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Tuesday, 08 May 2018


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I've read the "glow" articles with great interest, Mike. Thanks. Bill

Mike - You're the one who opened the door with that Holy Grail reference! This entire peasant scene is hilarious. You can find the script online.

Arthur: "The Lady of the Lake,...
[Angel chorus begins singing]
her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur.
[Angel chorus ends]
That is why I am your king!"

Dennis: "Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony."

Arthur: "Be quiet!"

Dennis: "But you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!"

Arthur: "Shut up!"

Ha, wonderful! And didn't I just post a comment on the previous thread asking for just this. Well played Mike.

Your point about people abandoning all hope because of the complexity is well taken. I think it's applicable to all printing though. To really get what you want, you need a colour managed workflow. It's yet another thing you have to learn (but worth it if the results matter to you).

Jon Cone's Piezography system is the turnkey solution to this for black and white printing; they've taken a lot of the complexity out of the equation, and kudos to them.

I've gone the "rabbit hole" approach myself. I want to make a plug for Paul Roark, who developed and makes freely available an open source carbon inkjet printing approach based on carbon inks. The learning curve is much steeper than a turnkey solution, but well worth it in my view. 99% of the "alchemy" is gone with inkjet printing, but mixing my own inks according to Paul Roark's formulae for use in an Epson 3880 lets me hold onto that last 1%. Plus it's dirt cheap.

The carbon-on-cotton matte prints I'm making today are nothing like the silver gelatin prints I used to make in my darkroom. It's not better or worse. It's just very different. I love the look.

A specific trick I use goes like this:

Duplicate the image layer, and add a layer mask that is a greyscale copy OF the image. Replace the body of that layer with a pure white (or if you prefer a slight tone). The effect here is that "white" (or tone) is laid over the original image in proportion to how white the original image is.

Now, ever so slightly, blur the mask.

This allows lighter tonality to creep, ever so slightly, out of its boundaries.

I think this emulates some of the kinds of scattering effects we see in film based photographs.

Adjust the blur, the tone curve, and the opacity of your white/tone layer to taste.

Thanks Mike,
when I get home this post is going to be saved as reference material. Appreciate it is a starting point, but I gotta start somewhere :)
Dumb question - can one replace ‘tones’ with ‘hues’ and apply the same principles to making colour prints, or do a different set of principles apply?

Excellent article Mike. Thanks for this.

Great set of articles. Glad to see TOP getting back to photography.

For about 5 minutes I was dislex-ing Runs.Every.Device. into Ruins.Every.Device which is pretty much what I've done to the two printers I've owned so far. But thank your for this interesting tip about Image Print. Maybe I'll try again.

I think the hardest thing to do in B&W photography with film or digital is to settle on a set of tools and really really learn to use those tools to their maximum advantage before then thinking harder about other tools. The gear-head/hobbyist exploration of the entire space of tools and materials really slows down the more critical act of growing your own intuition about how the tools and materials work and how to use them to your advantage. I think even more than 1 camera/1 lens the best way to learn photography is to use one film, one paper and one process, or in the digital world, one set of tools and one workflow, for several years before looking into other things.

All that said, I have not gotten into digital printing the same way I did with B&W film. It's not that I don't think prints look good. It's more than I don't think anyone wants *my* pictures as prints. My pictures are mostly for friends and family, and for me, and everyone would rather just look at them on their phone, or their computer or even better, their iPad. Pictures look really good on the newer iPad Pros. But you have to want that, and not everyone does.

Love it. Wonderful series of post. Every sentence in this one made me think about how I do things. Wonderful stuff, thanks

Great article Mike. But why, oh why did you have to send me to Shorpy - another hour weeping over what my 21st century pro gear simply cannot do! Many of those pictures are the visual equivalent of brilliantly performed classical music.
Print some of them on smooth fine art paper using a top end Epson ultrachrome printer and despair.

Forget the old saw that "every good print has a pure black and a pure white." THANK-YOU!! Sincerely... I know I have no silver darkroom experience, but all my personal photography is produced as B+W, and nothing is more doubt-inducing than naturally wanting to produce results that conform to 'there is no pure black in nature', and yet being hit by a barrage of pure black to pure white elsewhere. THANK-YOU. I can relax.

‘Forget the old saw that "every good print has a pure black and a pure white."‘

Well said. It may even have been on this blog years ago that I read the very good point that the Zone System was meant as a *teaching* tool, not religion.

This post on digital glow and tonality is very interesting. The chase for the perfect print will drive you mad. Finding the right tools and learning to use them can be an unexpectedly difficult chore. Imageprint looks interesting, but that's not going to happen. Lots more money than I have. I can barely keep my 34 year old Goldwing running with the general cost of all things these days. And, thank you for Shorpy. Fun to be had there. I love looking at photos. It's good to be reminded that our forbears did superlative work of stunning beauty. I don't mean the obvious big-name photographers, but unknown photographers as well. It gives me a sort of contact hope that some day someone will look at one of my photos and see beauty in it.

I always read your blog and am well aware of your concerns about spending money on cameras, gear, etc...certainly you are not willy nilly about laying out cash for things so your printing blog surprises me. I do print quite a lot I have an Epson P800 and I went to the imageprint site and HOLY COW!!! to get their software for my printer is $895 and they send a CD...haha who uses CD's anymore. Anyway can you really say that the internal software and profiles that Epson has are $895 less good compared to what imageprint will give me? Generally I will say I am happy with what I print out...but it is kind of a lot to jump into that deal and I wonder about the value difference not being worth that kind of money in a real world look at what I see.

Just as I was thinking of dragging the enlarger out of my brother's shed and fixing it up and adding more plumbing to my basement and getting a different camera because the lens that I want to use won't fit on my OM-1 or maybe I should get another medium format camera because I really like to shoot 120 but I never bonded with my Mamiya 645; but wait, wouldn't a large format camera be better, maybe 5x7 or whole plate because really I'm not crazy enough to want to shoot 8x10...
So this post may have saved me from all that since I was never more than not totally horrible as a darkroom printermaker. Now I have to get a new printer, lots of software, maybe a new CPU for my computer, a bigger screen or maybe just add a second screen to the one that I have. Now for the camera and lens...
OK, maybe too much coffee but these last three posts are the kind of technical information that is useful to me and fun to think about while I am doing yard work which I am right now avoiding by writing this comment.

A few geeky things that might minimize pain on the learning curve-

Set up a print viewing area that is lit similarly in color temp and brightness to the lighting in the typical expected print display environment. Standardize this if possible. Ansel Adams used 80fc incandescent, IIRC.

Calibrate and profile the monitor using a hardware calibrator. Keep ambient level low enough to not be a factor and don’t vary it.

Set the monitor brightness to be similar to the print viewing lighting. If you use typical bright monitor levels of over 120 cd/sq meter onscreen, your prints will appear dark and muddy when viewed under lower light.

I also like to enlarge the viewing window a bit to leave a white border around the image sort of like a matted print, as this affects shadow perception.

Looking over this it sure looks like a pain, but it’s not as painful as having to make prints over and over to get them to look like you expect.

Four words: From Oz to Kansas.

I tried to make the transition to B&W prints from a printer a couple of times over the past ten years. Failed. Failed. Failed.

Epson 3000/Cone Inks - massive ink carts, but clogged if you didn't print every day or at least every week. Ran a de-clogger cart through everything. Soaked the print head in 100% Alcohol and Windex. Never could print a clean test pattern. Never could get QuadTone RIP to work. Never learned enough to feel like I was in control of the process. Bought a Color-Monkee to profile my monitor. Crashed the computer. Bought a Spyder. Profiling device wouldn't work well with the "upgraded" computer. Tried an HP something-or-other printer. Inks cost a fortune and light-fastness failed my window tests. Moved to an Epson R2400. Downgraded to Costco glossy paper. Printed color OK if you arbitrarily subtracted -10 Magenta from everything. Gradually became frustrated by the rapid pace of change. Stopped printing altogether, except for once or twice a year. Feh.

I am not bitter about much, but I do miss the darkroom. And the steep maturation curve for digital B&W has made me hit a big "PAUSE." I feel like I saved $6K just by taking a time out.

Printing is actually the weak link of digital imaging for me. I was a pretty good wet-darkroom printer in B&W. Although it took me about 10 years to figure out what I was doing, the basic principles (and products) didn't really change during that time. Oh, we got tabular grain films and all, but the process of turning a B&W negative into a presentation quality print was a mature technology. When things stabilize, maybe I will try again. I feel like the wet darkroom had about six variables. Time/temp/chemical freshness/paper freshness/water source/dust control. With 'puters, it feels like 60 variables. And the dang technical landscape changes on each of the 60 over a five to 10 year period. Software upgrades, hardware upgrades, mystery ink formulations. Takes the fun right out of it.

Maybe in another 10 years?

I don't print and can't advise on printing, but for screen viewing "digital glow" can be achieved quite easily:
1. Get a Pentax Super Takumar 50mm/1.4 lens.
2. Shoot at F2 (it's too blurry wide open).
3. To develop raws, use Raw Photo Processor in LF or LFv2 film simulation mode.
4. Enjoy :)

Here is an example: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alex_virt/14484499150/in/album-72157645218714857/

When it comes to exposing for B&W, using the camera's zebras feature has really helped me. You can set them to 100 percent, meaning highlights that are going to blow out have zebras, and then just reduce exposure until the zebras go away. As always, you have to get used to your own camera's exact behavior, but I find this very useful.

Hi Mike, assuming one has already managed to profile/calibrate/colour manage everything successfully, once you've got a picture that looks good on screen, is printing just a matter of press the print button in lightroom, or do you think that the print stage is a whole extra process requiring separate skills and judgements?

TOP readers on a budget might want to take a look at B/W Styler over at the Plug In site.
It is only $50 and does a lot. I bought it over ten years ago and it does the job for me.
I am not a digital printing master. I have a small Epson printer and stick to Epson paper for the most part as this allows me to use canned profiles.
Would love to jump up to a P800 but real life keeps getting in the way.

If I can be allowed some alliteration:

The pachyderm in the proscenium is primarily the result of post processing...not the printer not the paper.... it's most certainly the processor.

All those $#%@&^% sliders!

The film guys obsess over papers and developers. The digital guys obsess about software and ink sets. Everyone obsesses about which old lens has 'the look'. There's a little truth in all that, but I'm here to tell you, there ain't no magic bullets out there, folks. Good seeing and good technique at the scene, and lots of practice printing... and paying attention while you do, will get you prints that you like; 'glow' or whatever. It's a lot of hard work to get there, whichever path you choose. But worth the effort.

Just to add to the chorus. I have used Image Print for years, through two printers, Epson 3800 and now P800. A magical program. The hidden gem of the company is their free tutorials. Almost any problem solved in minutes.

As a long-time darkroom printer, I have to admit that I was eventually very happy with the black/whites I could get from the HP B9180 that they went nuts and abandoned.

On Hahne (never remember how to spell it) papers it was excellent, and better yet seen in an archival sleeve, where the gloss appeared to amplify the visible tonality.

Babies and bath waters...


I just had the opportunity to see the Sally Mann exhibit in the National Gallery. (The exhibit closes on May 28th.)

My taste in B&W tonality runs towards the Adams/Weston school, and seeing Mann's prints definitely confirms Mike's point that there is a wide range of palettes available to photographers and print makers. Some of her prints, including some of the family photographs, do have elements of glow. But, others, especially the Civil War battlefields (made from collodion wet plate negatives), seem to suck up light! This is clearly part of her intent, and the effect is powerful (and uncomfortable, in ways different from the family photographs).

And, also in keeping with Mike's comments, the galleries were dark, especially the one holding the Civil War battlefield prints. That seemed to be intentional, adding to the darkness of the subject.

Also, the prints were quite large (perhaps 16"x20"). The prints in the books I looked at in the gallery shop were about contact-print size (8x10), and I actually preferred viewing at them that size.

In all, I found the exhibit revealing and moving, and I highly recommend seeing it before it closes.


Further to David's comments: Sally Mann's work has the invaluable plus of being interesting.

That, of itself, adds a spiritual glow that is perhaps more powerful than tricks performed via papers, chemicals or computers.

As is often remarked: content is pretty much all.


Has anyone seen comparisons of ImagePrint vs. Epson's ABW driver (and their Epson Print Layout app, which improves layout and ABW settings for prints)?

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