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Monday, 15 August 2011


Skies in many of Adams' photographs were printed down after-the- fact rather than initially with filters. He also re-interpreted many of his very early vintage prints, and added much more contrast and drama in later versions as he eventually found his niche. Even Moonrise looks quite different in early prints before he added some darkroom magic, as shown here....http://www.andrewsmithgallery.com/exhibitions/anseladams/arrington/arrington_adams.html. I actually prefer lighter skies to the blacker ones he and other followers proliferated; just the way I like to see.

"Mount Wynne" looks most like a K2 filter to me. You don't get that kind of highlight separation in unfiltered 1930s-era film (which would probably have been panchromatic in name but favored the blue end in its spectral response). Just a guess, but I think I'm right.


Speaking of B&W photos and tone, I visited an exhibit at the O'Winston Link Museum today: A traveling exhibit from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library containing about 150 of the original Depression Era photos from The Farm Service Administration photographers. Some of the icons were displayed, including D. Lange's Migrant Mother and the five other photos she took in that series of the mother and her kids, and the original versus the "manipulated" version of Migrant Mother (which it says Lange favored). It was interesting to see the tone changes in the finished image.

The exhibit is traveling, although I'm not sure of its next stop (Dallas maybe?). It was worth the $5.00. Even though a lot of the images you've probably seen in books or online, seeing them all together in a gallery space is a very powerful reminder.


Are you sure that cat pic is a tonal merger? It sure looks like it's missing an ear and the title and caption makes it sound like a wounded animal.

This is such a great follow-up to the previous article on how much we would spend on a camera. Nothing wrong with expensive toys, I have them too. But image-making is dependant on the eye for tonalities and the willingness to process the image for hours if need be, whether in the darkroom or in photoshop. This mind-set doesn't come along with the equipment. Customers still ask me if I use medium format when they see my 2ft x 3ft prints; they're always disappointed when I say I am still using the Fuji S2 Pro that came out in 2004 or thereabouts...

I dunno Mike..looks like that cat did have a machete encounter

ummmm... it is a bit hard to tell at this resolution, but, given the title of the photo, it looks like there really is something wrong/missing with the cat's ear.

as for saving a color photo through conversion to bw, naturally it won't always work. but with the range of options available in digital conversion (giving remarkable control over tones), i suspect one could find a decent version one way or another for most photos where there's something worth saving in the first place.

of course it is simpler to make good bw photos if you begin by composing with bw in mind.

I think the ear's there. It's clearer in the smaller version, paradoxically. We could ask the photographer, but I don't know how to use flickr. How do you find that shot in his photostream to see if there are other similar pictures near it? How do you contact him to ask? I don't know in either case.


I think this is why I started out being very "meh" when I tried black and white. I just didn't "get it".

Now that I'm starting to understand how to "see" in black and white and how to control contrast with filters, I'm finding it to be a quite satisfying pursuit.

I still have plenty to learn. The latest roll I developed had one shot involving light gray rocks surrounded by green grass in open shade lighting. In reality the rocks look much brighter but on the negative they were almost the same tone as the grass. Hindsight tells me a red or orange filter would have darkened the grass relative to the rocks and made the contrast I needed. A lesson learned: red and orange filters are not just for sky contrast.

Mike..let's make a small wager, I'll take that ear as missing for $1.80?

I put on 2 pairs of glasses and hunkered over to look at that. It looks like there's an out of focus rock where the tip of his ear should have been and it's causing us to connect the dots..that happens.

Prepare to count out 18 dimes!!

I put a comment up on Flickr asking the photographer about the ear and pointing to this article; let's hope he or she responds!

Click on the photo and voila! Alas, the previous and following photos are about other subjects...


Thanks Nick. I asked him on Facebook, too. I hope he remembers! It appears I now have eighteen dimes riding on this, so I'm a little nervous.


Very nice point, especially with the Adams illustration.

I've enlarged the original size photo and zoomed in on the left side, just like most are doing I suppose. I have to side with the "ear really is missing" crowd for now. Great post, nonetheless. Black and white truly has its own set up "gotchas" to contend with.

Okay, assuming I read this wrong and the ear really is missing...can anybody come up with a good example of a tonal merger?


I screen captured and blew up the image to 400%. It's pixelated of course so you can't tell for sure but it looks as if the left ear is lopped forward. OTOH it could be a case of merger or as artists say "lost edges".

FWIW, there is a crouching cat with a tonal merger of its left ear in the lower right corner of the Adams picture in the post.

At least, I thought there was until I magnified the picture and the whole cat merged into a rock.

>>Okay, assuming I read this wrong and the ear really is missing...can anybody come up with a good example of a tonal merger?<<

Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra.

It's just as hard if not harder to switch from B&W to color as the other way around. It's a whole other language. I think the hardest part for me was how much more difficult it was to depict empty space in color.

Ogle Winston Link would not have liked being called O'Winston.

Somehow in the USA people who use their first initial and middle names I used to use my first initial (H for Henry) but got tired of people thinking I was sneezing or that my name was Achoo Crawford.

Whether the tabby really is the Vincent Van Gogh of the feline community or not, you have raised an immensely important subject here Mike. There is slight tonal separation in the shot, but at the scale of the region in the entire image it can be lost, just as the separation by TEXTURE is also evident when enlarged.

Tonal merges with film were remedied by viewpoint selection and/or the use of 'contrast filters' to separate monochrome tonal merges between different colours.

With digital, I find that a Contrast layer mask and a small regional tweak of the curve which is then painted though just where it is needed can be a reasonable fix.



PS: No sample offering that I own copyright to, I avoid them at all costs.

"It's why "hail Mary" conversions to "save" a digital color picture in which the colors don't work are often no more successful in black-and-white than they were in color"

Not sure what is meant by "hail Mary", but filtration has been used for years to alter b/w tonal relationships and prevent a muddling of tones, esp. in the red/green zone. Digital filtration, while not exactly the same as optical filtration, is a useful and necessary tool.

In this regard, where digital filtration has a toehold over optical filtration is that it can be locally implemented, where necessary, without adversely effecting the tonal relationships of the rest of the image.

Dear Mike,

Not one who does this all that much, but it seems to me this is a fair argument for doing such conversions from within your image processing program so that you can create different layers with different virtual filters and mask them to apply where needed.

Never tried this, but it seems like it might be a useful trick.

pax / Ctein

I don't know Mike. My eyes tell me the ear is either missing or perhaps flattened out of sight.

It may in fact be the sort of cat like my neighbour owns (you know, the type of cat that does its business in my vegetable patch, and looks at me in an arrogant way). The sort of cat that my old dear and departed dog would have bitten in two. The sort of cat for which I have spent quite a lot of money on ineffectual remedies, such as smelly chemicals to ward it off. The sort of cat who my neighbour thinks is wonderful, and could not possibly cause neighbours any irritation. The sort of cat that is living on borrowed time, capisce?

Tonal Merge

Though attracted and enormously influenced by Ansel Adams' work in my youth, I now find a lot of it coarse and heavy-handed. A more successful work of his in my mind is an early one of storm clouds over San Francisco bay before the bridge, taken before his slap-on-a-red-filter epiphany. Paul Caponigro is a far greater master of B&W, IMHO.

Also, instead of Tonal Merger (something to be avoided) maybe it's better to think of Tonal Separation as a positive aspect and significant control leveraged by filtration (either at time of shooting or in post-production). Most people don't appreciate how much goes into crafting a successful image/print.

Well this certainly shows one advantage to composing on screen / in an EVF - you get to see the scene in black and white in realtime :)

How about a polar bear in a snow storm? ;-)
Im on the side of ear is missing.

I'll betcha if Vincent Van Gogh was still around you could come up with a better tonal merger/missing ear photo. He and Ansel could get us all together in an afterlife B&W workshop one day maybe? Hopefully a long ways off from today...

At least he'll be able to add the pic to the More than 1000 no wait, 2000, hold on plus 4000 views group on flickr.It's a nice shot too.I'm getting some "earless" action.

I agree the ear is really missing. If the missing ear matched the existing ear, it would have a dark border that would contrast nicely with the out-of-focus road behind it. Also, there is a faint line in the road that passes through the space where the tip of the ear should be.

My cat has thumbs, he can do stuff that other cats can't do. At about a year old he took up golf but he sucked at it and now he plays ping pong, which is good, because he's a house cat and he was breaking a lot of windows and popping holes in the drywall with golf thing.

One thing I loved about the GH-1 I decided to sell is that with the camera set to B/W mode, you could shoot RAW, but the EVF and back panel were still in black and white, allowing you to 'see' tonality a bit easier. I find i have the opposite issues - so many years shooting b/w have made me have to really work at seeing the color combos in the viewfinder, but on the back LCD i have no problems.

Moving away from the missing ear, here is a merged nose: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/East/West_Bengal//photo563505.htm
I had to try very hard in Photoshop to separate the nose tip from the background, brightening up the hint of a halo of reflected light at the tip to separate the tones. But ultimately, alas, a flawed photograph because I failed to move the lens a few millimeters to the right.

I have always thought that "seeing in black & white" is an art in itself, it may take a while to train your eye, but once you grasp the idea and start looking around the color world , there are many hidden black and white images waiting to be photographed.

There must be people with medical conditions that prevent them from seeing colour. I wonder if any of them are photographers.

care to explain the lower half of the print ... maybe he didn't miss on this one...

Mike, you could very well be right regarding his use of filter for Mount Wynne. His book, 'The Making of 40 Photographs.' as you know, gives good insight to his many techniques, including use of both filters and darkroom effects.

On 'Frozen Lake and Cliffs,' shot in 1932, he states "...a few years later I could have better controlled the glaring ice on the lake and strengthened the shadow areas by water bath development of the negative."

Then, on 'Clearing Winter Storm,' from 1940, he states " I used the Wratten No.8 (K2) filter to remove the atmospheric haze inevitable with landscape subjects several miles more distant. I would have used a No.6 (K1) filter had it been in my kit. I have always avoided using filters of greater strength than needed for specific effects."

My broader point was that, regardless of the multiple techniques he may have employed, he often reconsidered his interpretation and re-printed later with much greater contrast and drama by working his darkroom magic. The sequence of 'Moonrise' photographs, increasingly dramatic year by year, is but one example.

The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson is a good place to see the actual works up close and personal. I'm not a big Adams fan, but I respect his contribution and the fact that he made his work so accessible for future generations. In fact, he encouraged others to take his negs and reinterpret them yet again, recognizing that new technologies would inevitably allow even more possibilities.


It's all in the Bokeh.

I think the cat's left ear has been lopped off unfortunately. It's my guess that had this been an example of a tonal merger, then that's all that it would have been; when I enlarge the picture, I can see, more clearly, the effects of depth of field. There is a discernible difference in the depth of field in the cat's right ear and the background behind it ( the background is slightly more blurred). If the cat's left ear is indeed intact, then there should also be discernible a difference between the left ear and the background behind it. But in this photograph, I can't see any difference in depth of field whatsoever from the area we presume to be a tonal merger and the ground behind it. What we are looking at, I suspect, is not a tonal merger, but the ground behind it.

If I am wrong, I take my cat off to you....




When I opened your image, my eye instantly went to the highest point of contrast-the figures in the middle distance. (The profile, on the bottom left, I arrived at several seconds later). I think it's a wonderful image by the way.


Yet another Adams shot prefixed by the description "not one of his best, but...."

Question answered: The ear was missing. You may all sleep more soundly tonight.


The cat photographer (gafo) has confirmed on his flickr page that the cat was in fact missing an ear. You may want to revise/amend your initial post now.

I am guessing you initially got to the photo through perusing examples from that samyang lens. I would recommend you really just bite the bullet and get the nikon after all. There ought to be a new d700 soon, and one could do just about anything with such a combo.

Unless of course you want to reconsider an m9+35/1.4 kit. Which does it for me. And should have the virtue for you of making that nikon outfit seem downright frugal...

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