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Photography Question 
Ron Evans

Printing B&W - Contrast Challenges

I can't seem to resolve the issue of increased contrast I get when printing my B&W images. On my home HP printer, they appear as they do on my monitor but this is a low-budget printer and I don't intend to print anything significant from home.
At the local camera shop, all of my shadows lose their detail and contrast is bumped up. This is less apparent when using a simple 1 hr. lab at a drug or convenient store but still recognizable.
I realize the labs have different settings in their print processing which may affect the outcome, but I don't have this issue with my color prints. Has anyone else experienced this problem and possibly found a "standard" approach to ensure your prints match your original image?
I noticed that MPIX offers an option to not apply their processing adjustment for prints. Perhaps all I need is for the lab to print my images "as is". If anyone has used this specific aspect of the service, I'd appreciate your feedback.

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6/23/2009 9:03:10 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Ron,
All of your local photofinishing shops have likely dumped their black & white printer/processor. Once upon a time all these shops maintained two separate printer/processing machines. One that accepted black & white photo paper and one color paper. The printer/processor exposes negatives onto light sensitive paper by projection and then conveys the paper into a series of chemical baths. Printer/processors thrive on volume. When the volume of black & white petered out, maintaining the machines became a burden. Too bad, these workhorses produced the best mass black & white photofinishing.
The one-hour shop resorted to a special color compatible paper that yields black & white images. While the results are substandard compared to the real thing, these materials provide a reasonable imitation. The hue of the prints will be somewhat warm, not the cold black & white you likely covet. Again offering this serve is volume related. You need to ask the shop how they craft their black & white.
One-hour shops can output black & white on standard color photo paper. Getting the setting right is no easy task as there is a tendency to output prints with a color bias. The countermeasure is test and test again. Many modern shops now output using an inkjet print engine. Again, getting a true natural black & white is not easy.
Your best bet is a pro lab with an old-fashioned black & white printing set-up. They exist, and you can find them on the web or ask the local camera shop.
Good luck to you.

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6/24/2009 9:25:33 AM

Ron Evans   Alan -

Thank you so much for this explanation. I'll be heading to the local shop in the next day or so and this will certainly help guide me through my questions for them.

Very much appreciated!

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6/24/2009 12:17:22 PM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  I'm not sure that you are at a dead-end here, but unless I am mistaken, you are talking about two different things? If you are submitting digital images it is not likely that a service is turning them into and printing from negatives, as that is an expensive process and may not even enhance the results.
The processes for digital images will usually be either output to inkjet or output to laser light printers. I prefer the latter, though the true high-end of the former is very good. The problem with the former is that you have to balance all the inks. This doesn't always happen. Generally when printing B&W to the latter, I tone my images anyway ... tritone, and quadtone. These tonings can be subtle and may help keep you away from issues where color balance gets out of whack ... that is, treat the B&W image like a color one, and stay in control of it. If you get color results, the same techniques will work for getting results in black-and-white. Clever use if tone colors can get you exactly what you are looking for. Printing in ink, it should not matter that paper is meant to take color or B&W, and a service should be able to set up so that only black inks are used.
You will need to calibrate, and set up color management appropriately. You will also want to request from services that they DO NOT make compensations...many of which will be automated especially in non-pro shops. If after asking for no adjustments, your B&W images are still coming out more contrasty even with a calibrated monitor and the proper color settings and embedded profiles, then it may be time to try another service.
At a good service, they will be doing a lot of prints for pros and non. If you ask them specifically for suggestions, they may point you toward machines and processes and papers they have that can get the results you want. It is a good reason to pick a respected local shop where you can visit and see what they have and what they do.
The problem may be how you are trying to print rather than that you are trying to print B&W.
I hope that helps!

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6/27/2009 10:56:03 AM

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