March 9, 2011

Learn to Make Quality Black & White Prints with Lightroom

Black & White Photo of Low Hills, National Bison Range, Montana

Getting good black and white prints is a challenge with inkjet printers as well as some photo labs. The problem comes from using color inks or traditional color photographic paper to reproduce an image with no color. In order to make a black & white print, the colors have to be combined to cancel out all color, leaving just the brightness values. But the pigments in ink and dyes in photographic paper are not pure. So the combo often creates a color cast. There are a couple solutions, depending on your preferred printing method.

If you are using an inkjet printer, set  the printer to use only the black ink. This removes the colors from the equation. However, not all black inks are pure black. Some may exhibit a warm or cool appearance, especially under some artificial light sources. Inkjet printers that have more than one black ink cartridge usually produce better quality black and white prints than ones with single cartridges.

Choosing black ink only

If you prefer to have a lab make prints for you, check for a company that prints on black & white photographic paper. This eliminates the color dyes from the process and ensures that you get a picture that is truly black, white and gray.

A third option can work for either inkjet prints or lab prints. Instead of being disappointed with random color casts in your black and white prints, add a color that you find appealing. A traditional and favorite one is sepia, a color that can range from a light yellow brown to a dark red brown, depending on your taste. By adding a bit of a color tint to your black & white image, it is no long black and white but a subtle monochrome color photo. This often reproduces well on both inkjet and photo lab prints.

Sepia Photo of Dry Goods, Garnet, Montana

If you'd like to learn more tips about printing your photos, join me in Missoula, Montana, for my basic printing from Lightroom workshop. We'll cover both making your own inkjet prints and ordering prints from online or local photo labs. Details and registration are available online.