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Thread: How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Mar 1998

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    It depends on the negative.When doing his last prints of the "Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico" negative I recall reading that Ansel Adams and his assistant would set up the enlarger the day before and come back for a full day of printing, to a series of finished prints that met his standards which included being free of surface defects, processing marks, etc.

  2. #12

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?


    If you follow the method I describe in my article , "On Printing--and why there is no such thing as a difficult negative to print" (the article can be found on our web site [] under "Writings"), you should never have to spend more than an hour or two at the most making the best print your negative can yield. Let me know if you try it and find otherwise. This method will work whether you are contact printing or enlarging.

    Michael A. Smith

  3. #13

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    As others have said, it depends. I've attended all of John Sexton's darkroom workshops and have generally followed the methods learned there when I'm enarging. His "system" involves first making as good a straight print as possible, which may take an hour or two, then starting in with dodging, burning, flashing, masking, whatever seems necessary. He spends a lot of time and effort, I'd guess on average at least half a day probably more, the first time a negative is printed. He advocates not assuming you'll make the final vesion the first time a negative is printed but instead doing the best you can do the first time around and then living with it for a while. Of course once a final version is decided upon, things go much quicker for copies. I think the guy who did a lot of Ansel Adams printing after his death said he got to where he could print "Moonrise" in a couple minutes. All of this assumes you're enlarging. I contact print 8x10 negatives occasionally and that's much faster since the burning, dodging, etc. is usually far less (for me at least) when contact printing on Azo paper.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  4. #14

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?


    I'm curious about something. I assume that John Sexton uses the zone System to calculate exposure and development of his negatives. And that his determination of exposure and development is a function of how he previsualizes the final print. That being the case, why would it take so long to get a proper straight print, and then so many more hours to dodge, burn, mask, etc. to get a proper print? And then, since the print was previsualized and supposedly exposed and developed properly, why would he first have to live with it for some period of time before figuring out how he wants to print it? That just doesn't make sense to me.

    Michael A. Smith

  5. #15

    Join Date
    Nov 1998

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    Maybe this is why it is The Art of Photography.

  6. #16
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    Interesting question about previsualization and the zone system. As much as I try to previsualize, I find that the image evolves as I work with it. I usually shoot full frame, for instance, but I might change my mind later, and the same goes for the placement of tones.

  7. #17

    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    Often I`ll make a work print just to see how it "hangs" for a while. Then if its worth the trouble, I`ll spend the necessary time on a finished print.

  8. #18

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    Paula and I use the zone system only very loosely (developing negatives by inspection negates the rigid standards arrived at by extensive zone system testing) and we previsualize the final print, in its tonal makeup only in general terms--we have more of a general feeling of what we want rather than anything absolutely precise. And yet we are usually able to make final prints of just about any negative in about an hour. This is due not only to our method of printing, though surely that helps, but to our understanding of what makes a fine print and what the print should look like. Hoping you will find the writing below to be helpful.

    Long ago I was asked by a museum to write a statement for a catalog of their collection. They specifically asked something like "What is your goal when you make a photograph"? After attempts at several paragraph- long answers, I trashed them all and wrote, "I'm just trying to make the best pictures I can." By extension, when printng, I am just trying to make the best print I can. That is a very different approach than trying to recreate what I felt when I was at the scene photographing. I have written about this before and will take the liberty to quote myself.

    "Although it is the reality of the subject before you that captures your attention, the feeling one has while photographing is determined by myriad factors. The physical reality before you?the very real three- dimensional space, the light, the colors, the sounds, the smells, the weather?is of course a major factor. Of the others, some are more or less stable, such as one?s world view and the general state of one?s psyche and health. Other factors are more fleeting, such as the time you have available (it is hard to be calm and contemplative when rushed, whether by quickly changing light or the need to be somewhere else), the other people who may be present, your dreams from the night before, or a conversation you may have just had. All of these factors contribute to determining your mood, which in turn may affect how you feel about what is before you.

    Realizing the absolute impossibility of trying to create for others and to recreate for myself, in a two-dimensional black and white photograph, the feeling of the multi-faceted experience of having been at the scene photographed, my goal when making prints is simply to try to make the best print I can, and thereby to provide, both for myself and for the viewer, a new experience?one of the photograph itself. As an artist, I am responsible for every square millimeter of the print, in the same way that a composer is responsible for every note, or a poet is responsible for every word. I try to make my prints so that all parts are of equal importance and do not feel they are successful if the viewer?s eyes are not somehow involuntarily compelled to navigate to every part. Therefore, the dodging and burning-in I do is not to make elements stand out, but to have them cohere into a unity." End of quote.

    In order to look at the print as a unity when one is printing in the darkroom it is essential that you place a large viewing board--a piece of glass or plexiglas--and a proper viewing light (one that matches normal viewing light of finished prints) behind the fixer tray and that you have the space to step back about seven or eight feet from the print. Then you can look at it as a whole and not get hung up in each little part (You do that also, when you look at the print closely. Most people do look at their prints very closely; they often don't step back far enough to look at them impersonally as a whole.) Looking on them impersonally helps, too. When looking at your prints at this time, forget, or try to forget that they are yours. Your only concern should be to make the best print you can. If it is in accord with what you felt at the time you exposed the negative, that's fine; if not, that's fine, too. Your photographs are not providing the viewer (yourself or others) with an experience of the scene, but with an experience of the photograph.

    Good luck to all in being able to print more decisively so that you can spend less time per print in the darkroom and more time out there exposing new negatives.

  9. #19
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 1999
    Southfield, Michigan

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    The zone system is great for analyzing what is before you and determining what might be done with proper filtration, exposure and development to arrive at a negative that will come closer to achieve the result you feel you want at that moment. The problems are: not everything can be changed by applying zone system technique and when viewing the print in one's darkroom, one is deprived of exactly those real life influences that may have propmted the initial decisions in the first place. Here is where the license to alter the image further can impel the artist to apply some darkroom techiniques such as masking, selective toning of the negative, dodging, burning, bleaching, etc. to see if it's possible to further improve the print. If we were to simply stop at the point of accepting the negative as is and allow ourselves just so much time to do all the dodging and burning we think might help, I suspect many prints would never see the light of day and others would fall far short of everything they could be.

    Michael, I read your article on printing and I don't recall reading a sentence that deals with fitting the the negative to the proper contrast grade of paper! Many excellent printers feel this is perhaps the most important step in making a fine print. Is this something you accidentally ommitted, does not apply to contact printing with AZO or do you not feel it's that important?

  10. #20

    How Long for a 'Fine Print'?

    Robert and others,

    Michael, I read your article on printing and I don't recall reading a sentence that deals with fitting the negative to the proper contrast grade of paper! Many excellent printers feel this is perhaps the most important step in making a fine print. Is this something you accidentally omitted, does not apply to contact printing with AZO or do you not feel it's that important?

    Fitting the negative to the proper grade of paper is of absolute and central importance--so much so that I take it for granted that everyone does this before they go further. It's the first step.

    Well, actually it is the second step. The first step is to make what we call a "proof"--a quick print on Grade 2 (or for some on Grade 1) paper. Use these grades regardless of the grade you think will be needed for the final print. This print should have full detail in the highlights and full detail in all of the dark areas. Will this print be gray--too gray? In all likelihood it will. But now you should have full information of what is on the negative. The degree of grayness will almost invariably tell you what grade of paper the negative should be printed on. If the proof is very flat--grade 4 will be needed and so on. It is important that you always make these proofs on the same grade of paper.

    When I first started doing this many years ago I had come back from a long trip and had over 600 negatives to print. I tried to match the grade of paper used in the proofs to the negatives. Some of the proofs were extremely contrasty. As I had made them all in one day (they were indeed quick proofs) by looking at the proofs I had no recollection of the degree of contrast of each negative. Years later, when I finally got around to printing some of these negatives I found, much to my surprise, that some of the contrastiest proofs--ones that I had avoided printing because of that--were from quite flat negatives that had been proofed on Grade 4 paper. In general when I looked at these proofs I was given no clue as to the proper grade to print on.

    But when all the proofs are on the same grade of paper--and you compare them to each other--the proper grade of paper is usually immediately evident. I'd say that on only about one out of 20 prints I try to print on one grade but have to switch to another--just barely, usually, but enough to make the switch. And that information I get from the proofs, and also from looking quickly at the negative on a light table, which I built into the darkroom.

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