premature darkroom euphoria : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I was contact printing some 4x5 negs on Azo the other night and one print, of an old chair and flower pot in sunflight (admittedly boring)looked to me like the greatest thing since "Moonrise, Hernandez," when I turned on the white lights. But looking at the print for a second time several days later, I thought to myself 'what was I thinking? This is a terrible print.' Even taking into account dry-down effects, it's incredibly dark, heavy and crappy looking. How could my judgement change so radically? Are the chemicals clouding my judgement? How could the print look so good to me one minute, and so terrible the next? Has anyone else experienced premature darkroom euphoria?

-- Ben Calwell (, April 12, 2002


You may simply have too bright a light in the darkroom. Darkroom illumination should be set to evaluate the wet print. If you take a good print into the darkroom and it looks good there, you've got too much light to judge wet prints. "taking into effect dry-down effects" is not a simple matter. I use two different darkroom light levels depending on whether I'm printing silver or Pt/Pd, which dries down more. Take a print that looks good, dry, in normal viewing conditions, soak it fully in water, and then adjust the light level in the darkroom until the print looks right.

-- Carl Weese (, April 12, 2002.

I quite often suffer from this condition - usually I find I've got the print just right........then it comes out of the wash and I see the hair/dust marks!!!!!!!!

-- paul owen (, April 12, 2002.

You say you were printing SOME negs. I find that at best I can print 3 negs in one all day/night session (pd/pt). When I try to do one more, it seems to look good at the time, but the next day it's crap. I have found that I just get too tired and loose my ability to judge things well. The next session, I can reprint the same neg with a fresh mind, and all is well. Sometimes it still sucks. I would agree with the other post too that your viewing conditions are critical as well.

-- Mateo (, April 12, 2002.

Interesting! Had a different but similar experience. Does this stuff "mature" for a week afterwards?? I did some prints that I was ecstatic about, (in the darkroom with a 60 watt incandescent) looked at them the next day and said for crying out loud my developer was tired, no deep blacks! then looked at them a month later and said What the?? Glad I didn't pitch them. They seem to change over extended time. These were toned in Selenium too. Probably my imagination looking at the same prints with a bunch of different light sources but wonder if others have seen this phenomenon?

-- Jim Galli (, April 12, 2002.

Ben, I think Carl has the answer. Darkroom illumination for wet print evaluation is an interesting topic. I have found a 40w incandescent @ 3' works well for silver gelatin.

-- Merg Ross (, April 12, 2002.

In addition to the darkroom light being too bright, I think there may be another factor. I find I must allow my eyes to adapt to the room illumination for at least 2 minutes before I can trust myself to evaluate a print. Before I lowered the illumination and learned to wait a bit, my prints looked good only under very strong illumination.

-- Andy Eads (, April 12, 2002.

Are you using a flourescent light source in the darkroom? This type of light greatly exaggerates highlights and contrast of a wet print.

-- James Chinn (, April 13, 2002.

Beyond taking into account drydown effects you may need to do an actual dry down test. This will graphically demonstrate the amount of dry down you are getting. Knowing the actual effects of dry down for a given paper, determining you final viewing illumination intensity and matching the illumination intensity in your dark room are critical, yet un-sung, elements to producing prints with consistent tones.

You may find that your images never look "right" wet under a normal light, but after drying look very different, much as you describe in your post. If I am going to print images to be hung in a gallery I determine the illumnation there and print to fit that light. That print might look weak when wet but look very strong under the gallerys dim lighting. If they are to be handed around a table at a picnic it would require a very different print to be as effective. That print would actually look to dark wet but have vibrant tones in the bright outside light. I know these are two extremes, but each light and room has a different feel that can have an effect on the "look" of the print.

-- Marv (, April 13, 2002.

Dry-down factor being one solution to the problem, I also think one’s particular mood has a play in this.

When I make something new, and it looks satisfactory to me, I usually feel euphoria because I know that I am still in the ballgame, still able to produce. But I remember a test of a 15th century painter – “After completing a canvas, turn it against the wall. Come back to it in 3 months, and then decide if it does what it was intended to do.” – so I am usually reserved about anything that is less than a few months old. If I can still feel good about a print a year later, I then begin to think that there is something in it.

I remember reading that Eugene Meatyard believed that listening to music while looking at photographs made the images more powerful (I am surprised that most gallery owners do not pipe in classical music while prospective buyers wander around the room).

The surroundings of the picture can have an effect. Adams believed chocolate brown walls increased the beauty of his prints. Looking at a photograph loose, or in a mat, can change the feel. I remember seeing a photographer working on prints for an exhibition pull his fiber photographs from a dryer, and when I looked at them they seemed flat and lifeless. When I later went to see his show I was surprised to find that matting and framing them, and the warm lights of the gallery, had somehow given the prints more luminosity.

I remember seeing a great photography exhibit with the theme being the interpretive print. Each photograph was seen twice, side by side. The most memorable photograph for me was Adam’s “Moonrise, Hernandez”. The first print was an early version, printed with great subtlety, the contrast being quite low, and the sky very light. The second print was made about 20 years later, and is the version I always see in books – the contrast much greater, and the sky quite dark. Which was better? For grabbing attention, the one with the higher contrast seems appropriate, but I prefer the softer version because one has to look at it with more intensity before finding the greatness of the vision.

-- James Webb (, April 13, 2002.

Thanks, everyone, for your responses. This forum is always a great help to me.

-- Ben Calwell (, April 13, 2002.

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