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Black & White, Film & Digital; What’s Changed And What’s Remained:
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Aside from the color to grayscale conversion information the channels reveal, each channel also has characteristics that can be enhanced, exploited or corrected when processing the image. This photo was made at ISO 1600 with no Noise Reduction filtration activated (#9). The blue channel (#10) shows considerably more noise than the red channel (#11).

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But taking it one more step—there is no color image; indeed there is no image in the camera memory or the computer drive onto which you download it. The image is merely an assemblage of codes and instructions of what to do with those codes, as well as a record—the EXIF data—of how you set up the camera for the shot, that can only be seen on a monitor when translated through a computer. That’s quite a change from looking at a frame of film on a light box.

Another change is what film photographers might expect to be the “panchromatic response” when photographing in Monochrome mode. Black and white film photographers shoot with red, yellow, orange or green filters over the lens to alter the color contrast—or color to grayscale conversion—of the film so that more or less density would record on the corresponding or complementary color in the scene. These filters make no sense now as that effect can be programmed into the camera at the time of exposure or altered later with software. Now there are “channels” of red, green and blue recorded. To stretch an analogy it is almost as if we are shooting Kodachrome in that each color layer is, or can be processed separately. In digital those different channels have different characteristics that can be exploited and altered in processing.

When film photographers wanted to really deepen a blue sky they would place a red filter over the lens. The filter blocked blue (its complement) making for less density of blue on the film record, thus a darker area in the reversed print. This can now be done easily enough through filter “emulation” in the camera or in software. Here’s one image processed to emulate a shot made through a blue filter (#12) and a red filter (#13).

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Perhaps the weirdest part of digital for film photographers to accept is that there is no image, just a bunch of numbers that are later reassembled by a computer to look like an image on a monitor, or print. But with that comes an incredible opportunity for many photographers to become engaged in black and white photography like they never could, or imagined they could, before.

This photo made with a Lensbaby (#14) illustrates the power you have in processing color images using simple conversion tools. When you translate from color to grayscale you can alter the tones of color at will. (More on this in the processing sections to follow.) The color shot, when simply “desaturated”, yields a nice grayscale image (#15). However, it gets expressive when you take matters into your own hands and play with the way the reds, greens and blues translate to grayscale. Here the reds are made much lighter and the shades of green are “dropped out” completely to deep, featureless tone. No other processing steps were used, or required (#16).

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