How To Process Leica M Monochrom Files (follow up)

September 3, 2013 — 5 Comments

I’ve had my Monochrom for a while now, in excess of 5000 captures and I have a solid workflow; I can produce the image I thought about at capture time.

This is a significant point and raises a question for all of you.

Do you visualise the final image when you first see the scene to be captured?

I do and it’s the principal reason I have a good percentage of keepers. A large part of this is knowing that a composition won’t work but, in no small part, visualising the final image means I’ve already processed the image before I get to the computer.

I’ve already written a piece on how I process images from the Monochrom and here you can find Leica Monochrom Workflow.

Has anything changed?

I have a better understanding of how the contrast blend modes, Soft and Hard Light, affect my images. This means I choose and manipulate Silver Efex Pro 2 filters more accurately to achieve the contrast I need. That’s definitely down to practise.

And I have a new sharpening technique, which I will detail in this post.

It’s probably best to work through an example. Here’s an image, as exposed, but resized.

Images straight from the Monochrom are simply exposures. All the detail and tones are in there and they just need manipulation.

Personally, I use Photoshop CS6 and Silver Efex Pro 2. It really saves time, but do be careful as it can be misused. For example, High Structure filters will texturise the walls and paved floor so much so the scene will look like a nuclear bunker.

The first layer is a base layer, 017 Full Spectrum. Structure +45 and Dynamic Brightness +30.

Here’s an important distinction with SEP2. If you start the filter program from the floating toolbox window, SEP2 will take your entire image and flatten it. That’s what you will work with.

If you select a layer, in Photoshop, and then go through the menus, Filters > Nik Software > Silver Efex Pro 2, you will only work on the selected layer within the Nik software.

I always process from the background layer, which was the output from Adobe Camera Raw. Always.

Select the background layer, through the menu go to SEP2 and I choose the 023 Wet Rocks Filter. Film Type to Neutral. Dynamic Brightness +30, Midtone Brightness +15, Contrast +10, Structure +25. All other settings remain untouched.

I chose Wet Rocks because its higher structure lends itself well as a contrast layer.

You have to move this new layer to the top and to set its Blend mode to ‘Soft Light’.

This is already a better result, but it’s too dark. Did you know…

A Curves Layer set to a Blend Mode of Screen, opacity 40%, is basically an extra stop of exposure.

I want to concentrate the viewer’s gaze on people in the centre of the image, so I will apply a mask to this curves layer, which will look like this in the layer palette.

To get the radial mask effect, use the Gradient Fill and select the Radial Gradient.

You can also cheat a little and imply more contrast than there is by adding a further contrast layer to the outside using an inverse radial gradient mask!

Duplicate the Soft Light contrast layer and set it to Hard Light.

Apply the mask we just talked about. Invert the mask in Images > Adjustments… > Invert

I’m happy with the process, so far, and I will double check exposure levels by going into Image > Adjustments… > Levels. Click on Auto with the preview ticked to see how much the image levels change. My monitor is calibrated and so i don’t usually see much difference. It’s a good basic indicator you have missed exposure though!

Do not underestimate the effect of correct sharpening. If applied correctly the viewer shouldn’t really be aware of it. Not enough or too much will be quite obvious.

Here’s what I do.

Flatten all the existing layers from processing. Now duplicate this one layer 3 times!
For each of these new layers, apply the High Pass Filter, then set to Blend Mode Overlay…
First layer – Not the base layer! – High Pass, Radius 4.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Second layer, High Pass, Radius 2.0 pixels. Layer opacity 20%.
Third layer, High Pass, Radius 1.0 pixels. Layer opacity 40%.

Flatten the image and you can now resize for screen. My images, landscape, are set to 1600 pixels and I use the ‘Bicubic (Best for smooth gradients)’

If you didn’t work in sRGB, which the Monochrom uses so this shouldn’t be an issue, convert the color space to sRGB. Also convert the image to 8 bit.

Here is my final JPEG image.

Cynical Father

Please send questions if I’ve not explained anything sufficiently. And, of course, there are a good number of ways to process the Monochrom’s images. This is just my own potion.

Thanks for reading

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5 responses to How To Process Leica M Monochrom Files (follow up)


    Is the pp technique applicable to M8 file as well?


      Of course, but my images are already B&W so this is the stage you need to get to first with your M8 files. You also have an advantage – I’m too lazy to use filters – in that you can convert portions of your image to emphasise their color attributes in the conversion to B&W, eg; sky and foliage.


    Great post Michael,
    Although I don’t own a Leica there are some really good tips here and its really good to see how you build up to the final image.


    Forgive my ignorance but I assume the first image is RAW (and for the purposes of the blog converted to jpg with no tweaking). What’s the quality of the jpgs straight from the Monochrom?

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