Traditional Black and White Negative Film

Although color film was invented as far back as 1907, black and white photography was dominant for over 50 years. Even in the modern age of digital cameras, the stark effect of black and white is still widely used in both artistic and commercial photography.

  • historically, the first mass-consumer photographic film
  • monochrome, does not reproduce colors
  • popular artistic photographic medium
  • good film for exploring darkroom processing and printing
  • special processing requried - professional lab or darkroom

The Black and White Film Effect
Before the computer, the darkroom was where film and image magic was created. There are many styles and textures of black and white photography. For this example I have selected a classic film that is still available today - Kodak's famous Tri-X 400ASA black and white negative film.

original digital picture

black and white film effect
the formula
A fast black and white film, Tri-X has a pronounced but pleasing grain and slightly higher contrast. We will try to emulate this for a digital Tri-X feel. (I can hear the purists complaining already!)

1. desaturate color
Use either the hue/saturation or desaturate command to remove all color from the image. This will turn the digital image to black-and-white.

sample: set saturation to 0

2. add monochrome noise
The amount of noise you add is up to you, but I would suggest adding enough so that you can just start to detect it.

Be sure to use the "monochrome" option, otherwise the film grain will have random color.

3. adjust levels
Although optional, this step can really add to the mood of the shot. Experiment using the adjust levels command to change the brightness and contrast of the image. Remember that each image is unique, and the best way to find the best level settings is to experiment.

Bleach Highlights
move the highlight slider to the left - this will start to cause the highlights to overexpose

Deepen Shadows
move the shadow slider a very small amount to the right - this wll make the shadows a bit darker and increase the image contrast. Be careful not to overdo it, ideally you should barely be able to detect some grain in the black areas.

Adjust Midtones
adjust the midtone slider to taste - moving the midtone slider affects the overall brightness of the image. This may or may not need to be moved, it's up to you!

click image to show before and after




Practical Tips
There are many black and white films, each with their own textures. By experimenting with differant values, you can get some interesting effects.

  • To emulate a very high speed film, simply make larger changes for all of the steps. This will result in much higher contrast and strong grain.
  • Image Size is a factor! Experiment with the noise levels. It's important to test the image as it will ultimately be viewed. So if you are making a webpage and the image will only be a few hundred pixels wide, make sure the film grain effect pleases you at that size.