In the realm of alternative photography processes nowadays, digital negatives have emerged as a game-changer, revolutionizing the way photographers approach their craft. A digital negative is a black and white image produced on transparent vinyl that serves as a bridge between the digital and analog worlds, enabling artists to explore various alternative processes with ease and precision. In this article, we will delve into the importance of digital negatives and discuss how to create custom profiles for different alternative photography processes.
Salt print has mesmerizing dynamic range when properly printed. Photography: Ivicha
The Significance of the Digital Negative
Digital negatives have become a cornerstone for photographers exploring alternative processes due to their versatility and accuracy. Understanding digital negatives provides you with the technical knowledge and control necessary to achieve specific aesthetic goals and consistency. Here are a few reasons why they have gained such importance:
Digital negatives provide photographers with the freedom to experiment with a wide range of alternative processes. From salt prints and cyanotypes to gum bichromate and carbon, digital negatives allow for easy adaptation to different techniques without the need for making traditional analog negatives for each process characteristics.
Size and Scaling
Digital negatives can be easily resized and scaled up to fit the desired printing size for contact printing. This is particularly useful when the original analog negatives are small or do not match the desired print size.
Precision and Consistency
By harnessing the power of digital technology, photographers can precisely control the tonal range and contrast of the negative, ensuring consistent and accurate results across multiple prints. This level of control enhances the artist’s ability to express their vision with precision.
Preservation of Originals
Creating digital negatives allows photographers to preserve their original analog negatives while still engaging in the tactile and unique experience of alternative processes. This ensures that the original digital image remains intact, serving as a foundation for creating multiple iterations in different mediums.
20 step grayscale widges visualizing implementation of different curves
same widges used with Salt print
The Importance of Customization
Let’s compare two of the most popular alternative processes: salt print and cyanotypes. These processes are unique in terms of contrast, dynamic range, and the ability to reproduce halftones. If we are using the same negative for contact, they produce different results due to their specific characteristics: Salt prints typically exhibit a softer contrast compared to other alternative processes. The resulting images have a gentle tonal range with subtle transitions between shades. Cyanotypes generally have a limited dynamic range. They excel in capturing strong shadow details, but the highlights may lose some information and exhibit less tonal variation.
Digital negative and its cyanotype print lacking details in the highlights// Photography: Ivicha
For those reasons if we are looking for specific aesthetics of our work, we should understand how to customize our negatives for each alternative process.
Creating Custom Profiles for Alternative Photography Processes
To make the most of digital negatives in alternative processes, it is crucial to create custom profiles tailored to the specific technique you wish to explore. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you create custom profiles for different alternative photography processes:
Step 1: Selecting the Process
Choose the alternative process you want to work with. Research the process thoroughly, understand its requirements, and gather information about the dynamic range, contrast, halftones for that specific technique.
4-layers Gum Bichromate print// Photography: Vesselina Nikolaeva
Step 2: Calibrate Your Monitor and Media
Ensure your monitor and printer media are accurately calibrated. Use a hardware calibration device to calibrate your display, vinyl and ink usage, ensuring accurate dynamic range representation. This step is essential to ensure what you see on your screen aligns with the final output.
Nikola Dyulgyarov measuring with his DIY densitometer our transparency film dynamic range
Step 3: Preparing the Digital Negative
Using image editing software, open the digital file most likely a scan of your analog negative. Convert the image to black and white and mirror it. Now is the tricky part, where you should understand each alternative process and its requirements for achieving you desired aesthetic. For example as we mentioned cyanotypes generally is high contrast process, so we should apply lowering contrast print profile to the image.
Step 4: Adjusting Tonal Range and Contrast
Manipulate the image’s tonal range and contrast to match the desired characteristics of the alternative process. Utilize tools like curves, levels, and adjustments to refine the image until it aligns with your vision and the requirements of the process.
a print curve for cyanotype process, dimming the highlights
We highly recommend printing out grayscale widges with specific adjustment curves applied for each process, so you can track your progress from perspective of achieving a certain dynamic range or results.
another type of grayscale wedge, using 100 steps
grayscale widges are giving us great starting point when experimenting with new processes
Step 5: Printing the Digital Negative
Print the digital negative using a high-quality printer and appropriate transparency or negative film (vinyl). Ensure accurate alignment and maintain consistency in printing conditions to achieve optimal results.
Step 6: Test Printing and Iteration
Perform test prints using the digital negative and the chosen alternative process. Evaluate the results, making note of any necessary adjustments. Iterate the process, refining the digital negative or making changes to the custom profile as required, until you achieve the desired aesthetic outcome.
Carbon print grayscale wedge, with applied custom profile achieving rich halftones
Digital negatives have revolutionized the world of alternative photography processes, providing photographers with greater flexibility. At RadLab Studio, we understand the importance of achieving incredible accuracy in alternative photography prints. That’s why we have developed custom curves for processes like Salt print, Cyanotype, Carbon Print, and Gum Bichromate. If you’re interested in creating stunning prints, don’t hesitate to contact us for a exceptional service.
Salt print from digital negative, part of our “Personal Reality” project. Photography: Vladislav Lepoev
Learn more about the alternative photography here