Going with the Grain

One of the things those of us old enough to have shot film remember is the impact the choice of film and the processing had on our photographs. The size of the crystals of the silver halide on the emulsion was a measure of how much light it would take to make your image.  Smaller, finer crystals took more light and so were “slower”.  The finest portraits and landscapes were shot on ISO 25 film. Journalists and home photographers needed film that was more suited to a variety of light conditions, so ISO 100, 400 and up were the common film speeds.   For a lot of shooters, the graininess served as another element of the composition, adding grit and a layer of texture to the final images.   You can still hear or read about the merits of Ilford vs. Kodak Tri-X or some other favorite film. One of the criticisms of digital imaging is that the pictures are too sterile.   Luckily there are tools which can help bring back some of that additional character.   NIK Software(R), the makers of SilverEfexPro, did a masterful job in recreating in the software the exact specifications of some of the most popular film types, and they add new ones with each update.Since this post is all about grain, I figured this would be a good base image to use.


I used the same black and white conversion for all three images.  The first picture represents Kodak 32.  It has lots of grains per pixel and the edges between them are very soft.  This makes for smoother transitions and crisper photos.


The second picture emulates a film I used to shoot a lot in college—Kodak Tri-Ex 400.  It really starts to show some darkening and noise. 

Finally, I created a custom film structure, it is really pushed to have big grains in order to show just how far you can push the process.

Each one of the controls allows you to stretch your artistic controls just as if you were working back in a darkroom.  The major difference is if you mess up here, just cancel and start all over again.  If you like the results, then you can save it as your own preset and use it again later.

Lightroom High Contrast

In our last blog, we were playing around with examples of high contrast images.  Today, I'm going to show you how easily you can convert images to high contrast, using the most common tool amongst our viewers - Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  As I said last time, you get the best results with simple images.  This re-enactor was part of a demonstration of Civil War artillery at the Gettysburg battlefield.

gettysburg, civil war, re-enactor, black and white

The great thing about using Lightroom is the non-destructive nature of the program.  You can always go back to your original image if you don't like the changes.  If you want to keep separate versions of the image, start with creating a virtual copy.  Virtual copies allow you to have all the versions of your image side-by-side in your database.  The virtual copies do not create equivalent size files on your hard drive until you export them for other uses. 

So, let's get started.  There are many different ways to accomplish this effect; this is the workflow I use.  If you don't like my method, you can do it in any order you want.  Go into the Develop module of Lightroom.  In the Basic panel, on the right, push the Contrast slider all the way to 100.  Scroll done to the Tone Curve panel, and set the Point Curve to "Strong Contrast."  In the HSL/Color/B&W panel, click on "B&W."  Here are some screen captures of the first three steps:


The image now looks like this:

high contrast, gettysburg, civil war, re-enactor, black and white

The image conversion is not finished, yet.  I want to simplify the background, and the actor's face is too dark.  At this point, you adjust the sliders in the HSL/Color/B&W panel to get the final version of the image.  My preferred method is to use the adjustment tool to adjust the sliders.  Click on the tool, and move it over the portion of the image you want to change.  

Click and Hold and move the tool higher, and the tones will lighten.  Click and Hold and move the tool down, and the tones will become darker.  The sliders will adjust as you move the tool.  The final high contrast image is below.  If you want to add sepia toning or something similar, there are presets in the left side panel for that.  Experiment with them to your tastes. 

high contrast, gettysburg, civil war, re-enactor, black and white

high contrast, gettysburg, civil war, re-enactor, black and white

If you like the effect, try it on other images. The more you practice, the faster you'll get to your final image.  I think you'll have a good time experimenting with high contrast.

high contrast, black and white, flower

high contrast, black and white, fence