Before the holidays were upon us, I was heads down and knee-deep in re-learning how to make black and white (BW) prints. No, it didn't involve a darkroom, but it came close...
Way back in the fall, I went to a Piezography workshop at Cone Editions in Vermont. After the workshop, I converted a legacy Epson printer to a dedicated Selenium Piezography printer and began using Photoshop (PS) to convert digital files to black and white (BW) and using non-destructive curve layers and masks to dodge and burn. This was a significant change from my established workflow using Lightroom (LR) and Epson Advanced Black and White (ABW) print utility. Lightroom is absolutely fine for making an acceptable ABW print, but the LR process does not take advantage of the resolution and tone possibilities of Piezography. Comparison prints finally convinced me to make a serious effort to learn a little Photoshop. My new workflow starts in LR by editing a raw file as a smart object in Photoshop, converting it to BW, creating curve layers to dodge and burn selected areas of the image. When I save the edited image, it is saved to LR as a PSD file with its layers intact.
Because Piezography can reveal both wonderful tonality as well as unwanted artifacts. Jon Cone addresses these realities in the Piezography manual:
"We are not giving you the what you should do. We are only saying what you can do. And the bigger questions is what do you want to do. Black & White from Color with Silver Efex encourages you to produce conversions using presets - but it also contains tools that you can over-use and produce artifacts that will print using Piezography. These same artifacts might be absorbed by the Epson dithering patterns. Piezography is higher in resolution and prints with tens of thousands more gray levels than Epson. So you need to tread carefully.
In Photoshop, you can use layers for your Color to Black & White conversions. If you see printed artifacts, you can back off some of the adjustments you are using."
The simple reason for is to keep data in a 16-bit environment, the same bit depth used by the QTR Rip tool. Why, you ask? Because Piezography can print 2880dpi in a 16-bit environment using the QTR Print utility. That is how it achieves results that an 8-bit depth process and dithering* simply can not. That right, you can only do so much with three tones of black ink and a set of printer instructions that are managed by the printer driver. Piezography Selenium uses seven shades of black and a gloss optimizer all driven by custom curves that control the blending of the ink shades into thousands of tones.
To paraphrase what I learned in the Piezography printmaking workshop ~ I am not telling you what you should do. I am only saying what you can do. And the bigger question is what do you want to do? This an easy question for me - I want to make distinctive black and white images that are recognizable as mine.
Happy New Year!
See ya around,
* Dithering is an attempt to approximate a tone from a mixture of available ink tones when the required tone is not available. Ironically, your brain will happily process dithered photographs almost the same way as a print made with Piezography. This is not to say that they look and, more importantly, feel the same way but our optical processing is adept at filling in the spaces with what we expect to see. Custom curves made from 129 step targets create a smooth linearization that becomes apparent when you see a Piezography print.