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Thread: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

  1. #1
    Stagecoach's Avatar
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    B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Hi all,

    As part of my recent deep leap (voluntered by a friend) into function photography one of the unknown and unplanned tasks was to take 25 head shots of participants which I was advised were going to be incorporated into an anual report for a project called Leadership Fiji.

    I found a reasonable spot at the function with a matt white wall background and managed to get all the shots using bounced flash. Both the participants and me are very pleased with the results.

    These now require very little work other than cropping and conversion to B&W. Fortunately I picked up a copy of last years anual report and can determine the crop ratio from previous years examples of the portraits. The main difference being that all previous years were and odd mix of spanshots.

    My specific question is that as these pics will be published on a white semi gloss paper when undertaking my post processing and conversion to B&W should I make the portrait background white at 255 or reduce slightly ?

    Once I have completed all PP of what eventually ended up as a total of 200 shots at two separate functions I will put together an article here describing the pressures, disasters, fun and learning that has come from being assumed by others as being able to be a 'proffesional' photographer because I have a 'nice' camera (not my words) !

    Regards, Grahame

  2. #2
    kdoc856's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Hi, Grahame,

    I dont feel qualified to offer an answer, but just wanted to express my interest and suport for your venture.. Looking forward to the answer to your question, and the outcome of "having a nice camera"

  3. #3
    pnodrog's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Talk to the person doing the layout if you can as it is possible they will (or can if requested) put a fine black or grey line/frame around each of the images as they do the layout. You can put a line around them before you give the files to them but most graphics designers will hate you for it as it makes cropping adjustments much more difficult. Some inexperienced layout people will change the aspect by stretching or compressing and can spoil the look of a photo and are far more likely to do this if you limit their cropping options. A good designer can make the photographs look great.

    I would be a bit wary of reducing the whites as the paper will be dropping the contrast and you want to retain as much punch as possible. Vignetting may be a better option.

    Good luck and I hope you get a good graphics designer.
    Last edited by pnodrog; 10th November 2012 at 03:53 AM.

  4. #4
    John Morton's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Hi, Grahame;

    I would tend to think that the issue would always be one of contrast rather than setting a white point.

    Generally, two things happen with commercial printing of black and white images: the overall image darkens, and, the range of tones drops.

    I don't think that darkening your white background will help with anything, really. The image will darken slightly anyway; how much depends upon the ink spread (determined by how absorbent the paper is), and, the whiteness of the paper.

    Traditionally, paper has a bit of clay added to its surface, which is used to give it increasing degrees of gloss. Something else might be used nowadays; but, clay is pretty cheap...

    The clay both whitens the paper and decreases the spread of ink by making it less absorbent. With a 'semi-gloss paper' we can assume that the ink spread is reduced but not entirely curtailed; and that the whiteness of the paper is also mid-range. So, the images will darken slightly when printed on that medium; but not as much as with, say, newsprint.

    Okay so we know that the images are going to darken a bit; and that you will have fewer levels of gray being printed, which means lower contrast images. This suggests that, for optimal results, you want slightly contrasty images that are just a shade on the light side. My personal preference in such situations is to make sure any dark outline areas are sharp, rich, and distinct; and that ANY other tones are just a bit on the light side.

    I would tend toward something a little contrasty simply because I know I am going to lose shades from my gray tonal range anyway during the printing process; so I generally think it is better for me to pick how that is going to work out rather than leave it to chance and the printing process.

    A big factor is the overall skin tone of the people being photographed. Try looking up "high key photography" and "low key photography" to give yourself a general idea of how a reduced tonal range works for lighter and darker skin. You get a very different result when you reduce contrast and darken a low key image than with a high key image: with a low key image, this will compress into black some tones that are needed to define the person's face but that isn't really an issue with high key images, since the darkest tones that define image features are always very much darker than the rest of the image.

    So, in setting your contrast before the images are sent to the printer, what you are really doing is deciding which of the tones of gray in the image are going to be mapped into or fitted within the range of grays that the printing process will produce.

    Now, if you are asking about darkening the background white because you have photographs of people who have darker skin and you don't want to lose detail in their faces, then you are perhaps suggesting that darkening a background that will be printed as white will result in the printer lightening the images overall and thus avoiding any loss of detail in the faces.

    But if the printer just increases the contrast to drop the background into white, then the dark tones are going to be clipped into black as well.

    A better approach would be to forget about the background altogether, and just concentrate on distributing the range of tonal grays in the faces as evenly across the available tonal space as possible - in other words, matching the contrast range of the subject with the contrast range of the printing process.

    My personal inclination - and I haven't seen the images you are talking about so this is just an off-the-top-of-my-head response - is to lighten such images (and we are only talking about maybe 12% for newsprint so maybe somewhere under or around 8% for semi-gloss) and bump the contrast up, being very careful that the deepest black tones are not going to all darken and blend together but that there is still a very distinct black point that marks dark features and shadows.

    Maybe you could post a few of your photos here so that people viewing can give you a more informed opinion..?

    Short answer, though: I wouldn't worry about the background at all; that's just going to be the paper it is printed on and that isn't something under your control. If you are working with images of people with lighter skin tones, then you would want to concentrate upon defining the contrast by bringing the darker areas up out of the white paper (as if starting from a "high key" image); and if you are working with images of people with darker skin tones, then you would want to concentrate upon defining the contrast by bringing the light tones down into the paper (as if starting from a "low key" image).
    Last edited by John Morton; 11th November 2012 at 03:25 AM.

  5. #5
    Stagecoach's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Kevin, Paul and John, Firstly, thank you for your interest and advice. To John, a special thank you for the extremely informative reply which has certainly made me aware of an area that I have never needed to consider before and I am sure others here will also find it very educational.

    Secondly, appologies for my late response as once again today I have been plagued with power cuts !

    Below are a selection from the 25 'formal portraits' that I have converted to B&W that will be used for publication. I fully understand the lighting is not perfect but I attempted to do the best I could in the short time with my limited knowledge in portrait photograph.

    As can be seen all were various shades of darker skin and my conversion (so far) has attempted to standardise as near as possible the background shade due to the format of the publication. The portraits will be placed 6 to a page with names and company info under each. Previous years had been a mix of pics between fully formal to fun snapshots my concern was that with these it would have looked a bit odd to have varying shades of background for each.

    B&W Portraits preparation for publication
    B&W Portraits preparation for publication
    B&W Portraits preparation for publication
    B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    I have shown these to the person who requested the shots and feedback is that they are fine but of course they have no idea regarding processing/publication requirements. There is of course the option that I could speak with the publishers but as I'm doing this for free I do not want to get too involved, but would rather just suppy something that I know I have made a reasonable job of.

    So, any advice regarding what I have produced with respect to tonal range for printing would be appreciated.

    Regards, Grahame

  6. #6
    pnodrog's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Grahame you have done a good job they should be pleased. I suspect the first three may benefit by lifting the curves to increase both brightness and mid-tone contrast just a little. I would be surprised if whoever prepares them for publishing does not tweak them to suit the printing requirements as a matter of course and they should know exactly how they should look. You could spend a lot of time doing something they will adjust anyway.

    For a single portrait I concentrate on getting a good contrast in the eyes and softening any shadows around them. It depends on your dedication and how much of an unpaid perfectionist you want to be but at least do a quick check.

    Your last photo should print really well and he has lots of character. You have handled the glasses well.

    I will be interested in any comments John has to add.

  7. #7
    Stagecoach's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Paul, thanks for your input.

    As you say things very much depend upon how much of an unpaid perfectionist I want to be. The last photo was in fact the most difficult to process due to the forehead being very over exposed but it is one that I intend to experiment with separately as I love the character of it.

    What has surprised me is the quality in sharpness that's been achieved using the 18-200 Nikon at 1/60th for all these.

  8. #8
    pnodrog's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Grahame from the samples you posted I think you have good reason to be pleased either with your gear, yourself or both.

  9. #9
    John Morton's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    Grahame, you have done an excellent job here and I don't see anything that looks to me like it will cause you problems when these images are printed.

    You've nicely kept the detail in shadow areas, and it shouldn't 'block up' into solid blacks; the tonal range of contrast is good and if it does darken slightly in printing it won't cause any problems (such as a noticeable lowering of contrast); and the white areas are detailed enough that they shouldn't 'burn out' and lose all detail when printed.

    You should be proud of your efforts and the people you are helping with this project should be very pleased indeed.

  10. #10
    Stagecoach's Avatar
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    Re: B&W Portraits preparation for publication

    John, thank you for your assesment of my work it has certainly helped me gain further knowledge of what I should be looking for in this new (to me) area and also boosted my confidence.

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