B+W printing question

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I'm having a problem with printing. I shoot 8x10 B+W and make a contact print with aristo cold head on Omega D-2 enlarger. Even though I have very slight shadow detail on Negative, I can't get it on a print (grade 2). Negative contrast and density look just fine, but when I expose a paper to get the shadow details, I don't get pure black in the picture,on the other hand, when exposed to get real black, there is no details, just black. Changing a contrast filter didn't help. Reducing contrast makes it much harder to get black, while increacing contrast makes it the high light too bright.(too contrasty overall the picture) Why??? Could anyone give me some advice in beginner's term? Thanks anausagi

-- usagiana (anausagi@yahoo.com), January 14, 2001


Although SLIGHT information can been seen on the negative, that does not necessarily mean that there is ENOUGH information to print. Negatives provide more information than papers. I think what you need is a combination of exposure technique and development process that will give you "beefier" shadow details. You might want to try giving your film a longer exposure and looking into compensating development processes like a split D-23 for instance. I've been using this developer for about 6 months now, and can only give it 2 thumbs up. It allows for excellent shadow detail while retaining information in the highlights as well. There are several threads on this board dealing with such developers, and belive me, they are worth reading and trying out. Since swithching over to spilt D-23, my 8X10 negs are EASY to print, with only a minimal amount of dodging or burning necessary, and that is to achieve the look I want, NOT in order to "save" a shot.

-- William Levitt (Light-Zone@web.de), January 14, 2001.

Perhaps the most critical challenge in the darkroom is fitting the correct contrast grade of paper to the negative. I have many thin negatives that gave me similar results until I addressed this problem. There are no laws that dictate a paper of this or that grade or a multicontrast filter of this or that number should be used with a specific type of negative. Only through experimentation and perhaps the use of a densitometer could you come up with a reliable starting point. Another big issue is the business of "BLACK". I've observed some printers attempting to achieve the blackest black a paper will yield. This can never work! Just try making a print from one of your easiest to print negatives and then intentionally over expose another sheet of paper and develop them and compare. The paper can always make blacker black than you'll ever be able to print from a negative. So how black does black have to be? The answer might be as black as it needs to be to be perceived as black. And then, you probably should take into consideration whether or not you will be framing the print behind glass and where it will hang. In dim light, all the shadow detail will go black to the eye. Behind soda-lime glass, the whole print will lose brightness by maybe 1/4 of a stop. The last, but certainly an important issue I'd like to mention is that not all papers behave the same at the low end of the scale. Some are decidedly better at zone II and III in separating "Intrazonal tones". A couple more tips: Try using a lower level of light in your darkroom when viewing a fixed print. Squeegee it off on a piece of plexiglass and just prop it up in your holding tray. This will help you evaluate the shadow detail while the print is wet. I hope you will consider using multigrade paper and variable contrast filters (unless you have a dichroic head). Graded paper is a difficult way to start.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), January 14, 2001.

Not being near the expert I see comment on most topics here I am a bit hesitant to jump on this but I wanted to share my small amount of experience on this. I am self taught and experimented alot with this. I beleive grade 2 is normal for no contrast filter. If you go to a grade 2 contrast filter you should see a marked difference in your contrast. You should also be increasing exposure times to compensate for it. A neat little conversion calculator comes with most contrast filter sets that gives you new times at each contrast setting. If that doesn't work, and it should, you could try deluting your developer about 20% and increase development times by the same. This should keep your highlights from getting too dark but still bring the dark shades back to where you want them. That is the extent of my 2 cents on this. I hope this helps you out.

-- Doug Theall (dpt@bare-wall.com), January 14, 2001.

I have to agree with Robert's comments about maximum black. It is often recommended that testing for the exposure scale of a paper should entail 0.04 above base+fog of paper for Dmin and 90% of Dmax (see, for e.g., Phil Davies 'Beyond the Zone System). There are plenty of good reasons for this. Foremeost is that it keeps you off the shoulder of the curve of the paper. Otherwise, you are combining the low contrast shadow portion on the negative with the low contrast shoulder of the paper and you are going to end up with terribly low local contrast in the shadows. What you want is something that looks convincingly black. Maximum black of a paper is a sensitometric quantity you want to know but it need not be an expressive one. After all, if you use a paper with a high Dmax (2.1 or so) and work with the 90% figure (i.e., 1.9), you end up with a shadow density on your print that can be higher than using the maximum black on a paper with a low Dmax (for e.g., a matt surface). A convincing black is as much a function of other elements such as what the sorrounding tones on the print are etc. Other techniques like the use of a compensating developer to increase the local contrast in the shadows can also help. However, it is probably a good idea to stay off the shoulder of most modern papers, which anyway offer fairly high Dmax values. Hope this is helpful. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), January 14, 2001.

You may also want to check out these very useful threads:

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a.tcl?topic=B%26W%20Photo%20%2d% 20Film%20%26%20Processing

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a.tcl?topic=B%26W%20Photo%20%2d% 20Printing%20%26%20Finishing

-- Jim (jimzpace@yahoo.com), January 14, 2001.

I'll jump in here and disagree as is my custom. In contact printing, it is much more crucial to get the negative development right. You can get Dmax in the paper without too much trouble. All those deep shadows that should have no detail in them(cracks in walls and deep recesses). The trick is to get the development right so that the negative covers all the useful range of the paper. Just getting an ok black isn't what Brett Weston or Ansel Adams strived for. They calibrated their film/development/paper selection to where they could get beautiful solid blacks "and" very subtle brilliant highlights in their prints while contact printing. When you are enlarging a negative material it is fairly simple to get whatever tonal range you want through dodging and burning. But in contact printing you are using a very limited system and your printing manipulations are much harder. It's much harder to successfully dodge and burn especially small areas. My suggestion is to calibrate your exposure and development system and use the center of the curve like Robert says but make sure that the separation of densities in the neg will enable you to get that beautiful deep black "and" the subtle highlights that set "fine art" apart from an 8x10 snapshot. You can achieve Dmax in the blacks as long as your highlight densities are within range of the paper too. Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights. BrettWeston and Ansel Adams acheived very deep blakcs in their prints. For them Dmax was what it was all about. James

-- lumberjack (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), January 14, 2001.

You might try some local selenium toning on the negative to get a bit more density in the shadow areas (light areas on the negative), and then selenium toning on the print to just the point before you get a color change to enhance Dmax. I find that this works quite well with Azo (Kodak Rapid Selenium Toner 1:15, 3 min, 68 deg. F, to enhance Dmax), since you are contact printing. You may also find that Azo gives you better separation of tones in general for contact printing, compared to what you are using now, which I assume is a variable contrast enlarging paper.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), January 14, 2001.

i might suggest that you try one of the high-end warm tone (chlorobromide) papers such as agfa portriga. they seem to inherently have a longer tonal scale than bromide papers, and are an excellent choice for retaining shadow details. warm tone papers have a beautiful quality all their own, and can be further enhanced with selenium toning to acheive an extraordinary richness.

-- jnorman (jnorman@teleport.com), January 14, 2001.

I agree that you need to be using a variable contrast paper through the learning process. You might try split filter exposure to nail the blacks. Use the correct filter for the main exposure and tehn give a very short "bump" with a Number 4 filter to set the blacks. It can really help with troublesome negs. Overall, it sounds like your neg or negs may be a bit underexposed.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), January 15, 2001.

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