This issue is dedicated to digital techniques, but I feel it’s important to have a discussion on the differences and similarities between black and white film and digital photography. I do this for two reasons—the first is that I figure some of you may have made the transition from film to digital and have carried over some assumptions about how things work. The second is that even if you have never shot film you have probably been exposed to information passed on from film photographers about how things work. Either way, there are a number of matters at the heart of black and white photography that have changed, or at least should be looked at in a new light.
Tonality does not exist in a vacuum; the tones form a visual impression in terms of both their intrinsic value and their relationship to one another. The context in which they relate is called contrast, simply the difference and relationship between the light and dark values in the scene. Contrast determines the “look” of the image, and has a profound effect upon visual effects.
This photo was made in Raw file format, then enhanced using a Raw processor. Doing so allowed me to get exactly the color, contrast, and richness I wanted. Shooting in Raw is what allowed me to get the most quality out of the image file later.
One of the most exciting aspects of black and white photography is your ability to interpret your images, that is, joining your way of seeing with the application of techniques. For example, when shooting landscapes, the aim is generally to communicate your “sense of place.” The techniques you apply define both the objective place (the record of that scene) and your perceptions and feelings about it. Depending on your decisions, you can create an image of the same scene pervaded by light and contrast, or set in deep, dark tones. The objective image does not change; what can change is your interpretation, the way the scene is altered by journeying through your mind’s eye.
Dedicated black and white photographers have always processed their images and made their own prints. Negatives were carefully developed according to exposure and contrast needs; prints were made with extensive “handwork” and archival processing procedures. Processing was and is a key element in black and white photography—digital does not change that element of the craft.
This is a portrait of my Great-Uncle Syl, taken in the late 1940’s, a print that sat in a storage box until last year. Now Syl’s on the web here, shared with family via an e-mail attachment, and will soon be part of a photo book of the family history. If you’ve got boxes of old photos it’s easy to share them too. For those thinking about such a project, and who haven’t scanned before, here are some basic FAQ’s that might get you started.
These days you could consider any image as a special effect, what with the massive amount of processing that goes on inside the camera prior to it being written on the memory card. But that’s pretty much assumed and not even considered “special” anymore.
A tilt-shift lens can be thought of as a flexible visual tool in the many ways it allows you to image the world. Unlike a standard lens, even a zoom, with a set point of view enforced by stance, elevation, focal length, and, within certain limits, depth of field, the tilt-shift lens opens visual doors a “fixed” lens will not. By tilting the lens within the mount you can enhance or greatly diminish depth of field beyond the “normal” abilities of the focal length and aperture setting. By shifting the lens you can “fix” perspective distortion or exaggerate it for “trick” effects.
I have always had mixed feelings about so-called “film simulation” software, programs that offer one-click presets that add effects and options for manipulating digital images. On one side, I am unsure why the designers use visual references to types of film for their preset IDs. It strikes me that an increasingly small proportion of folks relate to them. On the other side, I admire their offering programs that open up a raft of image expressions in easy to attain fashion. I will not revisit that discussion here, although the near concomitant release of two such programs, Alien Skin’s Exposure 5 and DxO’s FilmPack 4, makes it tempting to do so.