Guest article by Andrew S. Gibson
As digital cameras have become mainstream, one of the push backs against the new technology is that some photographers choose to work with film instead. But what you may not know is that there are photographers who go even further back in time, utilizing processes that may have been common in the past but are now relegated to the status of a specialist interest. These include processes such as Cyanotypes, Albumen prints and Van Dyke Brown (the last one has nothing to do with Dick Van Dyke the actor, despite the name).
It takes real enthusiasm to use one of these old processes. You may need to buy a large format camera and you would almost certainly have to mix your own chemicals. A lot of time and patience are also required to learn and perfect the techniques.
For some people this craft element is part of the appeal, and I am not trying to dissuade them from experimenting with old processes. But what if you like the look of an old process, but don’t want to get your hands dirty with the mechanics? Perhaps you would just like to occasionally make a print that looks as if it could be the result of an antique process. That’s where the Black & White Effects 2 plug-in from Topaz Labs comes in.Topaz B&W Effects 2.1
One of the strengths of Black & White Effects 2 is the extensive range of built-in presets simulated from old processes. As well as the regular ones that help you make first class black and white conversions, there are five groups of presets dedicated to antique processes. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Cyanotypes look like blue toned black and white prints. The process has been in use since 1842 and is relatively simple to do yourself, as long as you don’t mind mixing the chemicals. The basic idea is to place a large format negative against a sheet of paper or card coated with the cyanotype mixture.
Alternatively, you can create the negative from a digital file by printing it on transparent acetate with an inkjet printer. You then expose the paper to UV light and wait for the image to form, before fixing it by running it under cold water to remove the chemicals.
Naturally, the process is much simpler if you use Black & White Effects 2. This example shows the Cerulean Cambridge Dynamic preset:
The Albumen print was invented in 1850, and utilizes a solution made from albumen (found in egg whites) and salt to prepare the paper for a silver nitrate solution which is sensitive to UV light. The negative is placed in contact with the paper during the exposure, therefore albumen prints are the same size as the negative.
The Albumen process was widely used in portrait studios at the end of the 19th century. If you ever see an Albumen print from this era in a museum you will notice the small size of the print and the incredibly fine detail it contains.
I processed this photo with the Chocolate Dynamic preset:
Van Dyke Brown Collection
The Van Dyke Brown is similar to Cyanotypes and Albumen prints in that paper coated with chemicals is exposed to UV light while in contact with the negative.The print comes out a dark brown color and the process is named after a brown oil point named after Flemish painter Van Dyke.
I processed this photo with the Coffee preset:
Opalotype prints are similar to some early wet plate processes in that the print is made on a sheet of translucent white glass coated with a light sensitive emulsion. The exposure was made using either a negative placed in contact with the glass or by transferring a carbon print. Opalotype prints are characterized by soft coloring and lack of detail, and may be hand tinted.
This example shows the Laurel preset:
The Platinum process was develop in the 1830’s and 40’s but never came into widespread use thanks to the popularity of Albumen prints. There is something quite beautiful about genuine platinum prints, they have a wide tonal range and subtle tones quite unlike any other type of black and white print. Platinum prints have great longevity but the expense and difficulty of the process means that not many people are interested in using the process itself. Luckily, Black & White Effects 2 gives you an easy way of replicating the aesthetics of a platinum print.
I processed this photo with the Platinum II preset:
A few things to note:
There are a total of 60 antique process presets spread across five collections in Black & White Effects 2 (yes, I counted them), giving you plenty of choice. Like all presets, you can use these as starting points and adapt the settings to suit your image and taste.
These presets won’t work with all photos, and give the best results when you carefully match the subject to the technique. Portraits, nude studies, simple landscapes and photos of anything that’s old are all ideal subjects.
Finally, if you are making inkjet prints your choice of paper has a big influence on the final print. Try and choose paper surfaces that match the character of prints produced using the original processes.
If you are interested in taking your black and white photography to the next level then please consider buying my ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White. It teaches you how to convert your photos to monochrome in Lightroom, including using plug-ins such as Black & White Effects 2.
Andrew S. Gibson is a writer and photographer living in New Zealand. He is the author of over eighteen photography ebooks and he’s giving two of them away. Join his monthly newsletter to receive complementary copies of The Creative Image and Use Lightroom Better.