Peter Lee Monochrome Photography

Classic black and white film photography with the occasional digital image


Black and White photos

Processing black and white negatives with Vuescan and ColorPerfect – does this software produce images close to a wet darkroom?

Oberon Vuescan Church

Many film photographers are familiar with the Photoshop PlugIn ColorPerfect – it is an excellent way to produce quality prints from colour negatives. Not so well known is ColorPerfect’s ability to produce high quality monochrome images that look very much like wet darkroom prints using an additional feature within Colour Perfect, Virtual Grades.

Generally speaking images from film scans often do not look the same as wet darkrooms, and in my opinion, that can be a good thing for some images. However, for other images I like the look of wet darkroom prints- it’s a very subjective thing.

So how is this process different from the normal process- scan and edit in either Lightroom or Photoshop?

It starts with the scanning – the negative must be scanned as a RAW file, not a JPEG or TIFF and as far as I am aware, a RAW scan can only be done in Vuescan. A brief outline of this process is detailed below using a 4 by 5 black and white negative I shot this week of St Barnabas Church of England Church at Oberon NSW.

The original negative , shot on the new Atomic X 4 by 5 sheet film , was a little too dense as it has been slightly overdeveloped ( processing times are still under test for this new film- I used Kodak X Tol 1:1 for 8.5 minutes at 20% c. I had placed the front of the church (around the door) in Zone 6 but failed to notice that the dynamic range of this image was great enough to be processed using N minus 1 development to curtail highlight blowouts.


The idea was to produce a totally linear scan with no adjustment to the gamma value of 1.00 and the image saved as a negative RAW file. I scanned the negative on my Epson V700 in Vuescan this way- It looked like this –


I then took the file into the host application Photoshop and under the Filter drop down menu selected ColorPerfect .I didn’t invert the image in Photoshop as ColorPerfect inverts the negative using totally different algorithms to Photoshop. You then have access to Virtual Grades with a choice of 00, 00½, 0, 0½, 1, 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 3½, 4, 4½ grades. Grade 2 has a gamma of 0.62 and is similar to Grade 2 paper (normal) in the wet darkroom.

Here’s how ColorPerfect describes the process-

In the wet darkroom you would alter a black and white print’s gamma value by choosing between different paper grades to print your image on. Virtual Grades in ColorNeg will act similarly to actual paper grades in the darkroom. When working with graded black and white photographic paper the utilization of a grade that is too low would result in a dull print. This means that depending on exposure such a print would either contain no tonal values that are anywhere close to a pure white or anywhere close to a deep black. On top of that the mid tones would not be ideally distributed. Virtual Grades have an impact on contrast and on the mid tones without influencing highlights or deep shadows. When switching between different Virtual Grades you can be certain that no more clipping occurs at either end of the tonal range than was the case with the previously selected grade.

I had used Virtual Grades before but never from a RAW file so my first attempt was much better from working with TIFF negatives. Grade 2 would have been a little harsh so I selected Grade 1 and made some minor adjustments, then taking the image back into Photoshop where I cropped it, cloned out some unwanted man-made objects and applied some low opacity Reverse Overlay masking. For some time, I had been working on toning that is close to warm toned wet darkroom paper so I applied this to the final image.

This final image has a natural softness to it (some of which is due to the excellent tonal range of Atomic X film).It could have been better as some sky highlights are close to being blown out. To address this, I could have double processed the negative, once for the sky and another for the church and blended it in Photoshop.

Oberon Vuescan Church

By comparison, I processed the same negative using Epson software outputting it as a positive TIFF and editing in Photoshop.I should mention I scanned the negative twice, once for the sky and the second time for the church In spite of this ,to me, the image doesn’t have the depth of the Color Perfect Image and doesn’t look like the scene I visualised when I was taking the photograph.

Oberon Church merge-2

To test how much the processing influenced the results, I “scanned” the negative on a digital camera making sure the gamma was neutral and no highlight or shadows were clipped. I took the desaturated negative image in ColorPerfect and repeated the same process as the first image.

The result was quite similar to the Vuescan RAW image ,not quite as good but to me much better than the Epson scan/Photoshop result.


Anyone interested in this alternative approach to scanning black and white negatives should look at the ColorPerfect Website and this video

Making the transition to large format

Life of light and shade: the mechanical, methodical love of large format analogue photography

Posted 14 Dec 2015, 11:55am

During his corporate career, photographer Peter Lee, of Orange in central-west New South Wales used the latest electronic equipment to analyse high-level financial data.

These days the tools he uses for his large format analogue photography are a far cry from that and in fact, there is not a piece of digital equipment in sight.

All he uses is a pencil, a simple mechanical light meter, a cardboard frame to help compose a shot and an angular black camera with adjustable bellows that looks a bit like an accordion.

It is a slow, solitary art, but one he has found to be life-sustaining.

You’ve got to force yourself and be mechanical; you don’t just hold it up to your eye and take a photograph.

Peter Lee, large format analogue photographer

The attraction of large format analogue photography

Mr Lee said he rebelled against digital photography because it could not capture the range of light and shade he was looking for in his images of nature, old buildings, and country vistas.

“With analogue photography it may not be as pin sharp, but it has that beautiful range of tones you can’t capture on digital,” he said.

“I only work in black and white [and] I haven’t been happy with black and white digital for quite a long time.”

He uses large format negatives that are 10 by 12 centimetres in size — and sometimes even larger — which allow him to capture big images without losing quality.

“So the more you actually blow the image up the more you lose that tonal range graduation.”

Moulder Park morning scene

Expensive, methodical and solitary photography

Large format analogue photography can be an expensive practice because the negatives cost around $70 for a pack of 25.

“You take your time; you don’t shoot off a lot,” Mr Lee said.

He buys his cameras overseas, mostly from the United States, where he is currently getting another one built.

Mr Lee explained that analogue photography required him to blend the creative and methodical parts of his brain.

He said when he first arrived on scene he thought of how it was going to look in black and white.

“At this stage you’re not thinking about anything technical; you’re just thinking about the creativity of the scene.”

Then the mechanical processes take over as he undertakes up to a dozen tasks before taking a shot, including composing the scene with his cardboard frame and measuring the light with his hand-held meter.

“You’ve got to force yourself and be mechanical; you don’t just hold it up to your eye and take a photograph.”

“You have to be methodical and sometimes you may ruin a shot.”

While Mr Lee’s former career saw him analysing data in high finance, now he finds himself scribbling a lot with a pencil in a small notebook.

“Unlike digital where you get all the data like f-stop or light, you’ve got none of that with analogue.

“In order to understand where you went wrong or to get the best types of exposure, you have to keep a written record.”

Mr Lee prefers to work alone because it helps him think clearly.

“When you’re working with film photography it’s a very, very slow process and you don’t want other people around you,” he said.

Mr Lee does delve into the digital world, particularly to connect on Facebook with other Australian large-format analogue photographers, whom he said seem to be concentrated around Melbourne.


A life’s light and shade in full circle

Mr Lee is now 65 but he fell in love with film photography about 50 years ago when he was a teenaged member of a camera club at Leura in the NSW Blue Mountains.

“Those old fellows taught me a lot,” he said.

For two years in the 1970s he spent every weekend travelling to the historic central west gold rush town of Hill End to capture the tonalities of its heritage streets, buildings, and natural beauty.

However, then followed decades where the cameras got put on the shelf and eventually sold.

“As I continued to work and climb up the corporate ladder, I found I had other influences coming down on me and photography got forgotten,” he said.

Now, after Mr Lee has survived cancer and is semi-retired he said he wanted to get some creativity back in his life and has rediscovered his photographic passion.

He still does some part-time work, but said now it was simply to earn money to fund his photography.

“This time I’m not going to get sick of it. I think I’ll be doing it till the day I die.”

One of the analogue cameras used by photographer, Peter Lee.


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