You are on page 1of 11

GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image


Step 1
When you convert a colour image to a greyscale monochrome, the RGB
values are generally mapped to a luminance value that closely matches our
human visual perception of a scene:

Luminance (B&W) = (0.299 x Red) + (0.587 x Green) + (0.114 x Blue)

From this conversion, it’s clear that the green colour channel will carry far
more influence than either the red or blue channels in the final image.

In practical terms, a 100% fully saturated blue or red will appear much
darker than a 100% fully saturated green.

If you take an image which contains strong primary colours (red, green, or
blue) such as the photo of my son on the right, the channel mixer will give
you a large amount of control over how the B&W conversion will render.

Controlling exactly how much of the red, green and blue channel
information contributes to the conversion is a good way of controlling the
overall tonal balance of your final image.

In this tutorial, we will attempt to simulate the response of some classic


silver-gelatin B&W films, including adding in some film grain for a more
authentic effect.

Page 1 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 2A
Choose Colors>Components>Channel Mixer… from the Image window
menu to open the Channel Mixer dialog.

Tick the Preview check box, and also the one marked Monochrome.

With the default settings of Red=100.0, Green=0.0 and Blue=0.0, the preview
window shows what the resultant image would look like.

Note how the red scarf shows up as tonally very light, and the blue shirt renders
as very dark. Skin tones are also very washed out.

The preview is showing us how the red channel in our camera recorded the
scene (the camera sensor only sees in B&W, and record the levels of light
through the different coloured filters).

Image preview window

Showing Red channel data only

Output to Greyscale-RGB

Page 2 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 2B
On the right you can see the tonal range recorded by the green channel.

This is perhaps the closest single colour representation to our visual perception
in terms of tonal contrast. But it’s usually far from ideal for a final print.

Showing Green channel data only

Page 3 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 2C
Finally, we see the tonal range of the blue channel. Note how skin tones are
rendered much darker in the blue channel.

The Channel Mixer allows us to have wide control over the levels of red, green
and blue that composite to form our final image. In fact, we can independently
adjust each channel through the range of +/- 200%.

The GIMP also allows us to Preserve Luminosity so that we can concentrate


on getting the tonal mix to our liking, while not having to worry about changes
to the overall brightness of the image (providing you don't venture too much into
the negative settings).

Showing Blue channel data only

Page 4 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 3
For this particular image, I settled for the channel mix shown on the right. Click
the OK button to apply the settings.

The settings I used here emulate the response of Kodak’s Tri-X Pan film. I love
the characteristics of this film and have been using it for nearly 30 years.

Below are some channel mixer settings which emulate popular B&W films:

FILM TYPE Red Green Blue


AGFAPAN 100 21 40 39
AGFAPAN 400 20 41 39
AGFA 200X 18 41 41
ILFORD PAN-F 33 36 31
ILFORD SFX 36 31 33
ILFORD XP2 SUPER 21 42 37
ILFORD DELTA 400 22 42 36
ILFORD DELTA 3200 31 36 33
ILFORD FP4 28 41 31
ILFORD HP5 23 37 40
KODAK T-MAX 100 24 37 39
KODAK T-MAX 400 27 36 37
KODAK TRI-X 400 25 35 40

Page 5 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 4
A digital capture generally has a very smooth texture compared with the grittiness of a silver-gelatin
image. In fact, it’s the ‘grain’ in B&W film that largely determines the characteristic charm of this
type of image.

So, to create a true sense of a genuine silver-gelatin print, we'll now add some film grain to the
image.

Click the Foreground Color swatch in The GIMP toolbox to open the Change Foreground Color
dialog.

Choose the V parameter and


set a mid-grey value of
exactly 50 as shown left.

Click the OK button to set


the new foreground colour.

Value to 50%

Foreground Colour swatch

Page 6 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 5
Choose Layer>New Layer from the Image menu to open the New
Layer dialog.

Adjust the layer settings as shown below, changing the Layer Name
to something more meaningful, such as Film Grain.

Click OK to create the new layer.


Name the layer

Set Layer Fill Type


to Foreground color

Page 7 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 6
Open the Layers dialog (Ctrl-L) and set the blend Mode of the “Film Grain” layer to
Overlay, as shown on the right.

NOTE
A 50% Grey tone will not alter the representation of the underlying layer when set to any of
the contrast blend modes (overlay, soft light, etc).

Set Mode to Overlay

Film Grain layer active

Page 8 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 7
Choose Filters>Noise>HSV Noise from the image menu to open the HSV (Hue,
Saturation, Value) Noise dialog.

Adjust the filter settings as shown on the right: In this example, I have set the
Holdness to 2, Hue and Saturation to 0, and Value to 40.

Click OK to apply the film grain to your image.

The texture that we create and apply


to the Film Grain layer will overlay
onto the underlying image

Page 9 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 8
As real film grain is not generally as sharp or well defined as the effect we
created in the last step, we will apply a small Gaussian blur to Film Grain layer to
soften the texture for a more realistic appearance.

Choose Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur… from the Image menu to open the


Gaussian Blur dialog.

Set the Blur Radius to about 0.5 pixels and the Blur Method to RLE (Run
Length Encoding).

The two Gaussian blur methods shown on the dialog achieve the same result,
but IIR (Infinite Impulse Response) works best for large radius values on non-
computer generated images (ie. Photographs); whereas RLE works best for
computer generated images.

Click the OK button to apply the blur.

Page 10 of 11
GIMP Tutorial – Simulating a Genuine Silver-Gelatin Image

Step 9
The last step is to flatten the image before saving, as the JPEG
format cannot handle multiple layers.

Select Image>Flatten Image from the Image menu to merge the


layers before saving the file.

Copyright © 2008, Greg Perry

Page 11 of 11