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Digital Darkroom Tips: Black & White Images

Black and white images look classic and timeless; no wonder so many people choose to take photographs or convert them mono.  Without the distraction of color, black and white images transcend time.  Some images translate better when in mono than ohers, like those with stronger contrasts between white/black, dark/light, highlight/shadow.  In the past, the best black and white photographs were achived with a ‘wet’ darkroom but now, we can print these images at home using a PC.

The traditional wet darkroom consisted of a dim room with a red light, a machine for projecting the negative onto the light sensitive photo paper, then three trays with chemicals in them for processing, halting the processing and fixing.  These days, darkrooms are harder to find and can be costly not to mention space consuming to set up at home.  Digital photographers may prefer to do all their black and white processing and printing on the computer.

With a digital darkroom you will need a computer (Mac or PC), a photo quality printer, a scanner if using negatives or fim and photo editing software – Adobe Photoshop is one of the most powerful you can buy.  Even the best images can benefit with a little editing and boost in Photoshop.

When you have taken your image, if it is in color then you need to remove this.  There are a few ways to do this – selecting the Desaturate option, which will immedately drain the image of color or use the Greyscale options, which will give you more control (both can be found under the IMAGE option in Photoshop).  Find the Channel Mixer tool where you can add or remove red, green or blue nuances – believe it or not, even in black and white these colors make a difference.  Red will give the most dramatic effect – adding more of it to your black and white image will increase contrast, making the blacks a dark rich hue, and the white a pure clean shade.

Don’t forget that in Photoshop you have the burn and dodge buttons on the toolbox.  These refer to the traditional method of printing in a wet darkroom, where a printer would ‘burn’ more light onto areas of the photograph they wanted to darken, or ‘dodge’ the light from areas they wanted to have more highlight.  Use these tools to darken or lighten even the smallest areas (for example – in portraits, eyes can look sparkly with a touch of highlight).

When choosing a printer, you can by all means use a standard printer, but a photo one will give a better effect and quality image.  The more expensive ones may even boast archival qualities and high quality inks.  More expensive machines will also let you print larger sizes (ie. A3) so consider if you will want this function eventually.

When printing black and white, you can choose to use just black and white inks or sometimes a printer will include color inks to complete the image.  This can result in a odd looking image with a faint hue so remember to tick the option on your printer settings that tells it to only use black and white.  You can also buy special mono inks which are made for black and white images – they also include shades of gray.  Look at brands like Permajet and Epson although they are quite specialist and you will need to deep clean your printer before and after installing them.

Paper is another large issue; you can use standard inkjet paper in gloss or lustre, although matte textured paper does tend to show off mono prints more.  There are plenty of fine art brands out there that make paper primer for black and white photographs, and have nice, interesting textures.  They can be expensive to always test a print on cheaper paper before doing the final print run.  Brands to look out for include Ilford, Limijet, Epson, Innova and Dmax.  Make sure you are buying paper for your printer, not for darkroom printing!

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