Black & White Portraiture with the Leica M9 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

My father at 79

My father at 79

In my opinion, the forté of the Leica M rangefinder camera is the instantaneous portrait, the situational snapshot, the view from the corner of the eye frozen in time.
Or a special look from a child's eyes

Or a special look from a child's eyes

Traditionally, this has been done in black and white and a bit of grain never hurt anyone there, quite the contrary. Tri-X in Diafine comes to mind. Are we giving up this aesthetic when we use the modern incarnation of the Leica M?
We don’t need to, and I think I’ve found an authentic simulacrum in the workflow I used to make the photos that go with this post. Let me sketch it for you (and as all recipies this should be taken only as an idea for your own experimentation):
I set ISO to Auto ISO and work indoors and at open aperture or close to it. Unless my subjects roam in a tungsten-lit studio, this’ll push ISO above 1000. With the M9’s sensor doing what he does, this will produce some noise that looks remarkably like film grain. Think T-Max 400, not 3200. Of course, in mixed light situations, color balance will be wonky often. Don’t mind that, we’ll skip color and go right to black and white. I like to use Nik Silver efex Pro for this conversion on a copy of the RAW file in Lightroom. In version 2 of this software, there are some interesting presets.
My father at his desk

My father at his desk

Here I used “Wet Rocks” to drown the background in black. The gnarly lead photo of my father on his 79-th birthday was made even gnarlier by applying preset 15, “Completely dynamic (hard)” which seems to have used a quite obvious burn-in on the background. And the photo of my daughter further up in the text was done with the soft version of this preset. In all presets of this software, it pays to go into the preset’s submenues and play withtthe adjustments, e.g. grains per pixel, luminance, shadow and highlight recovery and so on. Sometimes the influence on the final image is subtle, sometimes not so subtle.

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One Response to “Black & White Portraiture with the Leica M9 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2”

  1. Says:

    Software Review – Color Efex Pro 4 – From Nik Software….

    Color Efex Pro 4 is the newest version of Nik’s digital photographic filters for creating, retouching, and creative enhancement of images within Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Apple Aperture. Color Efex Pro 4 contains a massive set of enhancements fil…

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