Today I’m going to show you just how I go from a digitally captured black-and-white to a polished photo and then to a transparency for the final product for this particular image – an anthotype print. Although this project was done in Photoshop, less expensive and less advanced software will often do the same things. Today’s project can just as easily be done in Photoshop Elements or GIMP. The tools are the same, but may be located slightly differently in the menus.
I went out in the back yard to take some pictures of pansies. The ruffled leaves and budswere particularly interesting for their textures and shapes. The plants are growing in a spot that is alternately in brilliant sunlight that washes everything out or in shadows that are good for texture but not contrast. The lighting on the plants was very even, so the delicate textures were easy to capture among leaves that were largely a uniform shade of green.
I was happy with the composition in this one, but the shading needs a lot of work.
To start off, I opened the image in my editor, in this case Photoshop. There are several ways to change the contrast in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. One is to simply use the sliding contrast bar under “Adjustments”. It’s quick, but not very refined. Another quick way is to select “levels” in the “Adjustments” menu and click on the button in the levels dialog box that says “auto.” This also requires minimal experience and is somewhat more reliable. I often start with auto levels as a shortcut and if I don’t like it, I’ll undo it and play around with the sliders for shadows, mid-tones and highlights in the same dialog box. This came out pretty well. There is a lot more dimension to this image now. However, there is still detail in that bud that gets lost in the shadows.
So, the next tools to pull out are the dodge and burn tools*. Here, the one thing I really wanted to do was make that one big black blob of a bud into the individual petals that were hidden in the shadow. I used the dodge tool set to “mid-tones” and carefully dodged each petal so that the edges remained shadowed for depth. If I were going to use this just as a black-and-white photo, I would probably stop here. There are many shades and textures that I would not want to loose by over-working the image. However, this image went a step further because of the nature of the final print.
Good anthotypes need very contrasty originals.
Plant juice is just not as high-contrast as a black-and-white image. Quite simply, there is no black or white. So, the details have to be brought out further to make up for the loss of contrast in the final print. Here, I focused on dodging the highlights and burning the shadows so that the details were much more obvious. The contours in the sepals and petals are more defined now, as are the details in the highlighted leaf at the center of the image. I also brought out the veins in the leaves at the bottom by dodging the mid-tones a bit. This was printed onto Pictorico transparency film in my ink jet printer.
And here, after a few weeks in the sun, is the final print, exposed on emulsion made from that very flower.
*These tools get their names from the darkroom techniques used to lighten and darken areas of a picture. In a darkroom, the print is exposed by shining a light through a negative onto a piece of treated paper for a certain period of time. If an area needs to be lightened, it is “dodged” by blocking light to that area for part of the exposure with a finger, a whole hand, a piece of cardboard, a shaped tool or whatever fits the shape of the area being lightened. Burning is pretty much the same idea. An area is made darker by exposing it to more light (think of getting a sun tan) while the rest of the picture is covered to prevent the rest of the picture from being over-exposed and therefore too dark. Digital editors take this a step further by allowing the user to dodge or burn shadows, mid-tones or highlights in the same area separately.