How to create photos like "the masters", and is PhotoLab a useful tool?

I just watched this video, twice:

Henri and his M3

Most of what I’ve learned in this forum, is how to create the most technically perfect photograph. I’ve been watching more and more videos on how the “Old Masters” created such fascinating images. I’m wondering how useful PhotoLab might be, if at all, when trying to capture human life as Henri Cartier Bressons and others did so long ago.

The most useful thing I’m thinking of, is Film Pack, to make modern technology images look so non-technical.

Have any of you been capturing images like these, and how might you have used PhotoLab to help do so?

Example:

Indeed… Nevertheless, FP can make images look old, but it cannot make good compositions bad or bad compositions look good. Please note that an old look needs a fitting subject. A person with a smartphone (or a Miami skyline) would not be my first choice(s), but hey, try your stuff!

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Using the crop tool in random mode or sticking to the “original proportions” could give a good composition a hard time.

Now, you’re just being plain silly :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :crazy_face:

I try to adapt… :rofl: :robot:

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@mikemyers
I think that we now live in a world mass culture that with very few and ever decreasing exceptions is pretty much the same all over the globe. It´s 45-50 years ago since I was young and travelling today is a completely different thing from then. In those days it was much more common travelling over land than today. A back packer trip could often last 3-4 monts these days and travelling that way gave you a lot of interesting motifs and experiences. Most of that culture I met then in both Asia, South America, Africa and the to a great extent even in the ever problematic Middle East is gone now - for god and bad.

In these days many of us used slow dia positive film, since it was the only way to really share the images by using projectors and white screens. The backside were that many of us had to work constantly at 50, 64 or 100 ASA/ISO. These films were very unforgiving and had very well defined limitations that forced the photographers to be very careful when exposing and composing since there were no really means to correct them in any sort of postprocessing. The dynamic range was not all that good in dia positive film either. So when we now can postprocess these images it opens a whole new world for us. Without Photolab I would just have had to throw most of my old images away since their technical quality was so bad. Black and White film like Tri-X was a lot easier with it´s limit of ASA/ISO 400.

Back to your intresting questions. You went back to the old “masters” here and ask yourself how useful Photolab or Filmpack would be to create something that resembles or “looks like” the expressions found in images from older times when images had a more “dirty” and grainy look than the technical perfection of today.

Being far from a master I can still give you some examples why I have landed where I have landed with some of my older dia images. Very short I have tried most of reproduction methods for diafilm like scanning, using diaduplicators to repro photography. After about two years of trial and error I ended up some years ago with repro photo in RAW with tethering and Capture One and postprocessing in Photolab. Finally I use a Sony 90mm macro, Sony A7 III and repro table together with Sony Imaging Edge Remote for tethering.

I also landed in converting to B/W because the colors in many of my dia had lost the entire green RGB-channel and I hadn´t the nerves to restore the color balance in every single image. I also added a brownish tone as a last finish in Photolab. Since the Agfa CT 18 and especially the CT 21 dia film I used often had really ugly grain especially in blue skies, I first used a Tri-X emulation in Photolab later to be exchanged for a T-max 100 grain instead, just to split that uggly grain from the film in smaller grain. I also have found that I just had to avoid ClearView and Microcontrast completely and with that I mean the Microcontrast slider all the way to the very far left. Instead I use to add maybe 30-35 in Fine Contrast.

And the to the final touch. Since either “Unsharp Mask” or “Lens Correction” sharpen hardly affects these images at all, most contrast will have to come from “Fine Contrast” and the use of “Bicubic Sharpen” at the export to JPEG.

Here you have one example of how these images look.

Sten-Åke Sändh - Portfolio (fotosidan.se)

Since I normally don´t publish free standing images I also give you a link to the front page of my portfolios. In that view the portfolios with historical images made with the method described above are all brownish.

Sten-Åke Sändh - Portfolio (fotosidan.se)

The images are mostly used in historical blogs like the last one I made for a month ago. Here you can se som images taken 1984 in a small industrial work shop where we built inline stitchers for the printing industry both im the nordic region and the rest of the world. This little company of ten emplyees won a sales contest when New York Times bought stitchers in the seventies. The company still exists today and is still a market leader on the heavily schrinking world market for inlinestitchers and newspapers.

INGOL / TOLERANS AB - ett litet exportföretag i den grafiska industrin från 1970-talet till idag - Fotosidan

It is Photolab and Filmpack that together has made it possible for me to save my historical images and especially Fine Contrast has been completely crusial to make that happen.

Lots of fascinating images, and they all “match” whatever technique you used for one, they are all processed in a similar manner.

I wonder if Google has a way for me to view the text in English?

I agree with you that the world has merged into similar way of doing things all over.

What does “dia” mean? Slide, as in slide film? People have warned me that slide film exposure is very critical, but way back when, I mostly used B&W film, and in India, I switched to color negative film.

Grain - I never disliked “grain”, as to me, the grain WAS the image. Having said that, I preferred Kodak Plus-X film with finer grain. Panatomic-X was too slow, and I rarely used Tri-X, but a lot of the reason for that was I bought 100 foot rolls of Plus-X and loaded my own cassettes. I fooled myself into thinking that since I already bought the bulk film, until it ran out, my film was “free”. No such luck with color, one roll at a time, and bad photos got tossed into the garbage.

You write “Being far from a master…” I would argue with that. Your images are fascinating, and they are all technically excellent. They’re also frustrating, as I can’t read the explanations, leaving a lot up to my imagination.

You and @Joanna feel very strongly about “Fine Contrast”. But you lost me when you wrote: “Bicubic Sharpen” at the export to JPEG. Can you write more about that, how you use it, and why?

Thanks for the detailed post, and thank you for sharing your images with us!!!

For a better translation, Deepl is my tool of choice nowadays. I copes better with colloquialisms.

Yes, that’s right. In French we talk about diapositive to mean transparency, or slide, film.

Oh yes. I use Fuji Velvia 100 for my LF work and it only has a dynamic range of 5 stops, with only 2 of them above the metered reading, if you are lucky. Which is why we tend to make extensive use of graduated neutral density filters to bring down the brightness of a sky to within 5 stops of the reading for the deepest shadows we want to have details for.

Grain is very useful for focusing an enlarger but, for me, it was one of the things that drove me to using fine grain LF film instead of stuff like Ilford HP5, with grain like golfballs.

Well, I usually use the term when talking about the adjustment sliders, which give so much more subtle changes in contrast when compared with micro-contrast, but especially the devil’s spawn that is ClearView Plus.

Bicubic sharpening is one of the options available when resizing an image and refers to an algorithm designed to control sharpness. It does not apply to editing an image in the general sense of the term.

Hi Stenis,
as I had already seen your pics ( and a lot of interesting reportage pictures ! ) … this explanation now revealed that appearance, signaling really “historical”. :slight_smile:

But yes, it’s a viable solution to ‘save’ important / interesting memories being worth to be kept & presented. – Sometimes I do with recent pics w/ colour temperatures too far off and convert them to B&W / printing.

All this being the case, maybe it’s a good time for anyone t scan their old transparencies, before the color has gone. I guess nothing is truly “forever”. Sad.
I also have my collection of “35mm color slides” that I haven’t checked in perhaps ten years, if not longer.

I searched all over to figure out how all these parts really work. The above explanation is the best of anything I found, and far more complete. Thank you for finding and posting!

I called the shop this morning - the owner told me the camera is fixed, and ready to pick up. He told me the arm somehow got bent. He thinks it is an issue on one of my lenses, and wants me to bring all my Nikon lenses with me tomorrow so he can check. He is concerned with a screw that might be out of place. As seems to be typical for me, I have no idea what this screw might be, but I’ll do as he requested. I might have an update tomorrow. What’s interesting to me is I share all my lenses on my three Nikon bodies, and the other two bodies have no problem…

I will look at al my lenses as I pack them, but having no idea what I’m looking for doesn’t help.

Eye’s closed spray and pray…
And i hope so i payed for it.
:yum::grin::crazy_face:

I think the word is indeed “creating”
The more you can control the scene the better you can composite and decide shutterspeed and aperture.

That guy can be drive its bike 24 times past the stairs before it was done.
Only he and the photogrqpher knows.

@Wolfgang
There is a lot of usable “presets” in Photolab and if that isn´t enough there are some more in NIC Collection as you probably know since versions ago. I think especially Silver EFEX Pro has some interesting B/W presets and it´s also easy to start with a preset and tweek it a bit to your liking. That´s what I have done.

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@mikemyers
Thanks! Google can help you with the translation of the entire text. I have even managed to read japanaese translated to swedish and of course there are som peculiarities but it´s absolutely readable.

“Dia” is just some bad swinglish I´m afraid, sorry for that. Positive color film might be better english?

Just a comment about the americanized modern world. It´s really not just about vanishing old cultures. Another even more problematic issue is that the population of many countries in the Middle East and Africa has exploded 3-4 times in 40-50 years and on top of that herds of tourist crowds almost maked it impossible to visit some places today. Take Petra in Jordan that I visited just a couple of months before the Jom Kippur War 1973. Because of the the political tension in the area there was very little tourism.

I left Jerusalem after a year in Israel in the end of the summer and took a boat from Haifa to Mersin in Turkey and came to the no mans land via road 850 between Turkey and Syria passing Adana, Gaziantep. (There is an easier way over the Allenby Bridge to Jordan from Israel but that was closed after the Six Days War). I passed through Syria from north to south through all these cities in the north that are just ruins today like Aleppo, Hama and Homs. The same north to south for Jordan through Amman Jerash and Karnak to Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses) that leads to the entrance (The Siq) of this fantastic World Heritage (since 1985). Later Petra was appointed to one of the “Worlds New Seven Wonders of the World” (2005) (100 miljon voted over the Internet) and that was disastrous for Petra since the tourism virtually exploded after that and reached a pre Covid peak at 1 miljon 135 000 visitors 2019.

Take a look at the 17 images in blog link below. People that are young today will never have a chance to experience anything like it. I was almost alone then I walked down there to and in Petra. It was just me and a few lokals on their donkeys fetching water from Petras many water wells.

I´m not a master but I have been a semiprofessional of some sort since I have used many of my images during nearly ten years as a history and geography teacher i schools in Stockholm. There has always been a very strict documentary bias behind almost all of my images so that`s the reason I don´t think I think it´s fare to compare them with images “the masters” had very different starting point.

Petra - Den glömda staden - Fotosidan

Today it´s almost tabu to talk about the pressure on the Earth inflicted by the ever increasing population in many countries and my country is no exception, but I think it´s getting harder and harder to shut my eyes and neglect these state of affairs but Covid has opened a window now to go there before it all starts again.

I also visited Yves Saint Laurents absolutely lovely garden in Marrakesh the first time for more than 10 years ago. I went there again two years ago just before Covid just to see the enormous queues that forced me to turn around and forget about it. Also that a result of the mass tourism. It´s not really all that fun any more to travel - or I´m just getting pretty old and tired but Morocco is my best tip today to a fantastically intresting country for photographers looking for intresting motifs.

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[quote=“mikemyers, post:7, topic:25060”]
Grain - I never disliked “grain”, as to me, the grain WAS the image. Having said that, I preferred Kodak Plus-X film with finer grain. Panatomic-X was too slow, and I rarely used Tri-X, but a lot of the reason for that was I bought 100 foot rolls of Plus-X and loaded my own cassettes. I fooled myself into thinking that since I already bought the bulk film, until it ran out, my film was “free”. No such luck with color, one roll at a time, and bad photos got tossed into the garbage.[/quote]

It´s not that I dislike all grain but sometimes it´s really a problem. A few examples of what I mean by to harsh grain and Microcontrast and ClearView Plus.

Example 1. Original positive image with just Microcontrast increased to 50. Also note the damages at the top and bottom.

Example 2. The only thing I have done here is to set the Microcontrast slider as much as possible to the negative side = -100

  1. The virgin RAW with just the B/W preset “Cappucine” applied and “Tri-X” rendering changed to Kodak T-Max 100 and Intensity set to 100 of 200.

No these images are far from “technically excellent” in a modern digital sense. Even if they are taken in 24 MP the real MP-value from the film has to be 4-5 MP or so and if you enlarge the images in the Petra Blog, that is really easy to see. Even the Dynamic Range is really lousy and that is also easy to see in some om the images which partly displays some parts of the sky in the image.

It’s hard to view the photos in your link, without being astonished at the lack of tourists. I wonder what those views would look like today.

Beautiful photos - and the beauty of what is there, is just awesome! You did an excellent job of recording the original scene for others to view. Wondering, did you capture the original images in color? If so, can the color be restored?

@mikemyers
Look above Mike. At the top there is the slide as is when repro photographed. Some of the images can be restored. Most often it´s the green channel that is totally or partly vanished.

But since restoring them is a tremendous work I have chosen not to do so. I also thought it would be more relaxing for the eyes of the viewers to get a more uniform appearance than the one the originals have but from my years at the City Museum of Stockholm i know very well that used to scan the color images as they looked.

Historiska fotografier - Digitala Stadsmuseet (stockholm.se)

That’s not a fair statement. To me, “technically excellent” means the gear you used to capture the images, the film material, and what you had available to process it.

In today’s world, with 60+ megabyte images, the images would likely be “technically better”, but then too, you could have used a Large Format camera and perhaps done better than a 60+ meg image.

A Constellation 4-engine airplane was technically excellent, but it can’t be compared to a 747.

On the other hand, you could go back to re-capture the same scenes as you recorded so long ago, and you could use the same camera and film that you used then, of Joanna’s Nikon D750, or a 4x5 or 8x10 view camera.

But also, remember that I am viewing your images on a 27" ASUS monitor, and those “technically excellent” images are probably viewed after being enlarged to several feet across, not inches.

Don’t in any way short-change yourself. I’m very pleased to see your images - but to be honest, I’m mostly pleased to see what those scenes looked like, and other than color, I think your images are very, VERY realistic.

Well, I have come to this compromise after a couple of years of “trial and error” and I couldn´t have been able to do it without Photolab and it´s three different flavours of contrast functions and “Bicubic Sharpen” during export to JPEG. Worth to mention also is the fact that neither any of the two different sharpening functions work for my analog images in Photolab and not Prime or Deep Prime either.

I have a project coming when I will use both analog positive film images from the seventies and digitally born images from my A7 III. I was in Israel again 2016 and took some new images from kibbutz Kiryat Anavim in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem. I did that because I will write a blog story later about the “death” of the kibbutz system.

When comparing image quality I’m pretty biased I guess. The difference today is enormous when I compare what my new A7IV with it’s absolutely fantastic autofocus is capable of when putting it against my little Pentax ME with it’s little 40mm/2,8 panncake lens I used to use almost 30 years. I think the most important differences is in the the focusing speed and accuracy. One fantastic thing with that Pentax was how consistent it exposed. In that respect I think it really was more consistent than my old A7 III is today but manually focus with poor focusing aid sucked.

One thing present days fantastic new cameras has done is to dramatically increased and levelled our possibilities to get the timing right and wasn’t it often just the timing that made the old “masters” just “masters”?

Short answer: FilmPack (especially 6 Elite used within PhotoLab 5 Elite) is great, but the Nik Collection is what you really want.

Longer answer:

Granted, most of the “best” images so far recorded were on B&W film from decades ago. Cartier-Bresson, being primarily a “street” photographer was more interested in capturing “the decisive moment” (ideally in the context of a great composition) than he was trying to achieve technical “perfection.” IMO, digital tech has produced images that are “too perfect” but lack the character of film (just like MP3s through earbuds don’t sound as good as vinyl records through good speakers). The important thing was, is, and always will be the subject–an image doesn’t need to technically strong to be compelling (but it doesn’t hurt, which is why good photographers carefully consider what to shoot, how to shoot it, start with RAW files, and work hard to “optimize” them for printing).

Ansel Adams, on the other hand, was trying to produce as sound images as he could at the time and was the grand master of the darkroom. I suspect that if they were working today, most of the greats would likely be shooting digital (probably Micro Four Thirds as it’s much more portable than “FF” or medium format but sacrifices nothing in terms of real-world IQ as it pertains to prints, but that’s another discussion) and some of them would be using DxO (especially Ansel–Silver Efex Pro was made for him). PhotoLab is as good as any RAW processing software (much better than Lightroom) and FilmPack can give you a great start on achieving a “film look,” but the Nik Collection is where you can really get the “vintage” looks. That’s Analog Efex Pro’s raison d’être, and once you start using these tools, they can be addictive (and you might even get some great prints out of the process)… Although Nik 4 is excellent as is, they keep tweaking it and Analog Efex and Color Efex are probably next up for upgrades (early summer?). You should take the free “test drive” (at least watch some of the webinars), but be prepared to spend many hours having fun seeing what you can produce.

I have both the original NIK Collection, which can still be downloaded for free, and also a several-years-old version from DxO. It certainly does make for fascinating images, but I always feel the images aren’t “mine”, as they are all a combination of what other photographers liked.

I find it more enjoyable and satisfying to edit my images with PhotoLab tools, where I decide which ones to use, and how much/many, but a LOT of my editing is based on feedback mostly from @Joanna, @platypus and @Wolfgang - but I use the tools as best I can doing things my way. I also benefit from watching the Webinars by PhotoJoseph.

I love the idea of “the decisive moment” but I rarely am able to capture it. I think it’s easier to to this with a Rangefinder camera, as the camera just gets out of the way, and it’s just my eye and the subject.

I love what Ansel Adams has done, and I honestly believe that I’m capable of creating something “similar”, but never to the degree that Ansel did. With PhotoLab, I think Ansel would be creating the same images, just as good, and his expertise in darkroom technique would have change to expertise in the PhotoLab world.

I’d like to try some of the things you mention towards the end of your post.

There also is still a part of me that feels it’s most important to get it right in the camera, regardless of what may or may not follow in editing. Sort of like GI>GO, garbage in > garbage out.

I’m so busy with other things lately, I haven’t been walking around with my camera very much. That will come after I get some technical issues resolved.