I recently started using a film camera along with my digital camera. I took a picture with both the cameras. This one is from digital camera:

enter image description here

Left is the photo without editing and right after selecting "Black & White Treatment" in Lightroom. See the way sky is rendered white. This is what I was expecting from film camera without any filter. But I was pleasantly surprised to get this:

Badwater Basin

This is a scanned copy of the print I got from film. The blue sky is rendered black. I shot this on Ilford Pan F Plus at ISO 50 with sun towards the right of the frame.

Now my question is, what is it that rendered the blue sky black? Is the characteristic of this particular film or some contrast in the scene or the guy who developed this for me played some nice trick.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you keep any UV or haze filters on either lens? \$\endgroup\$
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @whuber, i used a Nikon NC filter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vikas
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ On both cameras or just one of them? \$\endgroup\$
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I used the same lens with filter to take both the photos. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vikas
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


Your printer appears to have done quite a bit of burning in of the sky area (and of the closer of the two rock faces, as well as some general vignetting). It's a pretty good job, but you can see some lightness close to the hill that wouldn't be there if the darkness was the film's response to the sky.

Panchromatic black-and-white film is generally more sensitive to blue than to other colours (although by how much varies with the emulsion, some being more sensitive to greens and others to reds than others). In order to get a substantial sky, you normally need to use some sort of colour filtration, normally in the light yellow to deep red range. Without filtration, a blue sky will normally be very light in tone, without much distinction between the sky and clouds.

When shooting black and white, you should consider a K2 yellow filter and a #25 "light red" (it won't look very light to you when you see it) to be standard parts of your kit. The K2 will render the sky more or less "normally"—that is, there will be a distinct tonality to the sky, lighter at the horizon and getting darker as you move up, with visible clouds. The #25 will give you a much darker sky and more dramatically contrasting clouds (assuming white clouds, of course). There are filters covering the range between the K2 and the #25, but they're sort of "neither here nor there"—they're not strong enough to really be dramatic, but are obviously filtered. To get the Ansel Adams-style black skies, you might want to use a #29 dark red filter.

You can approximate the look of filters when converting your colour digital images to black and white, but with a great deal more control over contrast than you can get with an ordinary optical filters.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The bright region in the film photo is the one that looks white in colors, so it is still possible that film is little sensible to sky color. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paolo
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I want to believe you, but I find it wildly optimistic that a photolab put that much effort into a print these days. Paolo where did you have the film processed and printed? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Stan, a spectral sensitivity plot for this film is available at ilfordphoto.com/Webfiles/20114271111491224.pdf. It is instructive to compare it to a daylight sky spectrum (e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spectrum_of_blue_sky.png). In brief, this film has flat sensitivity from deep blue through red-orange and no sensitivity to reds. This photo indeed looks like it was shot with a Wratten 25 or 29, but apparently it wasn't filtered at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm, It was processed and printed at a small shop in India. No fancy lab. I'll ask them if they dodge/burn photos and let you know. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vikas
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I simply cannot convert the sky in the color image into something like the film image without darkening the foreground beyond all recognition. This convinces me that Stan is right: the sky received special attention during printing. \$\endgroup\$
    – whuber
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 17:46

There are several method to convert a color digital image to black and white. Each one gives different results. A prior none of them can give the same result of a specific film type (brightness and contrast is highly dependant on the type of film and the developping process as you probably know).

Lightroom has a color mixer functionality, which is somewhat similar to the use of a color filter for B&W. You just can choose to make for example things that are blue look darker, or things that are red look brighter.


The usual approach is to put the K2 or #25 on your film camera.

Might be fun to try one on the digital camera. But these days, most folks use their post-processing software (aperture, lightroom, gimp, etc.) rather than filters.


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