contrast : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Is there any difference between controlling a contrast on negative when developing a film and controling a contrast on paper using graded or multi-contrast paper when developing paper? I know most people control contrast when they develop negatives in order to print on grade 2 or 2/1/2 paper. Suppose, if I get fairly flat neg. and print on grade 4 paper, which contrast looks perfect, do I get almost same effect if I control and get perfect neg. and print on grade 2 paper? Or, they will look totally different?? I just think that controling contrast on paper is much simpler and easier than controling contrast on negative. Any input will be appreciated. Thank you, ric Yama

-- ric yama (, August 02, 2000


In my opinion, yes. My guideline is that the closer to the image that one can make corrections, the better. i.e. the image, the lighting, the lens (filters, etc.), the negative, the print.

I just printed a negative that I developed at N+2, and I was able to achieve a nice photo. (It was taken in flat lighting.) However, I know that no amount of dodging, increasing paper contrast, etc., could have given me the same quality of photo had I developed the negative at Normal development. It's always been my experience that trying to make extreme corrections with paper contrast gives you an artificial effect that isn't very effective. It depends on the particular case, but as a general rule, I think this holds.

-- neil poulsen (, August 02, 2000.

You need to make contrast corrections both at the level of making the negative and while making the print. One of the biggest misconceptions about the zone system is that because you are calibrating for grade 2 paper, that you should print on grade 2 paper. You calibrate for grade 2 because it is in the middle of the contrast range, this leaves options when you are printing. When I print I use grades from 1 to 5 even though a densitometer might say that grade 2 is the "correct" choice. I print on the belief that you have to go too far to know if you've gone far enough. I usually get a very accurate looking image when I print on grade 2 but the image that I "felt" might be at grade 3 or 4 or maybe 3-3/4. It is not a failure to use other grades of paper, it doesn't mean that you have made a less than adequate negative. But back to your original question, it is necessary to correct contrast when making the negative to give you these options when making the print.

-- Jeff White (, August 02, 2000.

It's my understanding that Ansel Adams did not think it necessary to calibrate in steps of 1/2 (N, N+1/2, N+1, N+1 1/2, etc.), versus N, N+1, N+2, because one could adjust the contrast of the paper to make any further corrections.

However, he also had a habit of taking two photo's (both sides of a film holder) of a scene at the same, correct, exposure. I've often wondered if he didn't keep the second in reserve so that he would have the option of changing the contrast in the second negative.

-- neil poulsen (, August 02, 2000.

It is purely a question of your chosen approach and where you want to spend your time. There is a difference but it is solely in philosophy. For the most part roll film shooters must shoot straight or close to it, and make up for lack of individual negative control in the darkroom while printing. No one can deny that there are great roll film shooters even if we choose not to be among them. Sheet film shooters have more potential for control but there are those who choose not to exercise it. Years ago I had a master b&w printing course with George Tice, a man cited by Ansel Adams in a Playboy interview in the 1970s as a photographer to watch. Adams was Mr. Zone System yet George Tice winced at the idea that he might employ the Zone System or that it was at all necessary. He shot 8x10 Tri-X and processed in D-76 as per Kodak's recommendations. Then, by choice, he worked wizardry in the darkroom. No one can say that his normally processed negatives couldn't yield fabulous prints in the darkroom. Tice just used a huge array of papers and paper grades, many different chemicals, bleaches, and toners and a tremendous knowledge of what each could yield in order to arrive where he wanted. He visualized his views by how he would print them later, not by how he would develop the film. So make your choice and hone your craft and you will hopefully arrive where you want to be.

-- Rob Tucher (, August 02, 2000.

I have read that "Uncle" Ansel did hold the second negative in reserve for later processing. I suppose "Moonrise Hernandez" may have prompted this considering how difficult it was to print.

-- Wayne DeWitt (, August 02, 2000.

First off. Ansel only made one exposure for Moonrise because by the time he pulled the film holder out to flip it the light was gone. I feel that you should always try to expose and process the negative to the best you can because it makes things easier all the way around. You fine tune the image in the printing stage. The contrast difference between the negative and the print isn't the same. A well exposed and processed negative allows for greater manipulation of the print when you choose how you want it to look. So learn to expose and process your film to the best of your ability. Your prints will thankyou. James

-- james (, August 02, 2000.

Ric, the difference between a properly exposed and processed neg and one that is close can be a subtle, but real difference. It can change the mood of the photograph. Saying that, sometimes the "slightly incorrect" neg can yield the best print. A couple of years ago, I shot an old log cabin with a dogwood tree in front of it. I shot four negs, with and without a yellow filter. The properly exposed shots are just a dogwood tree in front of a log cabin, which is o.k. On the first shot with the filter, I didn't change the aperature to correct for the filter factor and the neg is thin. While experimenting one day, I printed that neg through a #4 contrast filter. That print really sings. The dogwood tree really pops out and the texture of the old cabin really came alive. The depth is tremendous. It is one of my most popular prints at the art shows. It is also very difficult to print, but it is a much better photograph. I certainly don't recommend underexposing and printing on a harder paper, but this time it worked. If you know what effect you are trying to acheive, you can vary the contrast and exposure. That is what is great about the zone system. I have made many other photographs where I vary the exposure from the meter setting or increase or decrease development, but you first need to know what the normal is and what effect you want to get.

Good Shooting, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, August 02, 2000.

Doug's comments are right on. The mood and feel of an image should control what you do, not a bunch of rules. There are, however, some technical limitations worth considering: If you are using a #1 filter it is usually on a heavy neg.- where the highlights are blasted. The #1 filter won't un-blast the highlights. If you are using a #4 filter it will increase the contrast of the negative defects and grain right along with the contrast of the image. The latter is much more of a problem in big enlargements. Things do get a little more loosey-goosey,though, when you are contact printing.

In any case,with modern films, a grade either side of normal really isn't that big an issue. Hope this helps, Bruce

-- Bruce Wehman (, August 03, 2000.

For fine prints tonal quality is everything. Tonal range, contrast, purity of blacks and whites make the image. The difference between the tones in an aequately seen and developed negative and any other negative of the same scene is the diffenece between the beautiful and the mundane. I almost never bracket, I use all my skill to create one negative and make the most of it. However when I do bracket either with exposure or with development, I always discover that one negative is correct for the image and one is not correct. One gives the best possible contrast and tones and the other does not independent of how each is printed. Creating the best possible negative for the image is essential, paper grades are no substitute for negatives which fit the light. Sometimes negatives need to be flat sometimes they need sparkle. it is for this reason that the old pros learned how to use yellow (normal contrast)and other filters, including green filters for male portraits. These negative enhancing tools matter and there is no adequate substitute.

-- jimryder (, August 04, 2000.

Ric, I want to touch only technical side of your question: what is the difference in the two ways of contrast control --- via changing the film development mode and via choosing the different paper grade. The experience always shows that it is much easier to print a thin negative on a normal paper than a contrast negative on a low contrast paper. From point of view of contrast control only this was inconceivable. Finally I've arrived at a conclusion that IF the characteristic curves of film and paper were ABSOLUTELY straight, there should be absolutely no difference at all. (For sake of the discussion I ignore the fact that paper of high grades emphasize the grain and all the more the aesthetic issues). But the curves are not straight, especially curves of papers ##00-0B


-- Andrey Vorobyov (, November 15, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ