In the first post for this series, I showed how Epson’s Advanced Color Mode Printing panel toning settings can affect black and white images by using Ansel Adams’ Zone System. In doing so, you hopefully began to understand how to use the basic elements of this powerful feature on your Epson printer.
This time, we’ll have a brief look at how adjusting the brightness, contrast and max optical density affect the zones.
Before I continue, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hahnemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson or Moab, please do so using the links on this blog. Dick Blick Art Materials provides all the papers listed except for Red River, which provides its paper direct. Whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these posts. Thanks in advance.
This article assumes you’ve read a previous post in which I explained how to use Ansel Adams’ Zone System to visualize tones as well as the article explaining how toning settings affect black and white images that was first in this series. This time, we’ll be looking at three fine adjustment tools and how they affect the zones on paper.
As a reminder, in this series I’m using a basic 11-step Zone System/Zone-to-Lab image you see here in Figure 01 to print nine different 4×6″ images on my standard proofing paper, Red River Aurora Art White.
For the first image, I accessed the Advanced Color Settings dialog (in Photoshop: Print > Print Settings > Printer Settings > Advanced Color Settings) with all values set to neutral or normal, and then printed the image as the control print for the experiment. I then printed Brightness and Contrast at both –13 and +13 settings (these are midpoints), and Max Optical Density at –13 and –25 (there are no values above 0 for this adjustment).
I then took these prints to the copy stand (a Beseler CS-21) and shot high-resolution images of each on a Sony A7R using the exact same settings for each image (ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/30 sec.). The images were then cleaned up in Lightroom to 5000 K, +10 contrast, to ensure comparability. I then exported them to Photoshop, compiled the zones for comparison, and using the Info tool, measured the luminance values of each of the zones. You can see them labeled in Figures 02, 03 and 04.
Adjusting the Brightness slider in the Epson panel showed considerable impact across the scale from Zone I – Zone IX. Generally, there was a larger increase in luminance in Zone I – IV, but the mid to higher zones showed considerable optical variation, too. One pleasing result was that there was small tonal variation in Zone 0 and Zone X, suggesting this adjustment can be used to push or pull detail without affecting maximum density in the blacks, or still maintaining the necessary slight tonality in the maximum white range.
Contrary to the effect of the Brightness slider, the Contrast slider showed the most impact in the low zones. Zone II showed a 44 percent increase in luminance with a –13 contrast adjustment, and a 22 percent decrease in luminance with a +13 adjustment. High zones showed little numerical difference, but keep in mind that small changes in high zones can have very noticeable optical effects; this is one such case. Although we see only a +5 change in Zone VIII luminance, the visual effect between +13 contrast and –13 contrast is noticeable.
Max Optical Density, as we might expect, had its strongest impact on the low zones. A –25 adjustment resulted in a 144 percent increase in Zone II luminance, and unlike the Brightness slider, the optical density adjustment clearly impacted Zone 0. Bronzing, or the tendency for inkjet prints to show awkward glare in dense areas with certain light angles, may be the best application for this slider. Another possible use may be for uncoated papers that absorb inks and that may exhibit bleeding when used with high levels of density. Nonetheless, this adjustment certainly should be used with care. Strong low zones are a hallmark of black and white prints, and by reducing the density in a print, we reduce its visual impact—essentially, we give it the feeling of a “draft print,” not the final master image.
I realize that last time I said I would look at toning next, but on reflecting, I decided it would be crucial for you to first understand the ways in which the fine sliders affect our print. That way, when we look at how the toning process can be adjusted, we can then use our full range of tools to pull a strong print from this procedure.
As I wrote last time, keep in mind that these results are going to be impacted by paper choice. While I proof on Red River Aurora Art White, it’s not my gallery paper. I also have Lab grids for my final papers, such as Hahnemühle Museum Etching 350gsm, which tends to have slightly brighter low-zone values (about 10 percent higher than the Red River). The lesson is to download my Zone-RGB-Lab image above, and test your papers before printing.
Be sure to check back for more from this series. In the next installment in the series—I promise—we’ll look the toning output with the Epson dialog. Until then, I hope your next print, is your best print.