Skin Tones in pre 1960 Black and White

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rwboyer

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I have been doing black and white for a long time (I was born in 1965) one thing has puzzled me for a long time. A skin tone characteristic in some photographs prior to about 1960'ish. I have tried to replicate it a number of times just for giggles but have not been completely successful.

I am not talking about retouched skin a la Hurrell etc. and the effect I am talking about may have something to do with ortho vs pan but I do not think so as I have seen it post ortho films. I also do not think it has to do with a lens aberrations but that may be a contributing factor.

The effect that I am sure most of you have seen is darker skin tones culminating in only the very very brightest of areas as a sort of specular but spread out highlight that goes pretty much white. I have seen it on multiple film formats up until like I said around 1960. Every thing from 8x10 to 35mm. Even HCB has one or two with that look - the couple on a train and a crowd of people somewhere in asia.

It seems to be sort of random and not a matter of course but fairly common. The closest I have been able to come is on Polaroid type 55 positive/negative film when I print the negatives.

Is this halation in the film that has been done away with in post 1960 film, maybe in combination with a filter that I never use like a green filter, in combination with over development for increased highlight separation?

My logic tells me this is all of these things coming together -

1 - long toe film with the upper mids and highlights on the strait line portion of the curve.
2 - lighting conditions that produce some sort of halation effect in the film in combination with over development.
3 - some "not normal" spectral sensitivity filter etc.

What I really want to know is if there is anybody that actually knows what I am talking about, why it happens, and how I can reproduce the look.

RB
 
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rwboyer

rwboyer

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Here is one of the HCB variety -

h2_2002.419.jpg


and

PAR19182.jpg


here is one of my close ones - just random.

2001_665_01_full.jpg



there are plenty of examples like I said all over the place everything from large format to 35mm

RB
 

keithwms

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Ah, so you like the brilliance of the highlights versus the more muted midtones and shadows? Is that it? If so, I suspect that it is mostly a paper and printing effect. Different papers will give such effects, and also you can do things like disproportionally bleach a print or selectively bleach to get more brilliant whites here and there. There is also the issue of careful dodge and burn....

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?
 

Nicholas Lindan

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Try using a blue filter.

Black and white portraiture at one time used a blue filter for male portraits and a green filter for women. The green filter is the reason so many women appear to have been wearing black lipstick. However, you will need to retouch such portraits as the filtration really brings out freckles and zits.

Plus-X sheet film (an emulsion with nothing in common with the 35mm/120 film of the same name, and no longer available) was common for portraiture; it was an all-toe film with an upswept HD curve.

As to the 'halo' look to the interior train shot - looks to me like a dirty lens and specular lighting. I have an old 24" Dagor that was used for portraiture, the owner took sandpaper to it to get the effect he wanted.
 
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rwboyer

rwboyer

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Ah, so you like the brilliance of the highlights versus the more muted midtones and shadows? Is that it? If so, I suspect that it is mostly a paper and printing effect. Different papers will give such effects, and also you can do things like disproportionally bleach a print or selectively bleach to get more brilliant whites here and there. There is also the issue of careful dodge and burn....

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

No it is specifically an artifact of the film and/or developing - see the highlight in the third image on the nose and how it is similar to the highlights on skin in the other images. I can tell you I have the exact same shot with a similar CI on Plus-X at the same time and the highlight is there everything is the same but to me there is a completely different effect in the highlight - Like I said I think it is halation that is now gone from just about any film you can buy.

The third image is a negative I shot on Type 55 polaroid and the scan is from a neg - it has nothing to do with printing.

RB
 

keithwms

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Okay, assuming it's not a printing effect, then I'll just point out that our idea of what makes a good portrait lens seems to have changed substantially in the last few decades. Some now seem to think that biting sharpness and high contrast are what make a good lens. But when we look back at these images, are we seeing a printing / processing effect... or are we seeing the work of lower contrast lenses that are kinder for portraiture and might give a bit of glow that is now even regarded as a defect by modern lensmakers?

I am guessing that ~1970 is about the time when extra low dispersion (ED/ULD/apo) glass and various coatings started coming into vogue. Maybe I am wrong, does anybody know the history of that?

In other words, I am still not sure that it is a spectral sensitivity nor a film/dev issue.

Regarding blue sensitivity, blue filtering or ortho film both give awful skin tones, in my experience. I mean, I think the early photographers really had to work very hard to make their portraits not look awful. No offense intended to modern collodionites among us :wink:
 
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rwboyer

rwboyer

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Try using a blue filter.

Black and white portraiture at one time used a blue filter for male portraits and a green filter for women. The green filter is the reason so many women appear to have been wearing black lipstick. However, you will need to retouch such portraits as the filtration really brings out freckles and zits.

Plus-X sheet film (an emulsion with nothing in common with the 35mm/120 film of the same name, and no longer available) was common for portraiture; it was an all-toe film with an upswept HD curve.

As to the 'halo' look to the interior train shot - looks to me like a dirty lens and specular lighting. I have an old 24" Dagor that was used for portraiture, the owner took sandpaper to it to get the effect he wanted.


I hear you about the softness of the lens and possible effects there but that is not what I am talking about - the image at the bottom was shot with a lens of absolute perfection - as close as you can buy and exhibits the same skin highlight effect - I shot the same image on the same day at the same time with Plus-X and developed to a similar CI - no dice.

RB
 
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rwboyer

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Just as a note -

bottom image by me exhibits the effect to some degree that I am aiming for:

That image was shot on Polaroid type 55 positive/negative with a zeiss 180CFi - the lens is perfect.

I switched back and shot the exact same image on Plus-X and id did not exhibit the highlight effect even when developed to the same CI.

I was hoping somebody here would have noticed the same thing and know if it is halation in the film and how to do it w/o type 55 on a film that you can still buy.

I think the green filter may be a good start considering that would probably get me similar spectral response. Now for the halation with NO SOFT FOCUS. yuk.

RB
 
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rwboyer

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I don't see halation at all.

Okay - fine.

Can you see the nose highlight on the last image? Can you see how it spreads out a bit and is not completely specular?

If you trust me that the same exact shot on Plus-X with the same exact lens does not exhibit this and it is not halation than how and what do I need to do to make that happen without using type 55?

I have seen the same effect on A LOT of images of skin tones of all shapes and sizes prior to about 1960.

RB


Ps. If the only halation you have ever seen has been gross pointing into the sun or other light source on black like a street light then maybe you don't exactly know?
 

RalphLambrecht

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RB

I know of one person who could answer all your questions. Her name is Sally Man, and she still shoots wet-plate collodion. I thinks it's all in the lighting, materials and printing. Oh yes, modern equipment does not help!
 

pgomena

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I see more lighting effect going on than anything else. The portrait of the girl is lit with a diffuse source at some distance to her right (camera left). Ambient fill is pretty low, as the rest of her skin tones are fairly dark. It's a contrasty scene lit with a diffuse light source.

Take, for example, a softbox. The farther you move it from the subject, the more specular it becomes. It's still a large, diffuse light source, but relative to the subject it is smaller and produces a more specular effect. You get a broader, more diffuse highlight. You get the same effect by moving a portrait subject farther from a window used as a light source.

As to materials, portrait papers like Ektalure had a short tonal range with excellent highlight separation. By slightly overdeveloping your film, you could really make the highlights separate. (We used to add one minute to our standard processing time for Tri-X 320 sheet film when I was in school.) This effect of light and film is particularly visible in dark-skinned subjects. Look at Ansel Adams' portrait of Julian Camacho in "The Print", or some of Karsh's portraits of black celebrities.

Peter Gomena
 

keithwms

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Haha. Okay, Sally Mann may well have some good input :wink:

But our O.P. says that a type 55 neg did give the desired result. So what can we say about type 55. Well, for one thing it gives somewhat slide-like tonality, i.e. not much range and a more limited palette of tones, so that you tend to get more defined highlights and more shadows and less in the midtones. If you like that look (and/or the look from fuji fp100b) then perhaps you should consider developing for higher contrast, or perhaps research the monobath developers and see if they might get you closer to what you want. The film in type 55 is very likely panatomic x, and the developer is amidol based, I guess. Just use the search and you may find some long threads full of info on type 55:

(there was a url link here which no longer exists)

I think if you locate a tone curve for panatomic x / type 55 in amidol, you may well find what you seek.
 
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rwboyer

rwboyer

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I see more lighting effect going on than anything else. The portrait of the girl is lit with a diffuse source at some distance to her right (camera left). Ambient fill is pretty low, as the rest of her skin tones are fairly dark. It's a contrasty scene lit with a diffuse light source.

Take, for example, a softbox. The farther you move it from the subject, the more specular it becomes. It's still a large, diffuse light source, but relative to the subject it is smaller and produces a more specular effect. You get a broader, more diffuse highlight. You get the same effect by moving a portrait subject farther from a window used as a light source.

As to materials, portrait papers like Ektalure had a short tonal range with excellent highlight separation. By slightly overdeveloping your film, you could really make the highlights separate. (We used to add one minute to our standard processing time for Tri-X 320 sheet film when I was in school.) This effect of light and film is particularly visible in dark-skinned subjects. Look at Ansel Adams' portrait of Julian Camacho in "The Print", or some of Karsh's portraits of black celebrities.

Peter Gomena


Yea yea, I know all that.

How many times to I have to say that the plus-x shot at the exact same time did not exhibit the effects in the specular highlights that I am talking about. I think this is like the 4th time I mentioned that. It is not the lighting that I am trying to figure out here.

The other thing that I will repeat in yet another different way is that the CI is not the answer, it is a small part of the answer. The highlight effect that I am talking about gets brighter and diffuses or spreads out somewhat compared to the Plus-X. That is why I was wondering if halation is contributing.

RB
 
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rwboyer

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Haha. Okay, Sally Mann may well have some good input :wink:

But our O.P. says that a type 55 neg did give the desired result. So what can we say about type 55. Well, for one thing it gives somewhat slide-like tonality, i.e. not much range and a more limited palette of tones, so that you tend to get more defined highlights and more shadows and less in the midtones. If you like that look (and/or the look from fuji fp100b) then perhaps you should consider developing for higher contrast, or perhaps research the monobath developers and see if they might get you closer to what you want. The film in type 55 is very likely panatomic x, and the developer is amidol based, I guess. Just use the search and you may find some long threads full of info on type 55:

(there was a url link here which no longer exists)

I think if you locate a tone curve for panatomic x / type 55 in amidol, you may well find what you seek.

I have shot panatomic-x a whole lot and never seen this - then again it looked completely different at 32-40 ISO in other developers from a CI and tone curve. Spectral sensitivity seems a bit different as well.

I am not arguing that 55 is panatomic-x just that I would find it difficult to make it look like this at all.

Here is where I am:

Try a green or light blue filter to alter the spectral sensitivity a bit so that the non specular skin (lit but not specular) darkens a bit.

Develop to a relatively high CI using a long toe film placing midtone at the somewhere at the end of the toe portion and putting the upper mids in the strait line portion. I was thinking TXP before I even asked this question for that part of the equation but never thought of the green/blue filter.

The only part left is that spreading of the specular highlights in the film. Very different than just soft focus.

RB
 

MikeSeb

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The effect of which you speak, at least for portraits, is part lighting and part orthochromatic film.

When I write here of "dark" skin, I mean skin that is not "celtic" or "nordic" pale. Dark-skinned people, especially men, photographed with ortho film look even darker. Makes sense, because dark skin contains a lot of red, which looks black in red-insensitive ortho film. Darker skin is also often oilier, and shinier, than lighter skin.

A couple of examples come to mind from the 1940's/50's matinee-idol days: Clark Gable and Elvis Presley, among others. They looked very dark-skinned in the lobby-card and publicity photos of the day.

Many of these images were taken with hot lights which were also often hard lights, and thus highly specular. On dark, oily skin, this means quite a shine.
 

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An exercise that I was saving for retirement, but which I will generously offer up here, is that of washing something like FP4 to remove most or all of the antihalation dye, drying and exposing in camera. If I didn't get enough halation effect that way, I thought that I would try putting a reflective surface in the filmholder behind the film.

It might be that even the heavy dye on the film back, as manufactured, wouldn't be able to suppress the effect of a sheet of aluminum foil behind the film.

If anyone tries this, I'd love to see the results.
 
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rwboyer

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An exercise that I was saving for retirement, but which I will generously offer up here, is that of washing something like FP4 to remove most or all of the antihalation dye, drying and exposing in camera. If I didn't get enough halation effect that way, I thought that I would try putting a reflective surface in the filmholder behind the film.

It might be that even the heavy dye on the film back, as manufactured, wouldn't be able to suppress the effect of a sheet of aluminum foil behind the film.

If anyone tries this, I'd love to see the results.


Whoo hoooo - are you saying that the effect I am noticing IS halation???

If so how do you know this - guessing like me or something else?

I thought of washing the film as well - I am going to try that with a sheet of 4x5 - not too sure about trying to deal with roll film.

RB
 

Larry Bullis

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Could we be working too hard on this?

Finally getting the examples - they somehow were invisible in your posting, and appeared only in the input box when I tried to reply - what I see is distinctly unremarkable. Looks like underexposure, especially with an uncoated lens, with a stretching of the contrast in printing to achieve a full scale.

One thing that - can it be nobody sees that in one of the examples, the subjects are asian, probably dark to begin with? And, it's pretty certain that HCB didn't always expose perfectly.

When I started in photography, I had only WWII surplus film, and I liked my Contax II with an uncoated Sonnar. Believe me, I see nothing at all unusual about what you are showing. I'm pretty confident that I could duplicate it with contemporary films using an old lens and exposing against my better judgment.

As for halation, one of my favorite films was 2475 recording film, of which I shot many hundreds of rolls. It had no halation coating at all. I can say with absolute confidence that halation isn't what I'm seeing.
 
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