Ratical : Analog Photography

B&W Adjustments and Darkroom Methods

There are many methods of adjusting a black-and-white image. If you have a bracketed scan you may want to apply an S-curve to each exposure/layer. I often is to use the Grain Merge blend mode to simultaneously deepen the shadows and brighten the highlights.

If the goal is to print negatives in the darkroom then there is another path to follow: try using digital techniques that provide insight into the printing process before you walk into the darkroom.

Split-Grade Printing

In my experience, the art of getting good B&W prints in the darkroom is mainly about finding the right combination of low-contrast and high-contrast filters. I usually make separate prints:

B&W reversal bracketed scan

  1. Use high-contrast filters to knock down the shadows without obscuring detail that you would like to preserve.
  2. The low-contrast filter will produce a flat appearance, but is useful for promoting the widest range of tones.

The computer edit can follow an analogous pattern using a layer mask on the darkest layer to select the darkest areas. Use levels or curves on the layer mask to adjust the contrast. Use opacity to merge two or three lighter layers to capture the wide range of tones.

Layer Mode Opacity Mask
0 Normal 100% -
+1 Grain Merge 100% -
+1 Normal 50% -
-1 Normal 100 Copy of current layer (inverted)

Alternatively,

Layer Mode Opacity Mask
-1 Normal 100% -
+1 Normal 100% Copy of current layer
0 Grain Merge 80% -

Final Preview

Push-processing provides a means of adjusting the density and contrast of a negative, but this will also change the way a print can be made. With practice, the digital copy will provide a very good indication of what your film is capable of.

Last updated on June 08, 2022