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Einst_Stein

How to get skin tone like classical B&W film

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One thing I like about the classical B&W film is its skin tone. I don't know how to describe it. Sort of the skin tone is bright enough to pop up as the main subbjects. The modern B&W film and digital tends to put the skin tone closer to the mid tone. This is particularly obvious when the subject is wearing dark black dress.

Is it some kind of filter effect (warm tone filter?) or merely the slightly overexposure due to the  dark dress. However, I can't get that effect by tune up the exposure.

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If you use Adobe Lightroom, there is a lot of B&W filters to choose from, with different effects. It also includes (simulated) color filters. For example will a red, yellow or orange filter lighten up the skin tones. 

My favorite however, is the B&W film simulation profiles from RNI. These are very expensive, but very lifelike, because they also do advanced tone adjustments "under the hood". 

Edited by evikne

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4 hours ago, Einst_Stein said:

One thing I like about the classical B&W film is its skin tone. I don't know how to describe it. Sort of the skin tone is bright enough to pop up as the main subbjects. The modern B&W film and digital tends to put the skin tone closer to the mid tone. This is particularly obvious when the subject is wearing dark black dress.

Is it some kind of filter effect (warm tone filter?) or merely the slightly overexposure due to the  dark dress. However, I can't get that effect by tune up the exposure.

Not wishing to dispute your observation but in the above example I would say the lighter skin tones have more to do with set lighting than anything else.

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5 hours ago, Einst_Stein said:

The modern B&W film and digital tends to put the skin tone closer to the mid tone.

 

I believe that a photographer is part of the equation and in overall control.

Skin tone can depend on many things, the light, the type of film, if a filter was used on the lens, the exposure, how it is developed, how it was printed. There is nothing to say you can't do the same with modern film and in any case it's still possible to buy film that uses older formulas of emulsion. If you are using digital do as evikne suggests and use software to mimic using a colour filter with a B&W film, you can do this in Lightroom or use SilverEfex as a plugin. 

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Don’t forget that actors and actresses were made up in “strange” colours in order to look natural on screen. Green lipstick, for example.

That and the lighting, made a massive difference to the overall look of the films (movies).

If you were a portrait photographer, it would be interesting to experiment with make-up techniques, purely for use with B&W film, and then see if the look and feel could be replicated using a digital camera.

Old formula film vs M10 vs M10 Monochrom

Someone here must have the wherewithal to do such an experiment.

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Maybe you should try the SL. (I assume you use the SL2). The jpegs produce very nice skin tones by default. And also b and w looks very good to me.

On the SL2 it’s also ok, but somehow I find black and white on the SL maybe a little bit better. The default colors are the reason I like Leica SL, but hate the alphas as they have (in my eyes) really awful unnatural skin tones (people but also leather, wood or some furry animals).

I find the silver efex terrible, or maybe it is just that the people using it often overdo it. (Often very cheap effects.)

But maybe I misunderstood what you are looking for. And some effects you find on Hollywood posters (from 50s or 60s) look simply overdone and were then usually achieved with special/artificial lighting. (Cannot really be simulated with normal lighting and digital processing).   (Maybe also using warmer lights, which makes the blues and blacks even darker).

Another idea, sometimes it is useful to use higher ISO in order get a little graininess (looks interesting on the SL), that is similar to the old film emulsion look (that had a lower dynamic range, too). The SL has little color noise and a “very nice” high iso noise. It avoids also the very clean (clinical) look of modern supercorrected lenses.

Edited by caissa

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In the 'old days' using a light green filter was popular for portraiture because its use rendered skin tones in a more 'natural' way on panchromatic b'n'w film but that's not what you seem to be after so I would suggest trying out a yellow filter or, if you can find one these days, a pale red filter.

Philip.

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1 hour ago, Cattoo said:

Suggest you look at the Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro.  It's a lot easier than tinkering with all the color filters in LR. 

https://nikcollection.dxo.com/silver-efex-pro/

I tried it, but it seems to me too much plastic surgery. --- I can do it even more!

But I think the classical B&W film ism much more ... what to say, ... elegant!

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48 minutes ago, caissa said:

Maybe you should try the SL. (I assume you use the SL2). The jpegs produce very nice skin tones by default. And also b and w looks very good to me.

On the SL2 it’s also ok, but somehow I find black and white on the SL maybe a little bit better. The default colors are the reason I like Leica SL, but hate the alphas as they have (in my eyes) really awful unnatural skin tones (people but also leather, wood or some furry animals).

I find the silver efex terrible, or maybe it is just that the people using it often overdo it. (Often very cheap effects.)

But maybe I misunderstood what you are looking for. And some effects you find on Hollywood posters (from 50s or 60s) look simply overdone and were then usually achieved with special/artificial lighting. (Cannot really be simulated with normal lighting and digital processing).   (Maybe also using warmer lights, which makes the blues and blacks even darker).

Another idea, sometimes it is useful to use higher ISO in order get a little graininess (looks interesting on the SL), that is similar to the old film emulsion look (that had a lower dynamic range, too). The SL has little color noise and a “very nice” high iso noise. It avoids also the very clean (clinical) look of modern supercorrected lenses.

I have SL, not SL2.

It's definitely nor Hollywood effects. I am also talking about amateur family shots. I will find and post some good example. 

On one hand, I do not think pursuing old film effects has much meaning, in general. I don't care the Kodachrome effects, for example.  What caught my attention on this particular point is when I recently took a passport shot, I find the skin tone is really muddy. I remember the old time when I had my graduation shots that went to my diploma. I wish I can reproduce that feeling.

I understand some portraits were taken by over-exposure and over-development the film, and then managing the prints on the paper. I don't know how to mimic it on digital, but that's another dimension.    

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20 hours ago, Einst_Stein said:

I have SL, not SL2.

It's definitely nor Hollywood effects. I am also talking about amateur family shots. I will find and post some good example. 

On one hand, I do not think pursuing old film effects has much meaning, in general. I don't care the Kodachrome effects, for example.  What caught my attention on this particular point is when I recently took a passport shot, I find the skin tone is really muddy. I remember the old time when I had my graduation shots that went to my diploma. I wish I can reproduce that feeling.

I understand some portraits were taken by over-exposure and over-development the film, and then managing the prints on the paper. I don't know how to mimic it on digital, but that's another dimension.    

Seriously, you are basing all this on a passport shot? The whole point of a passport photo is to get a 'warts and all' photograph to identify you,  not a Hollywood glamour shot!

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3 hours ago, 250swb said:

Seriously, you are basing all this on a passport shot? The whole point of a passport photo is to get a 'warts and all' photograph to identify you,  not a Hollywood glamour shot!

You missed the point, but thanks for the response.

Edited by Einst_Stein

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On 10/18/2020 at 11:20 PM, Einst_Stein said:

You missed the point, but thanks for the response.

Well ok if you don't know how to do it in digital consider what is wrong. If you need to increase a mid tone brightness of skin against shadow and highlight you need to adjust the Curves or Levels, stand stuff. Sometimes it is really easy, if it's simply B&W output from a colour image use Silver Efex and not only can you also apply a colour filter, so a yellow to add more skin contrast, but you can also independently increase brightness and contrast of mid tones, effectively you are using Curves but in a more intuitive way. Or use a preset and then knock off any grain that has been  applied by the preset if you don't like it.

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1 hour ago, 250swb said:

Well ok if you don't know how to do it in digital consider what is wrong. If you need to increase a mid tone brightness of skin against shadow and highlight you need to adjust the Curves or Levels, stand stuff. Sometimes it is really easy, if it's simply B&W output from a colour image use Silver Efex and not only can you also apply a colour filter, so a yellow to add more skin contrast, but you can also independently increase brightness and contrast of mid tones, effectively you are using Curves but in a more intuitive way. Or use a preset and then knock off any grain that has been  applied by the preset if you don't like it.

It seems you do not know what I am talking about yet. Never mind. 

Theoretically digital can simulate any film. But practically  I haven't seen any success yet. Not from any friends or posts.It could be who are capable do not think it worth the trouble. If someone is capable of doing that, I would be very appreciated to see the examples and to learn how to do it.  

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2 minutes ago, Einst_Stein said:

Theoretically digital can simulate any film. But practically  I haven't seen any success yet. Not from any friends or posts.It could be who are capable do not think it worth the trouble. If someone is capable of doing that, I would be very appreciated to see the examples and to learn how to do it.  

Inkjet prints (b/w) are not silver prints, but each can be superb in the right hands.  Comparing screen shots to any print is a waste of time. Highly competent print makers are harder to find than capable photographers, film or digital. Color digital is another matter.

Jeff

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28 minutes ago, Einst_Stein said:

It seems you do not know what I am talking about yet. Never mind. 

Theoretically digital can simulate any film. But practically  I haven't seen any success yet. Not from any friends or posts.It could be who are capable do not think it worth the trouble. If someone is capable of doing that, I would be very appreciated to see the examples and to learn how to do it.  

Well post an example of a JPEG photo you would like improving, and say how you want it improving and give people an opportunity to try, and for comparison post your own effort. So far you've explained nothing that makes sense. All you've done so far is thrown your arms up in the air in defeat

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It is the case that most human skin tones are some shade or tint of orange (broadly speaking, with diversions to the yellow or red either side, and a wide range of brightnesses, from very dark to very pale)).

Samples taken from a crowd picture of mixed races:

It is also the case that many B&W films are often relatively sensitive to reds - so that they retain approximately the same "ISO" under the reddish-yellow light of classic tungsten light sources. But not all - the film chemists can adjust that any way they please, with color sensitization dyes (yes, even in B&W film).

Here are a couple of spectral sensitivity curves for the old standbys HP5+ and Tri-X. The base orange skin hues will be a narrow band from about 580-630nm.

Now for comparison, here is the spectral response of the M246 sensor, as calculated (not tested) by Leica. It has a steep drop in response in the range including 580-630 - those colors (including skin colors) will reproduce darker than with B&W film. Especially relative to the overall peak response at 530nm (greens)

A high peak in green is a fair representation of the physical response of human vision. However, the psychological response is different - we tend to notice reds/oranges rather strongly, as an evolved response to danger (fires, flowing blood, etc.). This is why red and orange are used as warnings and alerts, from safety clothing to traffic signs  to cockpit warning lights. Or even lipstick (it gets your attention, doesn't it? ;) ). And even fruit that needs to be eaten to have its seeds widely distributed in - well - poop. And thus evolves to attract primate eyes.

Anyway - when color digital images are desaturated, there are more, or less, sophisticated algorithms for converting colors to grayscale brightnesses. Below shows a picture with skin-tone-like hues (pinks/oranges/yellows), as converted to monochrome by: Adobe Camera Raw defaults (left) and simple Desaturation in Photoshop (right).

it not only demonstrates the variability of conversion algorithms, but also my previous point about how we perceive warm colors - they always tend to convert numerically somewhat darker than our brains tell us they should. Yellow and orange scream at us - an equally bright gray does not.

So we have to take account of these factors in pursuing the skin tones we desire. With B&W films/cameras - check the specific spectral response in its data sheet.

With color conversions, there are a variety of approaches in software. Among others, the image color brightnesses can be increased (or decreased) using the per-color HSL (hue/saturation/lightness) controls for reds, oranges and yellows. Available in LR and ACR,'s basic "developoing" controls, as well as in the basic Saturation/Hue dialogue box of Photoshop.

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, 250swb said:

Well post an example of a JPEG photo you would like improving, and say how you want it improving and give people an opportunity to try, and for comparison post your own effort. So far you've explained nothing that makes sense. All you've done so far is thrown your arms up in the air in defeat

Never mind.

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3 hours ago, adan said:

It is the case that most human skin tones are some shade or tint of orange (broadly speaking, with diversions to the yellow or red either side, and a wide range of brightnesses, from very dark to very pale)).

Samples taken from a crowd picture of mixed races:

It is also the case that many B&W films are often relatively sensitive to reds - so that they retain approximately the same "ISO" under the reddish-yellow light of classic tungsten light sources. But not all - the film chemists can adjust that any way they please, with color sensitization dyes (yes, even in B&W film).

Here are a couple of spectral sensitivity curves for the old standbys HP5+ and Tri-X. The base orange skin hues will be a narrow band from about 580-630nm.

Now for comparison, here is the spectral response of the M246 sensor, as calculated (not tested) by Leica. It has a steep drop in response in the range including 580-630 - those colors (including skin colors) will reproduce darker than with B&W film. Especially relative to the overall peak response at 530nm (greens)

A high peak in green is a fair representation of the physical response of human vision. However, the psychological response is different - we tend to notice reds/oranges rather strongly, as an evolved response to danger (fires, flowing blood, etc.). This is why red and orange are used as warnings and alerts, from safety clothing to traffic signs  to cockpit warning lights. Or even lipstick (it gets your attention, doesn't it? ;) ). And even fruit that needs to be eaten to have its seeds widely distributed in - well - poop. And thus evolves to attract primate eyes.

Anyway - when color digital images are desaturated, there are more, or less, sophisticated algorithms for converting colors to grayscale brightnesses. Below shows a picture with skin-tone-like hues (pinks/oranges/yellows), as converted to monochrome by: Adobe Camera Raw defaults (left) and simple Desaturation in Photoshop (right).

it not only demonstrates the variability of conversion algorithms, but also my previous point about how we perceive warm colors - they always tend to convert numerically somewhat darker than our brains tell us they should. Yellow and orange scream at us - an equally bright gray does not.

So we have to take account of these factors in pursuing the skin tones we desire. With B&W films/cameras - check the specific spectral response in its data sheet.

With color conversions, there are a variety of approaches in software. Among others, the image color brightnesses can be increased (or decreased) using the per-color HSL (hue/saturation/lightness) controls for reds, oranges and yellows. Available in LR and ACR,'s basic "developoing" controls, as well as in the basic Saturation/Hue dialogue box of Photoshop.

 

 

 

Thanks a lot. This is very rich informative. I am yet to fully digest  it.

I do find that shooting in color and converting to B&W with fine-tuning 6 color channels the most satisfactory (to me). But it only works on landscape. Doing the same thing on portraits makes them unpleasant. It is much intrusive than doing the same thing on landscape. 

But I am lost why Leica direct monochrome is more preferred by experts the color converted B&W. Yes, I know Leica direct monochrome has better sensitivity due to the removal of color filter. It also has much higher effective resolution. But what about the tonal rendering? 

 

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4 hours ago, adan said:

It is the case that most human skin tones are some shade or tint of orange (broadly speaking, with diversions to the yellow or red either side, and a wide range of brightnesses, from very dark to very pale)).

Samples taken from a crowd picture of mixed races:

It is also the case that many B&W films are often relatively sensitive to reds - so that they retain approximately the same "ISO" under the reddish-yellow light of classic tungsten light sources. But not all - the film chemists can adjust that any way they please, with color sensitization dyes (yes, even in B&W film).

Here are a couple of spectral sensitivity curves for the old standbys HP5+ and Tri-X. The base orange skin hues will be a narrow band from about 580-630nm.

Now for comparison, here is the spectral response of the M246 sensor, as calculated (not tested) by Leica. It has a steep drop in response in the range including 580-630 - those colors (including skin colors) will reproduce darker than with B&W film. Especially relative to the overall peak response at 530nm (greens)

A high peak in green is a fair representation of the physical response of human vision. However, the psychological response is different - we tend to notice reds/oranges rather strongly, as an evolved response to danger (fires, flowing blood, etc.). This is why red and orange are used as warnings and alerts, from safety clothing to traffic signs  to cockpit warning lights. Or even lipstick (it gets your attention, doesn't it? ;) ). And even fruit that needs to be eaten to have its seeds widely distributed in - well - poop. And thus evolves to attract primate eyes.

Anyway - when color digital images are desaturated, there are more, or less, sophisticated algorithms for converting colors to grayscale brightnesses. Below shows a picture with skin-tone-like hues (pinks/oranges/yellows), as converted to monochrome by: Adobe Camera Raw defaults (left) and simple Desaturation in Photoshop (right).

it not only demonstrates the variability of conversion algorithms, but also my previous point about how we perceive warm colors - they always tend to convert numerically somewhat darker than our brains tell us they should. Yellow and orange scream at us - an equally bright gray does not.

So we have to take account of these factors in pursuing the skin tones we desire. With B&W films/cameras - check the specific spectral response in its data sheet.

With color conversions, there are a variety of approaches in software. Among others, the image color brightnesses can be increased (or decreased) using the per-color HSL (hue/saturation/lightness) controls for reds, oranges and yellows. Available in LR and ACR,'s basic "developoing" controls, as well as in the basic Saturation/Hue dialogue box of Photoshop.

 

 

 

A further comparison of spectral sensitivity between the film and the digital sensor suggests to simulate the film, the digital camera needs the color filter to enhance both the red end (300!~530) as well as the violet end (580~630), or equivalently, to push down the mid region (I450-600). But it is almost impossible to get the proper color filter with the equivalent spectral shape. 

So the only practical method is to match it meticulously through the 6-color channel equalizer (in LR), when desired and when it makes sense.

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