When Black & White Needs Colour | Quadtone

Over the past month I have decided to rethink how I go about printing some my photographic work, my previous print output was on the right side of acceptable but I have been struggling to produce a decent print from a photograph I took last winter of a gully from my 'Mineral Line' project. The straight black and white print of the photograph seemed brittle and the contrast was too harsh, the photograph was of a difficult subject which had deep shadows contrasting against the irradiance of dried out plant stems against a backdrop of entangled branches. Normally contrast and brittleness is not an issue, by choosing a good quality rag paper and careful profiling of the printer I can control the tonal dynamics through either Lightroom or Photoshop but this photograph would not play ball, my usual neutral greyscale print output could not cope with the tonal dynamic range.

Quadtone Version

After much pondering I thought I would look at split toning to control the tonal contrast as used by traditional darkroom and high end book printers, I played around with duotone, tritone and quadtone and in the case of this photograph quadtone worked best for me as it gave me more control points across the tonal range. On screen the photograph may seem rather dull but when printed all the subtleties of the image are revealed, visually the print is more coherent, the addition of colour had given the greyscale tonal range more depth that just a straight black and white print.

Not all black and white photographs require a split tone, in most cases a neutral tone works for me both visually and technically by letting a particular paper do it's magic, sometimes just by using a warm paper like Museo Portfolio Rag or Harman's Gloss Baryta will do the job when married to a carefully profiled printer.

Greyscale Version

Technical Notes:

The photographic film used was Ilford's Delta 100 [8x10 sheet] and scanned on a Epson V850 printer. The scanned photograph was developed in Lightroom and the Quadtone applied in PhotoShop with additional adjustment curves. The quadtone was made up of admixture of black, warm and cool greys - no quick fix sepia split tone preset where allowed near the image.

The photograph was printed through Lightroom's print module on a HP Z3200 and Epson SC P9000 printer, both printers have had bespoke icc profiles made for the range of papers used in the tests. The papers tested so far are Museo Portfolio Rag, Hahnemuehle smooth photo rag, Breathing Color's Optica One which today made some rather nice prints on the HP z3200 printer, Optica One is slightly more brighter than the other rag papers I use and it seems to respond well to the quadtone, I might need to make a slightly different adjustment curves for the non OBA [optical brightening agents or fluorescents] papers.