I feel like I neglect my blog. I don’t publish a lot or frequently. I don’t respond to comments so quickly and I really regret that, because I appreciate the time people take to interact with me. But I find it hard to concentrate on this when I am busy at work and have/want to be ready for my family (especially my wife since they diagnozed osteoarthritis in her neck). And while I am full of photographic ideas I haven’t been photographing at all for nearly a month. I guess there is more in life than photography. I don’t regret it, but I do miss it. For sure.
But as mentioned in a recent blog post I have been using and trying a couple of Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro presets developed by another photographer, Don Springer. Before I tell about my impressions with these presets I first like to get my thoughts straight on some things that usually seem to fuel a lot of debates, but are of no interest to me (anymore).
RAW versus jpeg and digital versus film
Yes, I know that raw is technically superior to jpeg. You can recover highlights and shadows, adjust the white balance and squeeze every bit of image quality out of a file. Additionally there are many great B&W conversion techniques available with color channels. I know, I have used them and I experienced it all.
Film versus digital
Another argument I read a lot is that if you want to get the best B&W photographs use film instead. Likely this argument is so true either. I know it, I have used film too. You see, time and money. Family and work takes up my time and I simply don’t have that time available for developing and scanning. Most importantly though I just don’t have the money for using film.
Digital has so many advantages and it makes a lot of sense exploring and using it all. The immediacy, the possibility to correct in post processing, but these arguments don’t matter to me either. They did and at some point could do again, but just not now.
You see, maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am very nostalgic and romantic about some things in photography. I have said it often before, but I like it when decisions are irreversible. Just like film (I hear you thinking). Therefore I choose for B&W jpegs even though I know that the raw images have more benefits. There is nothing rational in my thinking and I do realize that these decisions have consequences.
The harder you tweak the adjustments in post processing the stronger the degradation of your photograph will be. I know that. With a raw image there is always some information preserved in the highlights that enable some degree of highlight recovery. With a B&W jpegs all this information is already pressed into a greytone and you loose that possibility. For me exposing is a conscious decision though. I don’t expose with the post processing features in mind. I photograph what I feel and take blocked highlights or pitch black shadows for what it is. For me these are not the trade offs, but aspects that add to the mood I try to convey.
I like using Lightroom for organizing my photographs and some finer adjustments. Lightroom is very capable of handling jpegs too for post processing. Some options though I try to avoid. These are especially highlight and shadow recovery. Options favored by many others. Lightroom is OK and some things just work really well, but if I had to make a final decision keeping Nik Silver Efex Pro running is currently what works best for me.
In my opinion Don’s Lightroom presets do work really well on raw photographs, but don’t work really well on my B&W jpegs unless I tone down some of recovery adjustments. When doing so I kind of like what I see happening. Not quite similar to what I do, but the gritty style emphasizes the sketchy look I like. Regarding Nik Silver Efex Pro (from now on named SEP) things look quite differently. In my perception SEP somehow handles my B&W jpegs really well. At first Don’s SEP presets seem to be quite aggressive, but look really need when SEP saves the processed photographs as tiffs. Personally I prefer a little bit less grain, but I do like the high contrast from these presets. Each presets for both Lightroom and SEP come in different variations with more or less contrast, more clarity (Lightroom) and structure (SEP) or less, and more or less grain. Depending on your initial exposure and amount of contrast you likely find a suitable preset. In case you’re interested make sure to have a look here. I liked the presets a lot and have been fighting hard with my own workflow the last couple of weeks. For me presets are like a starting point and I keep tweaking them until they fit me.
All photographs by Wouter Brandsma