oscar winning cinematographer, they have his pictures on there also.You used to be ble to buy the film on DVD.

 

 

Edited by Harry Harrison
typo

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This tweet from Alamy had me scratching my head this morning knowing that there is more to a black and white conversion than just a mouse click.

 

Do #Alamy accept black and white images?

Yes, as long as they meet the submission guidelines. If you plan to upload both colour and black & white versions of same images, we’d suggest you to upload just the colour version. Customers then have the option to convert to B&W!

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