Black and White Photography: Tips, Tricks and Unique Techniques

Are you getting bored of going through the same printing process hour after hour, day after day in the photography darkroom? Test strip, timer adjustments and then goes the process of wasting loads of paper as you try to produce the perfect print, with proper exposure and maybe a little dodging and burning action thrown in. As fun as this hobby is, the printing process can get a bit tedious, so sometimes it’s fun to experiment a little bit for unique results.

There are endless ways to manipulate your black and white print while in the photography darkroom, but here are a few ideas to help jumpstart your creative brainstorming process to where you can eventually come up with brilliant techniques on your own:

To create a mystical, cloud-like, almost unreal looking glow on your subjects:
This technique makes things seem to glow because the negative does not reflect directly onto the paper. It needs to be obstructed but only slightly so as to soften the lines of the image. The easiest way to do this is to take a clear piece of plastic-anything form a zip lock bag or a cigarette box wrapper will do (the latter actually works best), crumple it up and unravel it so that it is full of folds and creases. And then hold it under the enlarger lens while you are exposing your print. The images usually turn out best if you use the plastic for only a portion of the entire time, for if you leave it under there too long your image may be too blurry. But that’s all there is for this technique but it’s amazing what a difference this simple piece of plastic can make on your print. Just remember that while you are holding the plastic under the lens to shake it gently back and forth and around in general just to prevent any external shadow or debris to imprint in the photo.

Sepia Tone:
Once your print has been developed and has dried completely it can be fun to experiment with different dyes. One of the more popular dyes for black and white photos is the sepia tone color, which gives the image an older, almost antique style look, similar to how you might imagine photos from way back in your ancestor’s time. To sepia tone a print, all you need to do is have two trays available, one with a bleach like liquid and the other with the sepia brown one. You can purchase these items at your local photograph y store- if you tell them you are using the sepia tone technique they’ll know exactly what you need. Sepia toning is a very common technique in black and white photography. So you have your supplies, now fill up the trays with enough liquid to allow your print to be completely submerged in the tray and able to remain that way even when agitated. You will first put your print (ideally a lighter one that has some flaws, for the sepia should cover them up, making that original throwaway print a new success) into the bleach liquid and wait for awhile (quite a long while, be warned). For the entire image to disappear. Agitate the chemical ever once in awhile as well. But what happens is amazing; your image literally disappears leaving a blank white paper. Then when you place it directly (don’t wash off) into the sepia tone dye, the image comes back, in brown and white this time. It’s unreal.

Hand Color Your Black and White Photo:
If you want to add color to your black and white photo, there are a couple ways to do it. The easiest way is to use colored pencils. Regular, arts and crafts colored pencils work alright but there are actual colored pencil kits on the market that are designed specifically to go on photographic paper and these are clearly better, though more expensive. Colored pencils work well because they are clean and there is no need to wait for them to dry- you can see what it looks like right away, but there are a few downfalls of the tools. First of all, you have to have the tip of your pencils just soft enough when coloring so that your lines are not to defined, thereby exposing every stroke you made to anyone viewing the photo. Secondly, you cannot mix the colors very easily without making it really obvious; what you see is pretty much what you get. An alternative to colored pencils though is any type of paint, be it acrylic, oil, or whatever type of paint your local photography store sells that is designed specifically for hand coloring black and white photos. The paints provided for this purpose are usually quite expensive but if you learn how to use them well, the results you achieve from them are worth the price. The colors can really enliven your photos. When using paints though, it is very important to be strategic in the order in which you paint the images on your photo, because the paint tends to be very messy, takes long to dry and smudges easily. The good side of that is that the colors mix well together to enable you to form your own unique shades, and also if you make a mistake you can just wipe the paint off. But overall, the paints are beautiful and should be experimented with if you are really serious about expanding your photographic experience.

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