Working with Black and White Digital: What You Need
Okay so, working with a digital negative. For me this process started, like I said, because I destroyed that one negative I was looking for a way to fix it and then I had always been a film photographer. So I came sort of late to the digital space. My career was, I was an Adobe Photoshop technician early on, Photoshop three, four, five. So when I left work at the end of the day the last thing I wanted to do was get into Photoshop. I spent all day having people tell me what a terrible program it was and how it didn't work. So when I went home, I wanted to do something different. So I did film, that was my way of being. But I realized that I kind of wanted the convenience of photographing digitally but I didn't wanna give up this historical process. Dan Burkholder was the person who is kind of the godfather of all of this who documented and created the earliest process back in the late '90s of how to do this process. And it's remained pretty consistent to what Dan developed with modifica...
tions for different printers. Like I said, we originally used just Photoshop, we might use a different print driver, which is what a quad tone rip is is a different printing engine. We might use those subtle differences but for the most part, the work flow stayed pretty consistent. And there's been tweaks and modifications off of it but, this same process, no matter which one you pick, we're gonna follow the same process. The first thing we need is we need a black and white image. A bad black and white photograph makes a bad alternative printed photograph. It is not like, "Oh, because I did it in platinum, all of a sudden it's really cool." I equate this to the people who shoot color and they think, "Oh, it looks terrible in color. Let me see how it looks in black and white." And when you ask them like, "Why did you print that in black and white?" They're like, "It looks terrible in color." A terrible photograph is not helped by just going into the alt process world. I do think it looks cooler but, it still has all the sins. If it was out of focus and you didn't like that it was out of focus, that doesn't magically get fixed. So we're gonna start with a good black and white image. The next thing we're gonna do is we need what's called a required print time. And I'm gonna show you how to get through all these steps. So I just wanna give you a high level of kind of what the day looks like. A required print time is we need to know the level of black, the true black or the darkest point in the photograph. So if it's a cyanotype it's where the purest blue is gonna show up. And then we're gonna use that same time for every print. So that's our required print time and it's called a maximum black if you're in the traditional analog dark room, and it's the point where the substrate that we're printing through, the negative, and the actual coating. When those match with their relative values of black, that's our minimum print time. We need to know that number because anything less than that doesn't get us a good pure black, and anything more than that is just starting to crush the gray scale values above that. If our maximum black, or our required print time was three minutes, and we went to say five minutes, anything from say 70% to 100% would be pure black. So we lose all of our shadow detail. So that's why that time is critical and we'll talk about how to discover that. We then create our tone mapping curve. That's the nuts and bolts to the digital negative. All the work of a digital negative is all about getting that tone map. What that basically means is when you think about converting from color to black and white that's about color values being converted into tonal values and then the relationship of those tonal values being separated. We're gonna see a demo where I can take green and red and almost make it look the same in a black and white conversion. That's 'cause the tones of those colors are close together. We have to separate those. That's what builds contrast, that's what builds the gray scale values within a black and white image. We have the additional problem though of cyanotypes, Vandykes, platinum prints, salt prints, albumum prints, they all have a different scale. They have a different black, they have a different range. So a platinum has a long scale so it holds a lot of tones but not very steep contrast. Or a salt print has a steeper contrast and holds a lot of tones. So we have to figure out how to get those tones to be understood by the computer. And that's the tone mapping. So if Photoshop says something is 70% gray, how does the platinum print know that it's 70% gray? If Photoshop says it's 20% gray scale value, how does a cyanotype know to print 20% gray scale value? Because the cyanotype print, it's not a 20%. So we have to map those together. There's a process by which we do this, and this like I said, the nuts and bolts, this the hardest most difficult part. That's why we're gonna spend the morning working on getting that process set up. You create that map though. And what's cool is once the map's built it works for every image going forward. So once you build your cyanotype map for your printer and your paper, you can then use that same tone mapping curve moving forward. So it's a one and done on that process which is why you can print so many images once you get calibrated. That mapping is a little, like I said, complicated at first. We've got really easy step-by-step, well I say easy. We have step-by-step instructions and because no matter what methodology you end up using, everybody's doing this time same way. So there's a lot of information, a lot of people have done this. I also put in the bonus materials. Some of you are gonna be like, "Yeah, that's new. Not gonna happen. I am not gonna figure that out. That looks too complicated." In the bonus materials is a cyanotype curve, a Vandyke curve, and a platinum curve, that will get you 90% of the way there to a great image just out of the gate. So I have built the curve for you that is the end result of the tone map, but I'm gonna show you how to build the tone map. Then we have to set up our proper printer settings. We have to make sure that the printer is spitting out the right kind of ink at the right level so that we get a good digital negative. Nearly all historical processes are dependent upon ultraviolet light for their exposure. So it's gonna be one of the cool things later today when we get into cyanotype and then tomorrow for the Vandyke and the platinum work, we convert this into the dark room, the room's basically gonna go red. The reason for that is we're gonna be blocking up all the ultraviolet light in the studio so that we can work in these processes 'cause that's what they're sensitive to. Part of the printing setup is we're trying to get the inks and their own printers to make sure that we give us the best ultraviolet blocking ink possible. So that's one of the reasons you start this process. Most people use an Epsom printer because that's for a couple of reasons. One which we'll talk about when we get to printer settings but, one of the reasons for that is their ink does an amazing job of blocking ultraviolet light. That ultraviolet light blocking up helps build contrast into the image. So we're gonna talk about getting those printers set up. Then we're gonna talk about chemistry coating and use of substrates. So this is the, I think the funnest part. This is also one of the parts that I'm gonna say this. I think and I say it a hundred times because it takes about 100 times of coating a piece of paper before you get enough muscle memory where you're really good at it. The coating part is what gives you these edges. So if you look at these two prints, you can see this brush stroke. So these brush strokes that come off on the tail here, that's 'cause I'm actually using a brush to coat. On this one I made a lot straighter edges and you can see just a little bit of a tail there on that corner. That coating process is what puts down the light sensity of emulsion onto the paper. So we're gonna go over that process. And then our 100s of things you can coat and put the substrate on. So that's the next part we'll go over. And this is unique. The coating and sensitizer that goes on the paper is unique to each process, but the actual coating process itself is pretty much the same every time. If you coat with cyanotypes and then you decide to try a Vandyke next, same basic brush marks, same basic process. So that's the other part about this. Like I said, once you get into it, once you learn one process and you can do it, it is easy to pick up the next process 'cause it's the same basic process, just different chemistry. We're gonna talk then about varieties of ultraviolet light sources. One of the things about using this is that you need ultraviolet light to expose it. Now, I live up in the Pacific Northwest so I have a artificial ultraviolet light source. My favorite one is the yellow orb in the sky that we get to see in the Pacific Northwest for about 45 minutes from October to May. During the summer, I love to actually use the sun. It creates a different look, a different aesthetic, but the sun is the ultimate ultraviolet creator. If I lived in Arizona, I would just be out printing everyday just out in the yard, a cup of coffee, watch the birds go by, and I'd be "working". I'm hanging out in the yard. So we'll talk about ultraviolet lights sources 'cause there's a number of different kinds. No matter where you are, it becomes easy to work with. And then we'll talk about the processing chemistry which is the ultimate piece that drives the look and feel of the image.