Color & Light
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Creating Better Photographics
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“Toning” And Colorizing Monochrome Images; Expanding The Monochrome Palette
The image color of even a conventional black and white silver print is rarely black, white and grayscale shades. It may be warm (golden) or cold (blue) neutral or toned (sepia, magenta). Over many years print makers and chemists developed paper and developer combinations, as well as after-printing toners, to add additional color to monochrome silver prints. For example, using a warm-tone paper such as Agfa Portriga and a warm-tone enhancing developer, such as Selectol Soft, could alter image color. This yielded brownish blacks and creamy whites. A cold-tone paper could be developed in Dektol and after fixing toned in a mild dilution of rapid selenium toner for added “snap”, resulting in a “harder” bright white/deep black effect.
There is a long tradition of “toning” or colorizing black and white photos. Now that all digital images start as color, options are greater than ever before as color and saturation can be easily manipulated in programs. This beach scene (#2) was “toned” blue using the hue/saturation controls on a “desaturated” image.
There’s something about toning that adds a timeless, or at least nostalgic touch to an image, particularly if the subject matter lends itself to that kind of interpretation. Here a scan from a film photo made in 1984 is given a cyanotype treatment (#3 and #4).
Yet, given the irony, the ability to emulate and even expand on potential image color possibilities in the digital darkroom is very wide. Anyone who has struggled to maintain consistent image color throughout an edition or portfolio, or who has tried a variety of toner dilutions to get an image just right will especially appreciate it. The ink and paper options and the processing potential available today are one of the most exciting elements in expressive digital printing.
A study of prints made by photomechanical means other than conventional darkroom methods also reveals the amazing image color possibilities of the photographic image. Platinum, palladium, cyanotype, Van Dyke Brown and even photogravure show very seductive image color effects. Some of these arcane processes are kept alive by a dedicated core of artists, and are often referred to as alternative or personal processes. While digital ink mixing cannot hope to obtain the patina of these images (the surface characteristics) they certainly can emulate the look and visual feel. They do this without mixing often-dangerous chemicals.
In addition, there are options for adding a dash of color to a black and white print for visual interest, or even applying color to make a print look like an old hand colored postcard or portrait. Handcoloring, first used to add color to photographs before color film and paper was readily available, is a fun way to make your own color interpretation on a black and white scene.
There are two choices when working with black and white images. One is to use the Grayscale mode and the other RGB, or Color mode. For our purposes here we want the image to be in RGB mode. If you scanned or converted into Grayscale mode simply go to Image>Mode>RGB or similar command to convert it to a form that will “take” the color you are going to give it. Even though your foundation image looks like monochrome or black and white on the screen, you are now working with a color-ready file.
Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro (www.niksoftware.com) is a plug-in that allows you to first make conversions to black and white or desaturated color and then you can override and change the effect easily as it creates a layer in Photoshop. That’s what I did here using the Monday Morning Nik filter on a shot of an old sled in the shade of a doorway (#10). I then desaturated the result and added a slight sepia wash through hue/saturation and Layer Mask brush strokes (#11 and #12).
There are numerous programs and plug-ins that make toning a very simple task. Here the Nik plug-in, Color Efex Pro, shows a blue and brown tone work screen. Note the sliders on the right that allow for customization of the effects (#13 and #14).
Duotones And Split Tones
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