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Elements - the making of fine monochrome prints


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Elements - the making of fine monochrome prints

Now on sale...

Elements - the original book in e-file format

160 pages of this fine man's dedicated work

This book is here with the very kind permission of Kate Thornton

Part of Elements shown here for you to see the format and quality of this E-Book

Elements by Barry Thornton

River Snaid Valley, September

The river Snaid varies from docility to ferocity in differing seasons.  At any season, descent into this gorge beneath falls on the Snaid, shortly before its final descent into Loch Lomond, is perilous and I have had the scratches and bruises to prove it.
            In September the sun penetrates it for only a few hours around midday, and it is dark under the steep banks and foliage at the best of times.  When shooting directly into the sun like this, the brightness range is huge.  The sky reading was LV17while the foreground rock shadows were only LV6.  Even placing the sky on zone IX and giving the maximum available tone compression of N-2 development, the shadows would hover around zone 0.  Two-bath development and flashing the film might have gained some density there but at the expense of muddied middle tones.  So I decided to let the shadows go.  The centre of interest was the spreading rays through the branches.  The interesting thing is how sharp and grainless this HP5 Plus negative developed in dilute Perceptol is, and just how easily it prints to render those high tones.  There is only about a 20% holding back on the shadows, and a 20% burn-in on the sun and sky.  Notice how the metol’s surface working has held back halation around the sun to retain the image of the branches as they near the sun.

Leaf, near Chessil Beach

Chessil Beach has a quite remarkable effect on its environment.  It acts like a huge temperature regulator.  It absorbs heat in summer then dispenses it in winter like a great storage heater.  Its height also helps shelter the land behind it, which is already sheltered by hills to the north.  The sea also plays its part in smoothing temperature fluctuations.  The result is that a tropical garden flourishes in a fold of ground behind the beach.
            As part of my leaf studies, I was attracted to this palm leaf trans-illuminated by the sun at the confluence of its structure so that the veins seemed to flow out with sunlight.  Working with my Rollei 3.5F, I had an extremely difficult positioning at waist level beneath the foliage.  The Rollei was virtually horizontal and its top viewing screen was a great help.  With a pentaprism-equipped camera I would have been on my back in the wet soil to compose.  I used the Rollei no.1 close up lens with confidence because of previous good experience of its performance.  The build-in prism in the viewing lens corrected adequately for parallax so that the negative recorded what I framed.  There is no intervening detail in this picture, but care is necessary when using a TLR with parallax-corrected close up lens sets – the slightly different viewpoint can mean that an important point in the image unobscured in the taking lens is actually partially masked in the negative.  What was important was the very slim depth of field so close up.  I adjusted the camera considerably on the tripod to achieve the best possible composition, with the film plane as parallel to the plane of the leaf as I could manage to bring as much as possible of the subject into focus.  The leaf curved, so a perfect match wasn’t possible.  With a TLR, depth of field preview isn’t possible, but I don’t think it makes any difference anyway.  This preview is a feature that has disappeared from many cameras in recent years and makers have been castigated for it.  While I don’t like anyone taking away means of control if it’s to make more profit, this preview I feel was not only useless, it actually misled.  At smaller apertures the image became too dim to see.  Even at wider apertures, the human eye could not discern the degree of sharpness enough to have any meaning.  It could look sharp enough in the viewfinder only for an enlargement to reveal otherwise.
            Depth of field tables and scales on lenses can also mislead.  Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as depth of field.  The image is either sharp or it isn’t.  Depth of field is simply the degree of unsharpness you can tolerate.  It is determined around a set of standards related to viewing distance, size of enlargement and so forth.  All I can say is that the degree of unsharpness the lens makers think I can tolerate is different from my view on the subject, even with my ageing eyesight.  It does seem to me that the way a negative is processed and printed has an effect on this acceptable unsharpness range.  Under-exposure and over-development seems to me to provide an appearance of less depth of field than my tested correct exposure and development.
            The type of lens has an effect too.  John Blakemore uses a 35mm Summilux f/1.4 on his Leica.  This had an indefinable ‘plastic’ image quality that seemed to mask unsharpness.
            The Rollei was stopped down to f/16 for this picture; f/22 would have given more depth of field, but the lower acceptable limit of lens performance with this format seems to be f/22 and the close up lens would have taken a little further edge off.  Purely as a rule of thumb in practice, readily disproved by the exceptions that must abound, I find that the minimum acceptable sharpness apertures decrease by one stop of each medium format it is f/22, for 6x9 it is f/32, and for 5x4 it is f/45.  These move down one for wide angles and up one for telephotos.  Let me stress that this is only a rough guide and it would be silly to miss a good picture by dogmatic observance of these ‘rules’.
            The leaf was exposed at 1/8 at f/16 with a green filter to separate the completely green tones.  The HP5 Plus was developed for N+1 for 11 minutes in Aculux 1:9 at 20°C.  It prints well on many papers.  I am fond of one I made on Multigrade FB matt which I then toned completely to deep brown in Agfa Viradon.

Price is just £28 anywhere in the world

An important new short book …

Elements of Transition

From traditional to
digital monochrome fine prints –
a concise but complete guide

By Barry Thornton

Reproduced by AWH Imaging

Note that this book (E-File) is very different from "Elements"

AWH Imaging will try to answer any questions on these items. However, it will not be possible to answer all questions as the knowledge is, sadly, no longer with us.

“You can’t make a fine print from a coarse negative”. That was the critical belief of Barry Thornton, well known professional monochrome fine printer and author of ‘Elements’ and ‘Edge of Darkness’. It became his catch phrase over the years. “If a negative is properly exposed and processed, it is difficult not to make a high quality print”, he asserts from decades of hard experience. That belief has cracked.

The first hairline crack started a couple of years ago with his hybrid digital/traditional method by making digital contact negs with a low priced flatbed scanner from original camera negatives. He used these digital negatives to produce fine prints by conventional wet processing that were significantly better than traditional direct fine print methods – even from less-than-perfect original negs.

Then he moved on to make fully digital prints using mainly Piezography but also M.I.S. and Lyson inks, sometimes mixing one with the other. “It was a revelation”, he said. “I found myself going back over decades of negatives making beautiful prints from negatives that were unusable for conventional fine printing”. And the results were better than the finest traditional print. “The digital process, if properly handled, reproduces the subtlest differentiation in extreme highlights and shadows unachievable with a wet processed print. And it is sharper, even from an economy scanner, with archival qualities that are at least as good. Anybody with a reasonably modern PC – nothing special – can do this”.

“Of course, it took a lot of burning midnight oil to learn the new techniques as they applied specifically to fine monochrome work. It also took a lot of money and wasted materials, inks, software and hardware to find the best methods. It was like starting as a novice all over again”, he said. “But it has been more than worth it”, he added. “ However, I now have a new catch phrase – ‘You can’t make a fine digital print from a coarse file’ – also learned by hard experience. You need to know how to produce a fine digital file if you are to make quality monochrome digital prints. The techniques are very different from the typical colour print – starting from the type of conventional negative to produce”.

“I know lots of other mono photographers are either making the move to digital, or are thinking about doing so but are nervous about scrapping years of conventional expertise to risk the new. So I set down all the right techniques to make the transition in a simple hands-on short guide book. This will save transitional photographers from the pitfalls and expense of experimenting themselves without having to wade through daunting turgid pages of thick technical Photoshop manuals not devoted to specialist monochrome fine photography.” The new published short e-book is called ‘Elements of Transition’. This one book will probably be all you’ll ever need to make – easy to read; easy to understand.

Please note that this book (E-File) has been reproduced for viewing on a monitor. Although you can make a print of it the pages will not reproduce as seen on screen.

The price is just £20 - anywhere in the world



I am now able to offer MonoMatch© as created by Barry Thornton. As with Elements of Transition, this is Barry's original documents and images without change. They have not been changed in any way and technical advice cannot be offered as the brain behind this is sadly gone.

An extract of the document is shown below. Ordering is the same as for Elements of Transition.

MonoMatch from Barry Thornton

Calibrating your monitor/printer with the MonoMatch© process to...

Make your monochrome print look like your screen

It’s frustrating, wasteful, and expensive in ink, materials, and time. You go to a lot of trouble to get a high quality scan with the maximum well-graduated tonal information. You spend hours finely adjusting those image tones to per¬fection in Photoshop. The monochrome picture looks exactly as you want it on the screen. You carefully set the printer to produce its finest quality, take a deep breath, and click the Print button. Out comes a print that looks nothing like the screen! You then spend fruitless hours and trial prints flying to adjust the printer driver controls to make the print look like the monitor, or hours with adjustment curves on the image itself to alter the look of the printed output. You finally manage it, but the curve adjustment layer meant you had to work in 8 bit, not 16, which is essential for fine monochrome prints, and when you print on another paper, the whole frustrating rigmarole has to be under¬gone all over again.

Though you are working in monochrome, the trouble is caused by the lack of co-ordinated specific colour management profiles from scanner to PC/monitor and from PC/monitor to printer. If we were actually working in col¬our, the problem would be worse, yet more obvious. It wouldn’t be just tones that varied from screen to print, but colours too. There are generic ICC colour profiles of course, but every device is different For instance, if you print the same file from the same PC on two printers nominally of the same make and type using the same inks and the same paper, the printed results will normally be noticeably different.

The traditional way to handle this problem in colour is use a colour man¬agement system, then to calibrate each device (scanner, PC/monitor, and printer), and to generate accurate custom colour profiles for each. This method works. Unfortunately, if a different scanner, monitor, ink or paper is used, each will require a new profile - and they are not cheap. This system will make each device in the chain reproduce colours exactly like the previous device in the chain. If you work in colour, this is really still the only reliable method. (Note: trying to print a grayscale image on an inkjet printer using all the colour inks, which is necessary to get a smooth image — using black alone gives an unpleasantly grainy appearance — is unwise, It is virtually impossible to get a fine monochrome image without unpleasant and unpredictable colour casts when printing with colour inks, but see later comments. Use specific monochrome ink sets from companies like MIS or Lyson or the Piezography system. However, the process below will still work with inkjet manufacturers’ colour inks if you have to work this way).

In monochrome, you can avoid all this profiling hassle and expense by using MonoMatch.

You can drive yourself silly trying to adjust printer settings to match the final printed image to the one you see on your monitor. Fortunately, there is a far simpler way. Work back-to-front. Instead of trying to make your printed output look like your screen, adjust your monitor to look like the printed output You can save those settings under a file name and load them at will to suit any job you are working on. You load this file before you start working on the image. Then when you print, what shows on screen will show on paper. It’s a simple and straightforward one-off job for each type of paper, provided you have the right kind of printed image to work from. It is provided with MonoMatch©.

The price of Elements is just £28

The price for MonoMatch© is just £15

The price of Elements of Transition is just £20

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    Elements by Barry Thornton

    The Making of Fine Monochrome Prints

    Elements of Transition by Barry Thornton

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    Mono Match by Barry Thornton

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AWH Imaging will try to answer any questions on these items. However, it will not be possible to answer all questions as the knowledge is, sadly, no longer with us.

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