Digital B&W

Mumfandc

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Just to make a new "discussion"...

I don't know if anyone shares the same feeling as me, but there's something about digital B&W photos that I don't find fully "satisfying". Though I'll admit, I make them myself once in a while. I suppose it has to do with the basic idea that photography deals with LIGHT.

You have B&W film photography which deals with silver deposits and the blocking of light to create shadows and highlights on photo paper...

Then you have digital B&W which is based on pixels with neutral RGB values. Further, since many digital cameras don't "make" B&W pics you have to convert color pics to B&W. Therefore, in a way digital B&W images aren't really B&W are they? Also, take a magnifying glass up to a B&W image on your computer screen, and you can see the image is made up of Red, Green, and Blue...

This is kind of the reason why I don't like it when people submit (side-by-side) a photo in color and then the same pic converted into B&W. I just see the B&W pic as a "color image, missing it's color"...!

I suppose there's a kind of "romanticism" (in aesthetic sense...not to sound cheesy) involved with traditional photography, like in the same way realist painting is rendered with highlights and shadows...as opposed to some 3D computer graphic.
 

Kent Frost

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It's a bit of a catch 22 when you're dealing with BW digital vs BW film. If you shoot in film, you have film quality, which is tough to beat unless you're spending enough money to make up for it. However, if you DO shoot in digital, if you're simply converting to grayscale to get your BW, then you're selling yourself short.

If you have photoshop and you're not familiar with this technique, pay attention:
(there's a couple of ways to do this very thing, so I'll go over both)

The first way to do it, open your image, then go to IMAGE, then ADJUSTMENTS, then CHANNEL MIXER.
Once the interface opens, be sure to click the box at the bottom for MONOCHROME, this will convert the channel mixer to "black & white" mode.

The SECOND way to do it (and I prefer to do it this way) is to go to LAYER, then NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER, then CHANNEL MIXER. It achieves the same thing, only it will actually create a new layer on top of the original image which you make the adjustments to (therefore making no change in the original image if you were to save it as a .psd image).

As you'll be able to see, you'll have the option to adjust the red, green, and blue channels in your image, creating the effect as if you'd used a colored filter when you shot it. This is the reality with digital that we only WISH we had when shooting with film. We have the ability to shoot with whatever colored filter we want when shooting film, but we don't have the adjustment range we have when playing with these settings on the computer. Here's an example:

FULL COLOR (ctrl+~)
full_color.jpg


RED CHANNEL (ctrl+1 or R=100, G=0, B=0 in the channel mixer)
red_filter.jpg


GREEN CHANNEL (ctrl+2 or R=0, G=100, B=0 in the channel mixer)
green_filter.jpg


BLUE CHANNEL (ctrl+3 or R=0, G=0, B=100 in the channel mixer)
blue_filter.jpg


Now, keep in mind that these images were acquired when typing in the combination of keys shown above each, or by using those specific coordinates in the channel mixer. When you play with the channel mixer, you have the opportunity to adjust the level of each channel up to +/-200, therefore giving you almost unlimited range.

This is where the catch 22 comes in.

Keep in mind that your total clarity is made up of all three channels, so no matter whether it's in color or monochrome, when you lower the levels of these channels, you start to lose that clarity, especially if you boost the blue, as that channel carries the most digital "noise" with it. That's where film takes the cake.

Now, having said all this, it's worth mentioning that the newer models of digital cameras (i.e. the Canon Digital Rebel XT/350) have the ability to shoot in grayscale in the camera with the use of all three color sensors, therefore giving you the ability of shooting with colored filters on a digital camera and still be able to keep your clarity. And assuming you build up a good collection of colored filters, you'll be able to cover quite a range of filtered black and white digital photography.
 

doxx

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any 'negative' (film and digital) requires post processing
to get the most out of 'em... b/w film has it's own beauty
many ppl try to catch up with digital - digital b/w without
extensive processing still lacks IMO. It can look very
good with the right post-processing knowledge; which
requires a bit more PS work.

One thing I don't understand - why don't ppl take 'tools'
for what they are...
 

NikonChick

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First, I shoot digital, but prefer film especially for BW. As stated, many digital BW are converted without filtering levels, etc. which is why they look so flat. You can print BW from colour negs and its the same result... you need to filter for colour conversion giving stronger contrast. As for them still being RGB under a loop on your monitor.... thats because your monitor displays in RGB. Theres no advantage to viewing your monitor through a loop.
 
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Mumfandc

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Kent Frost said:
Now, having said all this, it's worth mentioning that the newer models of digital cameras (i.e. the Canon Digital Rebel XT/350) have the ability to shoot in grayscale in the camera with the use of all three color sensors, therefore giving you the ability of shooting with colored filters on a digital camera and still be able to keep your clarity. And assuming you build up a good collection of colored filters, you'll be able to cover quite a range of filtered black and white digital photography.

Thanks Kent Frost.....I enjoyed reading your response. And to the others who replied. The photo examples you gave were interesting...but I wonder if Ansel Adams himself would've converted to digital B&W. :) Would he give up some methodical creative process like the Zone System for Photoshop?

I'd like to also add that there are several Photoshop filters which are supposed to "mimic" the characteristics of traditional film/darkroom effects. (I'll quote my Photoshop professor, "I don't really use them, because I personally think they look like s**t"). Take for example solarization and color toning. Than you have plug-ins which can create film cross-processing effects etc. I guess this shows that people still long for the old.

Though one area I think digital will never be able to successfully venture into is Platinum printing. You have to see one in person to really appreciate it.

I suppose I'm a bit biased because I'm a Fine Arts major, and I really enjoy traditional hand printmaking of all kinds...etching, woodcuts, lithography, silk-screen etc. Anything that involves much of your own labor...and chemicals. I have incorporated digital photographs into my lithograph prints though. In case you don't know much about lithography, it involves drawing/painting with grease onto a metal plate or a flat stone and "etching" it. Newer methods involve things like Xerox copies of photographic images. I did a series of dump trucks from digital, and Xeroxed

Every semster we have a student show at a gallery, the gallery owner personally picks which works he will accept. He told me that he didn't like the dump-trucks I made simply because of the digital aspect in them. Rather, he took my hand drawn prints. And it seems that still a lot of the art galleries here in NYC still have some preference towards traditionally printed/shot photographic images (large format seems common).
 

ksmattfish

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Mumfandc said:
And it seems that still a lot of the art galleries here in NYC still have some preference towards traditionally printed/shot photographic images (large format seems common).

It's sort of a horse behind the cart thing. Are they choosing large format photographs because of what equipment they are be created with? Or are the creative minds behind the photos choosing to use large format, and it's really the creative minds that the galleries are choosing? Large format film was pretty much pushed aside in much of the photographic market by quality medium format film decades ago. While there still is some commercial use of large format film, many of the folks using it consider themselves artists, and are using it for their personal work.
 

SLOShooter

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I've created some digital B&W's by using a form of the aforementioned technique but I still find them lacking compared to the shots I've taken using film. I can't tell you whether this is due to the negative, RAW or Film, or if it's my technique in PS or the darkroom.
 

Kent Frost

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I'd be willing to bet that it's due to the nature of the image when run through the channel mixer. You're taking the combination of the three colors that make up it's total clarity and adjusting their levels, therefore adjusting the level of your clarity. If you can shoot in BW mode in the camera, you should be able to use colored filters and keep that clarity.
 

Kent Frost

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Not at that size. When you're trying to show whether or not the clarity is there on a computer monitor, you have to view the image at actual pixels (full size). The smaller you make it, the less you'll be able to tell. It's like writing your name on a thick rubberband; when you expand the rubberband you'll see your name distort. Lemme give you an idea of what I mean.

7.jpg


Looks pretty good at this magnification, right?
Now, I'll show you the little electrical towers just to the bottom left of the power plant at actual size.

quality_test.jpg


Can you tell?
 

Kent Frost

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Yes I can, although you've found a better combination on the mixer to stifle that noise. There's a few images that I've been able to get similar results:

4.jpg


can you tell?
shell_example.jpg


You'll be able to get some winning combos like that, but especially if you like making your blue skies black while keeping your clouds nice and white, that's where you'll run into trouble, like the example that I gave, because you'll be cranking that blue channel well into the negative figures.
 

doxx

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the original shot has virtually no noise... unfortunately I ditched the original - anyhow the 'noise' you see above is produced with Grain Surgery 'Match Grain' sampled from a film scan

here 'no' noise from a similar exposure:
CRW_0272.jpg


nice photo btw.
 

ksmattfish

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can you tell?

Yes. It's obviously a digital image I am looking at, because whether it was originally shot with film or digital, it's on my computer monitor now.
 

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