At this point, I should have a file with decent blacks, mid tones and highlights, with some local adjustments to rebalance those areas thrown out of whack by the global changes I have had to make for the overall benefit of the image. You are probably wondering why I have forgotten about colour channels/channel mixing…
If the tonal separation (particularly in the mid tones) is not sufficient, I will refer back to the original colour file and determine what sort of ‘filtration’ I would like to add and lift/drop colours slightly (under the B&W panel beneath Tone Curves) to achieve an improved separation. I should say here that I touch the channel mixer in probably only 5% of images, at the most; however, I do sometimes find a batch of images that were I using film, I would have shot with a yellow, yellow green, orange etc and so I may apply some simple adjustments to a large number of images if they are all in need of the same filtration.
I try to keep adjustments to the individual channels very small. This is critical if you are to avoid an image that looks overly digital and ‘fake’ looking. I don’t know of any camera’s files that can be bent inside out in with colour channels and come out looking like it was not forged in Disneyland. The other problem is that if you make very different channel mixing adjustments to each file, your body of work will not remotely look homogenous. IMO, the end result is that the eye scans over a series of images and just knows they are not ‘right’ because in one the greens are black, in another they are almost white, then blues are near black, then shady shadows have been lifted… it all ends up looking screwy. If you have no pressing necessity, I think it is best to take the same approach most of the best film users did, which is stick to modest filtration. If you use strong filtration, it helps a great deal to apply it fairly consistently across related images. With the Leica Monochrom, you cannot make such changes as there is only one channel, but as we have a huge amount of flexibility in applying global and local tone changes, colour channels are IMHO, not that important. They can be, but not often in my usage. My Monochrom kit normally entails a couple of basic filters just in case (yellow and orange-red).
There is no real rule as to when I decide to dive into the ‘Black and White Mix’ and adjust colours. I generally do so as soon as I realize I need some colour based tonal separation that I am not going to be able to generate using the main image adjustment parameters.
Clarity: I may make a slight tweak here, which is normally up to plus 8-9, maximum. Rarely, I use a very slight negative, but this is uncommon. Sometimes I will do a significantly larger positive clarity adjustment, but this will normally only apply to images with stinking separation and poor local contrast. I don’t think I have ever been above +30, even under extreme circumstances with very graphical or abstract work. Some of my aerial images have required fairly strong clarity adjustments due to atmospheric haze, scratched window glass, but this tends to be to overcome obstacles, rather than to add lots of clarity.
Personally, I think clarity is a very dangerous control because it is used in lieu of the ‘proper’ way of solving the problems it is used to solve (poor tonal separation). It has a tendency to make images look artificial if used excessively and, combined with very heavy shadow recovery and heavy contrast changes to linear files, it is a key component of the very artificial, almost ‘HDR B&W’ look that I personally do not like.
Sharpening: I use clarity adjustments first, because they affect the perception of sharpness. I caution B&W shooters to avoid excesses of both. They make images look too locally crunchy and do introduce artifacts that can be sensed long before they can be seen. If you are looking to produce very ‘film-like’ images, you may actually better off removing most or all of your sharpening… even the defaults, then adding grain for visual bite and adjusting from there. Do this and make some comparison prints and see which you prefer. You may be surprised. Excessive sharpness gives us ‘in your face’ image sharpness and sometimes a gentler approach is much more effective. The file will still hold much of the detail, but it will be presented in a gentler fashion.
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