Continuing this series of ‘preset picks’ from different programs, here is one of my all-time favourites. It’s the Border – Negative (Kodalith) preset from Alien Skin Exposure X4.5 and it can be found in the B&W Misc Effects category.
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When you break it down into its component parts it’s deceptively simple, but as ever with the best presets, it’s how these tools and settings are combined that makes the magic. The Border – Negative (Kodalith) preset sounds pretty dry and technical but it brings a super-strong graphic clarity to black and white images that we’ve forgotten about in the digital age. Like the best presets, it makes us bolder with our settings!
This preset has some very specific qualities. The strong contrast between light and shade emphasises the shapes and textures which make black and white imagery so strong. If highlight areas bleach out, it doesn’t really matter, but much of the time they’re still there as a very subtle tonal gradation right at the top of the histogram.
The thick black border adds the finishing touch. It emphasises the stark tonal rendition inside the frame and the contrast of the solid white background outside it.
So here are the ‘before’ and ‘after images (above). It’s always good to start with a colour image because that gives the software more data to work with, as we’ll see. The original colour image is nice enough, but the black and white version has a graphic quality that – in my opinion – is just in a different league.
01 The Border – Negative (Kodalith) preset
The presets in Alien Skin Exposure X4.5 are organised into categories. This one can be found by clicking the B&W button at the top of the Presets panel, then opening the B&W Misc Effects category. When you select a preset, it’s applied to the image immediately, but you can examine and alter the effects settings in the tools panel on the right.
02 Color Sensitivity
The main reason for shooting in colour in the camera is that you can then choose how these colours are translated into shades of grey for the black and white version. With this preset, Exposure X has changed the Color Sensitivity of the image to mirror the appearance of early Orthochromatic film. Reds and greens are darkened, cyan tones are made brighter. This is opposite to the yellow/green/red filtration favoured by many landscape shooters, but it helps make the blue sky brighter and increase the contrast.
03 Tone Curve
The real contrast boost with this preset, however, comes from the Tone Curve panel. Here, the preset adds a very strong ’S-curve’ to darken the shadows, brighten the highlights and increase the midtone contrast. You’d hesitate to use a curve adjustment this strong on a colour image, but here, in black and white, it works.
04 Overlays – Border and Texture
Alien Skin Exposure X4.5 combines its image Border, Light Effect and Texture effects in this single Overlays panel. The Border is called Kodak Negative, there’s no Light Effect in this preset, and the Texture is called Dust 12. Personally, I’d leave out the dust overlay, and it’s a simple matter to disable it and save a new ‘dust-free’ version of the preset if you want to.
And that’s how the Border – Negative (Kodalith) preset is constructed. The individual parts aren’t that remarkable, but their combined effect is. Today, we’ve all got rather obsessed with histograms, clipping and shadow and highlight recovery, but this preset takes us straight back to a much grittier style of imaging from when the work was done in a darkroom and not on a computer monitor.