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View Full Version : B&W Landscape and Working with a Lab



BradS
02-25-2005, 12:33 PM
I have to say, I have a great deal of respect for all of you doing B&W landscape photography. I have for years mainly concentrated of photgraphing people but fairly recently have been trying to do landscapes in both color and B&W. It seems, color is relatively easy to get right....not so with B&W. I do not have a darkroom at home and so have to work with a lab...again, doing color with a lab is relatively easy -- Most always get the results I expect/want. Not so B&W...and I don't think it is the lab - they are really excellent to work with and do fantastic work.

Anyway, my hat's off to all of you who make it look easy.

eric
02-25-2005, 12:38 PM
I Not so B&W...and I don't think it is the lab - they are really excellent to work with and do fantastic work.

Anyway, my hat's off to all of you who make it look easy.

When I worked in a B&W lab, everything is so subjective. What you like is not what I like or what the other person likes. The more you go to that lab and establish a relationship, they know how you like to print, how you like your negs, etc, etc. Some people like it flat, some people like more contrast, some people don't care. People who work in labs are kinda like musicians. They should be good 'nuf to make it the way *YOU* like it. Then turn around, and make another print to the way the other guy likes it.

Bob Carnie
02-25-2005, 12:46 PM
Eric makes a good point,
I never give one print to a client, I always do a spread, first I print till I think the client will be happy, I then make a better print, I then make a print the way I would like it , (within the mandate I am familiar with by working with this person over time) I then give the client all the prints to choose from. Today I am printing as we chat a lith job for a US magazine. I am using Oriental G4 that he supplied, and I am throwing in some Sterling Lith prints.
Each image looks totally different , but I know the G5 will satisfy him for his client but the sterlings are grittier and more impactful. I will be curious to see which images the magazine chooses.

This method of printing pisses off my competition as some would say the printer should know what he is doing with one print. I believe making mistakes sometimes produce the best prints.

wfwhitaker
02-25-2005, 12:49 PM
...Most always get the results I expect/want. Not so B&W...and I don't think it is the lab - they are really excellent to work with and do fantastic work.
If you're dealing with a mainstream commercial lab whose bread and butter is color prints and digital transfers, you're probably not going to get good black and white service. Not only has black and white become a specialty, it probably doesn't even scarcely pay for itself as far as the lab is concerned. Not surprising then that your results would be disappointing. Learn to do the work yourself. Nothing worth doing well is ever easy (or something like that), but it's certainly not insurmountable and the rewards will justify your efforts.

rbarker
02-25-2005, 01:11 PM
If one is forced by circumstance to work with a lab, as opposed to doing your own printing, the ideal situation (I think) is to establish a method of communication that works for both sides of the counter. You might, for example, start with a contact sheet, then have a straight "test print" done that would be the basis for discussing the objectives for the "final" print. The trick is probably providing enough guidance at each stage that the lab person knows what you're looking for. The obvious consequence, of course, is that the total investment in the final print reflects the work done by the lab.

I have to say that the approach that Bob Carnie describes is so far beyond the normal expectations that I can see why his competition may grumble about him. Certainly, that's part of his marketing, his way of differentiating his lab from the others, but I have to assume that his customers become very loyal as a result. Bravo, Bob.

BradS
02-25-2005, 06:36 PM
If you're dealing with a mainstream commercial lab whose bread and butter is color prints and digital transfers, you're probably not going to get good black and white service.

Will, you may be familiar with the lab since you are here in the area...I work exclusively with E&J in Dublin. They really are excellent for both B&W and color (IMHO)...and I'm not faulting them at all. In fact, when I give them a B&W "people" negative to print, they typically nail it first time.


Learn to do the work yourself. Nothing worth doing well is ever easy (or something like that), but it's certainly not insurmountable and the rewards will justify your efforts.

Yes, I strongly agree. Although I've not set foot in a dark room in over twenty years (Yikes!), I know very, very well how much work it takes and how much skill is involved in the production of a good, presentation quality print...and, I know that I'm not good enough at it to support my family by doing it (if that makes sense).



If one is forced by circumstance to work with a lab, as opposed to doing your own printing, the ideal situation (I think) is to establish a method of communication that works for both sides of the counter. You might, for example, start with a contact sheet, then have a straight "test print" done that would be the basis for discussing the objectives for the "final" print. The trick is probably providing enough guidance at each stage that the lab person knows what you're looking for.

Yes, I think you are right. Somehow it seems that landscape photos are fundamentally different from people photos. I guess the lesson is that lanscapes require much more and careful communication with the lab.

BWGirl
02-25-2005, 08:57 PM
Brad, I think you have defined the problem...people photos and landscape photos are VERY different...I think landscape photos have more textural subtleties...harsher light & shadow...a wider range of tonal differences.

Unless you are taking pictures of lizard-like aliens, or those wonderful Ents, ;) people tend to be texturally smooth with more gradient changes in tones.

I guess I would have to say that people tones may be much easier to achieve through a lab...especially now, when many people are requesting B&W photos for weddings, etc.

It's just two different modalities! ;) I rarely photograph people, so when I do & I make enlargements of it, I have to really think about how it's supposed to look.

rbarker
02-26-2005, 01:52 PM
. . . I guess the lesson is that lanscapes require much more and careful communication with the lab.

I'm not sure that it's a people vs. landscape issue, or even just a color vs. B&W issue. But, I think it is easier for a lab to nail good "normal" color balance than it is to interpret a B&W scenic. But, even with color work that is critical (e.g. artistic or commercial work), good communication goes a long way. The lab person needs to understand what was done when making the photograph, and what is desired in the print. Otherwise, they'll try to "correct" it to "normal" color balance and tonality.

herb
02-26-2005, 04:57 PM
I grew up with black and white-my best stuff was a complete accident.

Now that I am in geezerhood, trying to get the skill level to make good landscapes is a challenge, but I am nothing if not persistent. go to Michael Smith and Paula chamblee's web site and read his writings-they will inspire. I am doing contact prints in the bathroom, so you don't have to enlarge.

good luck

steve
03-03-2005, 01:42 PM
I used to hand print lithographs for artists where the choices of translation of the image to the final print is nearly infinite. In order to narrow down the choices, you work with the artist through discussions about what the image should look like. Then you do variations of the image for the artist to look at and discuss.

Through an iterative process, you end up with the final artist's proof against which all other prints are matched. While this is standard practice with fine art printing it is not something normally done in a photo lab - although there is no reason it could not be done that way.

I have done Ilfochrome printing professionally for a select group of photographers and used my lithographic experience to print for these photographers using the same techniques of discussion and review of printed images. The goal is to translate the artist's intent to the final image. This takes a lot of time and a personalized approach which most labs can't do as time = money.

If you want to use a commercial lab, you'll either have to be willing to spend more money on proofing, or be better at communicating what you want to the printer.

If you find a good printer, and work with them over a period of time you should be able to create a relationship where the printer will be able to get close on the first proof and with discussion nail the proper look for the final print.

There are quite a few photographers of note who have not printed their own work. They rely on the artist / printer relationship to generate the final print. Often times, a good printer can find things in images that the artist overlooks and can assist the artist in making the image even better than first imagined.

As for color being easier than black and white - it is for a lab. Color printing can be more straight forward because there are less "tools" (controls) that can be applied compared to black and white where you have choices like: paper type, contrast grade, developer, length of development, split development, toning, etc.

So for color, labs can apply a "just make best color" approach. This works for color negatives because you don't really have variable negative contrast with color film. Color transparency printing is a whole different story and can be easily as complicated as black and white if you include contrast masking in the process.

With black and white many labs use the same type of approach as printing color negatives, and print everything on grade 3 and let the tones fall where they may with minimal adjustments to account for negative contrast range as it takes additional materials and time to "dial in" the print.

If you get into fine art printing of color work, you'll find that small changes in filtration, exposure, and color dodging / burning can make color printing as challenging as black and white - with far fewer tools to work with.

PepMiro
03-05-2005, 07:18 PM
I think b&w photography have characteristics VERY different from colour photography. In colour, you work basically within narrow limits... you have to do standard processes in order to achieve natural colours and normal contrast, and the creative process is basically the moment you work with the camera. In b&w, you don't work with colours; you work with shadows, and a the creative process involves the whole process from taking the photo with the camera through printing it with the enlarger or by contact. Having said this, I think that if you bring a photo to a lab in order to print it, if it's in colour, you can be considered the author of the photo but, if the photo is in b&w, there are two authors: the person who taked it with the camera and the person who processed it at the lab.

sergio caetano
03-05-2005, 09:07 PM
Gaussian
Start making it yourself. Prices of equipment for that are presently cheaper than never.

BradS
03-05-2005, 10:11 PM
Gaussian
Start making it yourself. Prices of equipment for that are presently cheaper than never.

Yes, the trick is to convince my accountant of that. :)

noseoil
03-06-2005, 07:43 AM
With a bit more than 2 years in B&W experience total (just starting out at 53), I can't imagine using a lab for learning about B&W anything at this point. There are so many differing materials, techniques and methods which can go into a good print that a lab really isn't the best way to go for personal understanding.

While costs do seem prohibitive at first, Sergio's comment about the used market is true. People are dumping labs full of equipment to go digital and are giving away excellent high end systems for absurdly cheap prices. Can you afford and justify the cost in time, both in learning and production? To me that is the single most important issue about B&W. The money involved isn't that great, but the commitment in terms of time and quality of output can't be paid for with plastic, it must be earned in terms of discipline, work and evaluation. If you're working against a deadline, it imposes a variable which can work against a fine print.

My input is to get some used equipment, set up a darkroom, take the time required to learn and don't try to make a living at it until either you retire or can afford to make the mistakes. B&W has been one of the most rewarding learning experience of my life, but I'm glad I have a regular job to pay for it. tim

Ed Sukach
03-06-2005, 08:32 AM
I have to disagree with the idea that, "With color you just do it - and that is it."

Color is in some ways, less flexible .. there is no variable contrast color paper, for example, but there are other techniques. You can control excessive contrast with "pre-flashing", for example. Burning, dodging, of course, cropping, and a host of other manipulations are equally as viable.

I process most - 99.999% - of my own work. The biggest problem with an off-shore facility would be communication ... I work, more or less, "stream-of-consciousness" - one print just completed will suggest another approach, and that one, still another. If I had a real, concrete, fixed idea of what each and every final print should look like, I'd probably choose a Commercial lab. As it is, to give them a negative (and LOTS can be done with film processing), go home, and return the next day to find another idea, ... and repeat, would be totally impractical.

BradS
03-06-2005, 12:14 PM
Well, I've resolved to at least start making my own contact prints from my 4x5 negs. Also have preliminary approval from the accounting department to use the "throne room" in our master bedroom for a darkroom. This will be a challenge...the room has a small window above the throne, no electrical outlets and is only 7 feet long and 32 inches wide (!). I will take inspiration from David Goldfarb's darkroom.

Now to begin the hunt for a Omega D2...will it fit in my designated space?

rbarker
03-06-2005, 01:21 PM
Well, I've resolved to at least start making my own . . .

Now to begin the hunt for a Omega D2...will it fit in my designated space?

"Accounting departments" can be such sticklers. ;)

All it takes is creative engineering, Brad. You might, for example, use a two-legged table for the enlarger, where the back of the table top rests on the top of the "throne back". Aluminum foil and black tape will handle the window. Similarly, there are various ways to light-seal the door. Here's what I did for that:

http://www.rbarkerphoto.com/misc/Photo-gear/dkroom-door-comp.jpg

chuck94022
03-06-2005, 01:35 PM
My first comment is this: I believe B&W landscapes are inherently abstract art. These images immediately depart from reality by removing color. The photographer uses his or her ability to modify light and shadow during the taking, development and printing process to convey the composition as originally visualized. I believe there is no such thing as a "normal" B&W landscape, other than in photojournalism perhaps. Producing a fine B&W landscape requires each stage of the process to be coupled to the original visualization. The result is a substantial abstraction, but if well done, has the appearance of reality to the viewer.

I also believe that exceptional black and white landscape are will cause the viewer to see the actual landscape, permanently, in a new way. I suspect that no one who has seen Adam's Half Dome images sees the real Half Dome in the same way ever again. I know it is the case for me. (OK, so maybe this paragraph is a little over the top, but I do think well executed visions in B&W can really be this impactful.)

OK, I may be about to embark in heresy here, so you are warned. I'd appreciate discussion of the viability of this approach though, since I have not tried it.

If you happened to read my comments in the critique gallery around my Redwood Grove image, you will note that I experimented on how to print this by analyzing the image in Photoshop and exploring various contrast, leveling, dodging and burning approaches on the computer. In this way, I was able to get a better understanding of a very difficult negative before using any chemistry or paper. (As I noted, the negative was so bad that I had not even considered proofing it for 10 years - a decision I regret, after discovering that it was, after all, a very rich image, packaged in a challenging negative).

I think this is a reasonable precursor to entering the darkroom. It allows an efficient method for negative analysis, offering rapid iteration of ideas, the best of which can then be explored traditionally in the darkroom.

Taking this a large step further, one might consider this a solution for working with a commercial printer. Again, I haven't tried this, but what about doing the following, if you don't have your own darkroom (remember that the heresy alert is active):

1. Scan the negative.
2. Do a straight, unaltered print. (Well, only alter sufficiently to account for any scanner-introduced issues that you know would not exist with a printer's proof. This would require some experience with such proofs - perhaps you could calibrate your judgement by getting a printer to do a contact sheet for some of your negatives, then scan them, print them unaltered, and compare.)
3. Edit your image in Photoshop to produce the result you seek. Only use tools that have analog equivalents. Make detailed records of the changes to the image.
4. Mark up versions of the proof and your photoshopped image (either by hand or inside photoshop) with useful data, like original zone info (perhaps show on the proof what you metered and what your intended zone was, and the other expected zones on the proof. Then show on the edited image areas that you lifted, dropped or otherwise altered. Perhaps use lines to indicate the shapes of the areas.
5. Bring this information to the printer and ask for a print along the lines of your edited postscript inkjet print. Specify paper, toning, size, etc. information separately.

Wouldn't this be a more objective way to communicate your original vision to the printer, who otherwise is somewhat of a mind reader?

Thoughts?

-chuck

BradS
03-06-2005, 08:15 PM
Heresey! but, a very practical means for communicating with the lab.

Now, I have a confession. My wife has one of those other cameras and, while she was away this weekend, I did some experimenting with it (disguised as her so that my kids wouldn't think I'd lost it). I discovered that one can make pretty decent proofs of 4x5 negs & chromes by simply taping them to a brightly lit window, masking off the rest of the window with cardboard and using the hand-held scanner thingy (if you know what I mean) on a tripod. The three photos I have posted in the gallery were made in this manner. I used some photo editing software that came bundled with the camera but was very careful to do only the absolute minimum necessary to produce a proof....the details would, I suppose, properly belong in the gray area forum...but to proof a B&W negative, all that I did was, crop, invert, convert to grayscale (becasue although the neg is B&W the output of the camera is color), adjust levels, save, resize and save as. Hopefully, that is not crossing the boundaries.