Drab or flat photos

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I took about 50 photos in the high desert country in southwest Texas. The area is mountainous desert country, and is beautiful. My pictures are somewhat flat of drab in apperance. What I'm trying to say, is the vista is mostly tan in color, and the photos don't show the beauty. Would toning the prints bring out the color seperation? Would a particular color filter have helped when photographing this type of terrain?

-- Tim Kimbler (starman2@gte.net), March 18, 1999


Kinda hard to diagnose without much info, like type of meter and meter readings, film, bellows extension, time of day... all of everything will help Tim. I'm from the high plains and I understand drab/beautiful but I guess the big question is, was what you saw on the ground glass different from what the film yields or what you expected, did you take polaroids? Are you remembering colors that weren't there? utilizing the old hindsight filter? And the little question is, did you see the Marfa lights? The time of day is paramount in this region. The unoccluded midday sun isn't flattering at all out there. Are you remembering magic hour colors and wishing you'd been ready or awake?

-- Trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), March 18, 1999.

I was in the SW Texas desert about a month ago and took 3 dozen B&W large format fotos and a roll of 35mm slides. I was pleased overall with the LF results but the 35mm color was disappointingly bland. Much of that had to do with the time of day most of the fotos were taken, midday. I should have used a polarizer. If you had a digital setup, you could accentuate the colors.

-- Bruce Schultz (bschultz@theadvocate.com), March 18, 1999.

The photographs were taken through out the day. Between 10:00 and 4:00. I use a Pentax 1-deg spot meter, and zone system. The film was TMAX 100. I use XTOL developer in a 3010 drum, following the Kodak development time. The paper is Kodak VC mat, printed with a cold light. I think the photos show a true representation of the area. In the prints the desert is a light gray, the trees are various shades of black, the mountains are light gray and dark gray, the sky is light not white. There just isn't any snap. I use a photo taken by John Sekton in Yosemite as a reference to judge my photos against. It is mat paper and has a wonderful glow on the rocks. Any way I've learned alot in 1 year and I keep trying.

-- Tim Kimbler (starman2@gte.net), March 18, 1999.

Try using a blue filter for part of the exposure, If you are using a variable contrast paper this will help jump the contrast a bit. Joe Englander has written about this in View Camera or Photo techniques. Otherwise, the red/orange/yellow family of filters used on the camera will also help your negatives contrast, especially between the sky and the rocks.

-- Ellis (evphoto@insync.net), March 18, 1999.

Yeah, I agree with ellis, I don't use filters much but in the midday sun out there you'd need it. You could snap it up with some added paper contrast and try to burn the sky back. Often I have to selenium intensify my skys even with deep orange filtration. Then finding a paper that truly renders a flattering sky and not some half-tone looking crap is a challenge too. Shooting in the plains is great fun if you live here and you can wait around for the right light. If you're just passing through it's kinda tough. I guess I'd equate it with surfing spots. You should have been here yesterday kinda stuff. If you have been here at the right instant you know that "big sky country" has nothing on us. I try to plan shoots either in the magic hours or by watching the local weather reports and try to wait for clouds if i can. You know you were rather fortunate getting to shoot out here because you're not complaining about the wind and that is odd.

-- Trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), March 19, 1999.

I have the Kodak VC filters for my enlarger, 1-4 I think. Which one would you recomend using? I have read that without a filter I get grade 3 using my cold light, Aristo tube number 45 I think. The blue filter, what number is it? Or will any blue filter work? As you can tell I am new at this and have a lot to learn. I will be going to Fort Davis, TX again in May and hope to get better photos than my last trip.

-- Tim Kimbler (starman2@gte.net), March 19, 1999.

Well, that's a hard to determine without seeing the neg or at least a print. Start at g3 move up if it's still muddy. Next time out bracket like mad and write your exposures on the cfh. The blue filter # I don't know, what Ellis is wanting you to try is to filter with a complementary color to accentuate and deepen the tan color. Here in Oklahoma that would go black because the soil is a deep red-orange. Look carefully at the color of the soil through your filters like a visit to the optician, "better here....or here... this one now this". I still believe if the info is recorded on the neg you can get it out in printing. Blow some money on one of those expensive fiber papers this will help no end with a flat neg. Believe it or not your gonna learn loads about your methods and your equipment in doing this and since I don't have your coldlight and your lens and your meter and your neg to look at I couldn't guess as to what went wrong only places to start.

-- Trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), March 19, 1999.

If you're comparing your work with a John Sexton print you're almost certain to be disappointed in your work even though it might be fine. I've taken four weeks worth of John's workshops and I've seen many of his prints as "straight" prints and then seen the final print after he has finished with all of his darkroom work. A huge amount of what you see in John's prints isn't in the negative but rather is the result of what he does in the darkroom. In saying this I don't mean to demean John's work in any way. His negatives are very, very good and without good negatives to start with he wouldn't be able to make the prints that he makes. However, the negative is just the starting point for what you see as the final print. The rest is John's talent and few photographers are capable of printing as well as John prints.

-- Brian Ellis (beellis@gte.net), March 20, 1999.

Tim, it is not by accident the cold light that does not work with VC filters and/or Kodak VC paper? I know that the old Aristo did not work with variable contrast, I'm not sure if the new one does.

-- Lot (lotw@wxs.nl), March 20, 1999.

If this is the cause of your problem in your case, you will have a reasonable black in your prints not until g5.

-- Lot (lotw@wxs.nl), March 20, 1999.

How many stops difference was there in the scene? Do you remember? Tribb could give you a good guess. So now you are left with a flat negative. Why are you using a flat paper? Flat+flat don't equal snap. Start by selenium toning you neg. As much as you can. And use some Spotone or Marshall oils to dye dodge some areas of the negative. Use a large brush and put some clouds in the sky if need be. Dye dodge some rocks. That will help differentiate the internal contrast within the neg. Next. spring for some good glossy fibre base multigrade paper. That will help with the contrast too. RC will too but FB is better. Next use a 0 filter for some (30%) of the printing and a #5 for the rest. Burn the crap out of the sky if there is even a hint of cloud. Burn some of the ground and vegetation with the #5. The bleach parts of the print with ferricyanide and wash reeeeaaaallll well. Then selenium tone the print 1:3 5mins. Should be ok now. But next time find out what the contrast ratio is in the scene and expose and process for the optimal contrast in the scene. Z3-Z8 would be optimal. And try Tech-pan if the scene is really flat. Rodial 1:100 15 mins. at 70* agitation 5secs. every minute.

-- printer (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), March 21, 1999.

tim while sooting did you use a lens shade? sand can create glare that will raise the base fog level[this may be the wrong term] or the effective toe of the curve. it has the same effect as prefogging your film and lowers contrast. just a thought.

-- richard hill (richdee@drizzle.com), March 23, 1999.

You might try using a condenser enlarger, develop your prints to 3 minites, use glossy ilford mg fiber paper, try using edwal ultra black developer or some other very active developer, sepia toning bleaching to completion . All these will increase the impression of contrast.

-- rich silha (turix001@gold.tc.umn.edu), March 24, 1999.

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