Black and White film with tones more silver than grey.

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by himself, Jan 16, 2012.

  1. himself

    himself Member

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    I was recently wondering why older black and white films tend to have a more silver tone than grey, this was mostly due to watching 8 ½ (cine film I know, but aren’t they essentially the same? if not at the very least manufactured by the same companies - 8 ½ was shot on Kodak film) and looking at pictures of stars from the silent movie era.

    Is there a difference in the way modern film is made? Has the desire for a “truer” tonality meant that greys are more realistic than they were, or were the old plate techniques just inherently different because of said technique?

    So anyway, while I’m a huge fan of modern black and white films, I do really miss that silver tone... maybe it’s because the world is grey enough as it is or an inherited nostalgia, either way, I was hoping to find some modern film that has the same characteristics as these older films.

    I never shot any real super professional film or fine art film, mostly just the regular commercial type, so maybe the answer is there.

    Does anyone know of a modern film that has a silver tone?

    The answer may lie in the development process or possibly even the makeup techniques of the time rather than the film, so if anyone knows – now is the time to speak up.

    Thanks
    Dafydd
     
  2. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Not sure what you mean by "silver" tone. Do you mean diffused highlights, perhaps? Or less midtone and more contrast... (brighter highlights)? Please see if you can describe the silvery look, and then maybe someone can tell you how to get it.
     
  3. himself

    himself Member

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    I'm not sure I can describe it any further than - the greys look silver rather than grey.
    these are the pictures I was looking at http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/f.../style-lessons-silent-movie-stars-in-pictures and I guess anyone that has seen 8 1/2 would understand what I mean.

    By all account he used a high contrast film for some of the film, but that would have stronger blacks & whites and, therefore less "greys" to be even silver
     
  4. mdarnton

    mdarnton Member

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    "Silver" is not the word you are looking for. What you mean is that they have more greys between black and white, and much less pure black and white. That's easy to do these days, but photographers often appear to be more fascinated with empty black shadows and lack of tonal scale in their photos, and pushing film, which doesn't really do anything but make more empty dark areas, and a generally darker tonality. Go to some exhibits, and you'll see that the game sometimes appears to be "how dark can I make everything, and still see most of the picture" rather than an imitation of real life. It can be quite striking, but it's just a style of printing, not something imposed by the materials.
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Craftsmanship and skill.
    Lenses with less contrast (open shadows and softer highlights), and subsequently film developed to higher contrast index to suit the paper materials of the day.
    (Today's modern multicoated lenses tend to have a lot more contrast than the old ones).

    What makes you think you cannot achieve similar results with modern film?
     
  6. himself

    himself Member

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    are you sure that's what I mean?
    because more grey surely wouldn't result in a more silver tone but just more grey... but I'll take your word for it and try to reduce the contrast on some shots I have (using photoshulopmommmm) and see what happens

    thanks
     
  7. himself

    himself Member

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    nothing, nothing at all - it's just that I haven't seen it on what I definitely know is modern film. I generally see more accurate greys, but please, if you know how; let me know.

    thanks
     
  8. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    IMO, I don't believe this has to do with any property of the film. Not all those images that I saw on the link appear to have any special silvery tone to them. IMO, it is a matter of subject values relative to development and the printing along with paper developers.
     
  9. himself

    himself Member

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    but some of them do right, I'm not just seeing things?
    have you seen it on any contemporary shots, or have any idea what the process may be?
     
  10. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    It is almost certain that most of these photographs were taken with orthochromatic film. Probably with less of an anti-halation layer than with modern films. Those factors, in addition to the properties of the older lenses, are probably necessary to duplicate the 'look'. I'm getting it with handmade ortho film, but I'd be comfortable betting that one of the ortho films commercially manufactured, together with an older lens, might get you close. It's a really lovely look.
     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    In order to get the tones you want, with modern lenses, you have to overexpose quite a bit to open up the shadows, in order to overcome the high contrast. Similarly you will want to balance your film developing time and agitation in order to get to mid-tones and highlights so that the negatives are appropriate for the paper you use.

    But then comes the real magic - printing. Film developing is a fairly standard process, while printing time is when you want to bring out your full arsenal of tools, and continue to learn more as you go. It takes a lot of skill to make pictures like the ones you reference, and I doubt very much that most of the resulting quality is due to a particular film or paper, but rather experience and a really keen eye.

    My own attempt would probably be to over-expose the film by at least one stop while maintaining my developing time. I would then probably print using a paper that doesn't have a completely white base, something like Emaks or Varycon, using a fairly dilute and soft working developer for great local contrast in the mid-tones. Beyond that, each individual print would require different treatment based on the composition and so on. Masking, flashing, split filter printing, diffusion, dodging, burning, working with the print developer, etc are examples of tools that fine printers use to maximize their ideas of what the print should look like. That part is entirely up to you, but at the same time arguably the most important piece of the puzzle of making prints of a certain character.

    Denise's note about ortho film is interesting, and might be worth experimenting with.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 16, 2012
  12. mdarnton

    mdarnton Member

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    Silver as a color is just a grey. Unless you are looking at color photos, in which case it often has a slight tinge of yellow. You are looking at B&W photos: ALL they are is various greys. One of them is apparently grabbing your attention, but it's a grey, that's all. You're making some sort of association, but it's interpretive, not descriptive. I suspect what you're responding to is the balance of lighter greys in the photos. The aesthetic of that time was to use as broad of a tonal range, as realistic as possible. These days, people think of lighter colors as more sparingly used spotlights to shape the viewer's attention.
     
  13. himself

    himself Member

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    thanks for the info

    do you have any examples of your images so I could take a look see?
     
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  15. himself

    himself Member

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    that's great thanks
     
  16. dwross

    dwross Subscriber

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    himself,

    :smile: Thanks for asking.

    I'm pounding out an ortho tutorial for my website right now (and happily surfing APUG when I get brain freeze.) Here's the first page, but over the next four days I'll fill it out with example photographs.

    Best of luck with your work. I like your description of 'silvery'. I've always thought of it as 'glowy', but silvery is even better.

    http://www.thelightfarm.com/cgi-bin/htmlgen.py?content=15Jan2012

    d
     
  17. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Take a look at some of these by Weston---I certainly think they could be described as having a "silvery" tone, but in IMO, it is more the subtlety in the density differences in the negative translated to paper that give them this quality. This is pure skill IMO, nothing more.
     
  18. himself

    himself Member

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    looks good and bookmarked... and I expect to find my answer there soon, so no pressure

    "silvery" was the best I could come up with, but there does seem to be a quality there that I've only seen replicated by people using wet plate today, so I originally assumed it was that, but then I saw it in the Italian films from the 60's, noticeably more so in Fellini's work and figured there must have been some difference in the film too... maybe my answer lies in the Italian light itself :confused:

    film technology has improved and captures more accurate tones (grey and all the other obnoxious rainbow colours too) these days so I then guessed that it was just a something that old film "did".
     
  19. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Himself, a few additional thoughts:

    1) Many of the older style "glamour"/cinema- type pictures have a diffusion effect done either at the taking or printing stage. This tends to give the tonality a kind of glowing quality.

    2) Make sure you look at original prints, not high quality reproductions. I know this might sound counterintuitive but it has a real impact. For example, when I first became serious about photography and printing, much of my influence came from the incredibly silvery, amazingly sharp duotone reproductions of Ansel Adams's pictures found in his books, and even on authorized AA calendars and posters (usually published by Little Brown). I saw similar silvery tones in reproductions of some other photographers' works. It was frustrating. I thought there had to be an extra secret beyond printing skill and large format film. My wise father kept telling me "Wait until you see real prints by Adams. They don't look quite like that.". I have to say he was right. When I finally saw real prints by Adams, Weston and others, they were indeed beautiful, but not what I had expected. They didn't have quite the silvery look I had become so used to seeing in books.
     
  20. himself

    himself Member

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    cock, so no chance of a shortcut then?

    nevermind... but you are right about their silvery-ness


    thanks
     
  21. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    It's just my opinion.
     
  22. himself

    himself Member

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    thanks, I was kinda expecting someone to come along and say that - thus ruining my innocences forever...

    so thanks again
     
  23. himself

    himself Member

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    no, no - I'm sure you're right

    I was just hoping it wouldn't be post process, but consensus seems to think so
     
  24. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Well, don't worry, I'm in the minority on that position. Most people feel the opposite way. They see a reproduction or a negative scan or something, and they say "wow, I'll bet the real print looks even better!". I'm not sure what they're seeing other than the obvious tactile quality of an original print.
     
  25. Grainy

    Grainy Member

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    Funny you mention it. Last night I was going to print a negative wich I had scanned earlier. It was easy to scan and easy to edit. I therefore had a clearly previsualised image in my head before the printing session. But there was absolutely no chance to get it even a bit similar, it wasn't miles away from my previsualisation, more like lightyears. So I said to myself "Okay, put the negative back in the archive and try again in a year or two when you've got more experience.".
     
  26. Grainy

    Grainy Member

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