In David Saffir’s recent post about HP’s new Large-Format Photo Negatives solution for black-and-white silver-halide photo prints, he answered questions about the differences between black-and-white inkjet photo prints and hand-crafted silver-gelatin (silver halide) prints. In this article, he explains the hybrid process of digitally printing Large-Format Photo Negatives and making final prints in the traditional darkroom.
Many of us love black-and-white prints for their simplicity and how they can increase focus on a subject or feeling. Here are a few tips to consider when making black-and-white prints from color digital images.
Capture your image in color, and in RAW format. Resist the temptation to use your camera’s black-and-white shooting mode, as it throws away too much image information to be useful. Make the conversion to black and white later, in Photoshop or another image editor.
Bracket your exposures. It’s always a good idea to shoot the same scene several times with different exposure settings, but perhaps bracketing is even more important when you intend to convert the image to black and white. If you use this technique, you will have more options later in terms of working with tonal range, contrast, highlight/shadow detail, and other image properties.
Pre-visualize your image in black and white when planning your shot. Black-and-white images are often their best when you want to focus on feeling, contrast, texture, or a particular element. This takes some practice, so please keep at it. Many photographers have online galleries of black-and-white images – go take a look!
Make your conversion to black-and-white in Photoshop instead of Adobe Camera RAW. After you transfer your image files from your camera to your computer, you will open it in a RAW processor and make adjustments to tweak exposure, color balance, etc. Although Adobe Camera RAW provides tools for black-and-white conversion, I recommend that you perform this step in Photoshop using an adjustment layer. So after you’ve made your basic adjustments in the RAW processor, load the image into Photoshop.
To demonstrate how I make my conversions, I’ll be using an image taken on a windy spring day, near the California Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. It has been through the basic adjustments in Camera RAW, and normal levels and curves adjustments in Photoshop. I’ve made up a split view of the image, color vs. Black and White, so you can see the impact of the conversion process.
First, use the Layers panel to create a black-and-white adjustment layer. The red arrow in this illustration points to the button that controls access to Photoshop’s adjustment layers. Pick Black and White, of course.
You can adjust your black-and-white conversion using any or all of the six color sliders provided. The best way to start is to take note of the colors present in the image, and adjust the appropriate slider. I’ve made a significant adjustment to the Red Slider, and of course you can see the change in the image.
You also have the option of using third-party software or plug-ins. Two of my favorites are Nik Silver Effex Pro, and Alien Skin Exposure.
Once your adjustments are completed, save your file in Photoshop (PSD) or TIFF format with the layers intact. You may want to adjust the image later.
Black-and-white printing can be greatly influenced by the type of paper you decide to use. Photo papers, such as HP Professional Satin, give a sharp, contrasty look to many images. Other papers, such as HP Hahnemuhle Smooth Fine Art paper, yield a slightly less punchy print, and give wonderful mid-tone transitions.
The printer you select will also have great impact on image appearance. I recommend using a printer that has at least three black inks. I personally prefer the HP Designjet Z3200, which uses three black inks on photo paper, and four black inks on fine art/watercolor style media.
I also recommend that the printer be capable of printing with black ink only; printers that use colored inks to create a grayscale image sometimes create a color cast in the print (try to avoid these). If the printer driver permits it, use the option to “Print in Grayscale” or similar function.
The illustration here is the second print dialogue box, from a Mac desktop running Leopard. If you are running Snow Leopard, you can specify Grayscale under the dropdown menu choice “Color Options”.
Once your print is completed, you’ll want to check it for quality. Some of the things to inspect include shadow/highlight detail, smooth transitions between tonal ranges, and smooth edges in areas of high contrast.
A Black and White print should be completely neutral (composed of whites, blacks, and grays) with no discernible color cast or tone. Of course, you can choose to add colorant in selected areas, or create duo-, tri-, or quadtone prints (see Jon Canfield’s post on this). But in this case, you are no longer printing with black ink only.
We have so many new paper types to try, and new tools to make our black-and- white images sparkle. It really makes sense to work with your images and see what you can do with black and white!
Most of us who work with photographic fine-art prints, painted images, or fine-art reproduction have some level of concern about fraud and unauthorized copying of our work or the work of the artists who hire us to make prints for them. Similarly, galleries, publishers, and collectors of fine photo and art prints often want assurance that the reproduction and sale of the piece has been approved by the artist who created it.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how a written Certificate of Authenticity can add real value to prints that are ready for exhibition or sale. Now, there is a new, additional step you can take to verify the ownership and authenticity of each print—particularly open editions. It’s called the ARTtrust solution and it can be used to verify the history and authenticity of a protected work.
Developed in collaboration between HP and Prooftag™, the ARTtrust solution is an integrated, self-certification system that includes completely unique ID tags, online registration, and serialized membership cards.
It is under full control of each artist and provides an individual identity to any Digital Fine Art Collection Print produced on an HP Designjet Z printer using HP Vivera Pigment inks. It can be used with whatever media type you choose.
A core part of the system is a unique "bubble tag", a translucent polymer identity marker that contains a totally unique, random pattern of bubbles that cannot be duplicated. Differences between bubble tags can be easily seen. The bubble tag has an archival-based adhesive, so it can be affixed to a print.
Bubble tages are provided in color-coded sets of three: one for the print, one for the Certificate of Authenticity, and the third for the artist's or printmakers records.
There are four steps involved in using the solution: registration, "artist's enablement", activation, and verification.
Registration: After registering on the ARTtrust website, you’ll receive a personal identification card with a unique, embedded Bubble Tag. You will need this ARTtag ID card to activate and control all of the tags associated with your work.
Artist Enablement: Acquire the tag sets from the ARTtrust website.
Activation: To activate the tags, you must register all three tags in the set on the ARTtrust website, along with information about what printer and media you used, etc. You can upload an image of the artwork if you like. Attach the tags to the artwork/print, the Certificate of Authenticity, and your own printmaking records.
Verification: Anyone who is interested in buying or exhibiting a print may now visit the ARTtrust website, view the bubble tag for verification, and review additional details about the print (e.g. availability, pricing, etc.). If the print has been output on HP media, the prospective buyer can also get information about the predicted archival life of the print. This can be a significant selling point to collectors, curators, and others.
Once a valid record is created, a buyer or collector can easily inspect the origin, history, and authenticity of a print via the web or mobile phone. One can even visually compare the bubble pattern registered online against the tag attached to the the print.
The ARTtrust solution can bring a new level of security and peace of mind to sellers and buyers of fine art prints. The bubble-tag-based system has been used to verify the authenticity of other valuables, including fine wines and perfumes.
I see this as a tool for both artist and printmaker; artists may elect to manage their tag system, registration, and editions independently. Or they may leave it to the printmaker, who could also purchase a system and administer it on behalf of, or in collaboration with, the artist.
In any case, ARTtrust can protect the value of an edition by guarding against unauthorized use or copying of a printed piece.
As one of the photographers/printmakers who played a role in the development of the HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon, I receive a steady stream of questions about digital fine art reproduction. Some people ask about the type of technical equipment and photographic proficiency required. Others are more concerned about the feasibility of getting into digital fine-art reproduction as a business. All of these questions are valid, and I will address many of them on a new post on this blog next week.
But if you’re seriously interested in entering the digital fine-art reproduction business, I would encourage you to attend one of the seminars I will be presenting in the New York and Washington, DC area in early June.
You may be surprised to see how much things have changed. A few years ago, the level of financial investment and technical skill required for digital fine-art reproduction was daunting. Now, the technology and software have advanced to the point that digital fine-art reproduction is no longer strictly an enterprise for a small elite.
The HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon helps make it more practical for more museums, galleries, artists, art publishers, and curators to convert more of the artwork in their collections into digital files and print them out in various sizes and formats as desired.
Applications for fine art reproduction include (but aren’t limited to): the creation of limited-edition reproductions of watercolor paintings, drawings or sketches for sale or exhibitions; the restoration and archiving of national collections of artworks; and reproductions of private art collections for family estates and heirlooms.
Once the art has been digitally captured and archived, the files can also be used to create various types of promotions for gallery exhibits as well as posters and other items to be sold in museum or resort-area gift shops.
Many museums, galleries, and art publishers may choose to establish their own in-house art-reproduction facilities. But many opportunities also exist in digital fine-art reproduction for enterprising photographers and print-service providers who want to diversify their businesses.
If you attend one of my seminars, I will show you exactly how the HP Artist Software Solution for Nikon works. First, I’ll talk about how to prepare your studio for image capture using the Nikon D3/D3x, then I will demonstrate how the HP Artist Software solution embedded in the Ergosoft StudioPrint RIP controls color, exposure, illumination, density and media selection. You will also see how the printing process is managed with the Designjet Z3200.
Best of all you’ll be able to see for yourself how the quality of the Designjet reproduction compares to the original captured with the HP Artist Software solution for Nikon. I think you’ll be amazed to see how much less labor-intensive and less expensive is has become to produce gallery or exhibition-quality prints.
In the seminar, I’ll also explain why I firmly believe most start-ups should be able to achieve the transition from break-even to profitability within a year. I’ve spent a lot of time doing profit/loss calculations for different reproduction scenarios and will be happy to share my findings with you. We will also review methods for recruiting artists or organizations as new customers, and show how you can help coach your clients to effectively market their art reproductions at reasonable cost. You’ll also receive access to a downloadable portfolio of supporting technical papers, how-to guides, and other documents. (For a preview, visit the HP Artist Solution for Nikon directory on my website.)
The first three seminars are scheduled for: Monday, June 1 at B&H Photo in New York, Tuesday, June 2 at Adorama Photo in New York; and Wednesday, June 4 at Mac Business Solutions in Gaithersburg, MD (serving the Washington DC Metro area). If you can’t attend any of these first three seminars, but might be interested in attending seminars in other cities, please let me know.
And if you’re still not sure whether Digital Fine Art Reproduction is an opportunity that makes sense for you, check this blog next week when I’ll be posting answers to the most frequently asked questions about the still-expanding field of Digital Fine Art Reproduction.
One area of contention among digital enthusiasts is the choice of color space for doing editing work. Almost every camera gives you the option of sRGB or Adobe RGB at capture. sRGB is a good choice for JPEG capture, especially if you intend to place your images online. It’s a standard that is safe for most situations and displays. But is it appropriate for printing? That depends a bit on your printer and your workflow.Most of the better inkjet photo printers support a color space closer in size to Adobe RGB. Some of the newest printers are capable of printing colors outside of Adobe RGB as well, which makes ProPhoto a consideration.
How much difference is there? Figure 1 below shows both sRGB and Adobe RGB spaces, along with the ProPhoto color space. In this figure, the red area is the sRGB color space, green indicates Adobe RGB, and the outside line is ProPhoto.
It’s pretty easy to see that ProPhoto covers just about every imaginable color, so why shouldn’t you just select this color space and be done with it? The main reason you might not choose ProPhoto is that you can have colors in your image that will be significantly out of gamut for your output device.
Let’s take a look at Figure 2 below. This shows the ProPhoto color space as the large area with the new HP Baryte Satin Art Paper on an HP Designjet Z3200 printer as the inside area. The Baryte paper is an excellent media with a large color gamut, but it’s significantly smaller than ProPhoto. So, if you print to this paper you run the risk of having colors that are out of gamut and will need to be mapped to a new color.
Figure 2But, if we work in Adobe RGB, you can see in Figure 3 below that Baryte actually has colors that can be reproduced outside of this range. You would end up having colors clipped and remapped that weren’t out of range of your printer in the yellow and cyan spectrum.
Figure 3If you’re working in Photoshop Lightroom, this is a moot point because Lightroom uses ProPhoto as its working color space. Photoshop however gives you the option of selecting a working space.
My recommendation to attendees at my workshops is to use the ProPhoto space if they’re doing their own printing. I’d rather have color in my image that is beyond the paper limits than have colors lost that I could have reproduced.
But, does it matter? After all, as I mentioned at the start of this post, your camera most likely only has sRGB and Adobe RGB as choices. If you’re shooting RAW though, a color space isn’t actually applied until you convert to an image format such as TIFF or PSD. If your image is already in one of these formats, going from Adobe RGB or sRGB to ProPhoto isn’t going to improve your output. It would be like moving a gallon of water from a one-gallon bottle to a five-gallon bottle. You still have a gallon of water.
If you’re not shooting RAW, you’re already giving up quite a bit of image data, so I’d suggest using Adobe RGB to keep as much color information as possible unless you don’t print, or you send your work to an online photo service such as Mpix or Snapfish to be printed. In that case, sRGB will save you a bit of time and give you results that will be as good as you can get from the source files.