Unsharp Masking - A beginners primer.

by James (aka GreyWolf) Phillips for largeformatphotography.info


    Unsharp masking is a technique that probably most of us have heard about but not many of us have tried. I perhaps like many others have often thought of attempting masking for various reasons but until recently was unsure how to begin. Well this spring an opportunity presented itself and I was able to buy a used Inglis Unsharp punch and masking easel. After reading as much as I was able to locate about the methods and advantages of masking, I decided to jump right in and try it for myself. Hopefully my experiments and findings will help others to take up the challenge and discover what benefits you might obtain. Before I begin let me share with you that I have never had any previous experience in doing masking and all that I am about to share with you will come from my self taught ways combined with literature and web content I have been able to discover. It is important that you understand my intention here is to introduce you to the equipment and process. In no way am I skilled in unsharp masking techniques so consider this fair warning that your mileage may vary. In simple terms you may consider this article to be "Unsharp Masking for Dummies"

    So where do I begin? Let's begin with a very brief explanation of what unsharp masking is. In essence a mask is nothing more than a faint positive image of your original negative. The original could be a black & white negative or a color transparency as both work well with masking techniques. After the making of the mask (or perhaps I should say masks, as it is possible to use them in combinations) you will then sandwich the original and mask together in a registration carrier and print the combination as a single print. The first advantage of doing this is the effect of sharpening the original image. Another benefit of this sandwich of negatives, that if properly done would be to change the overall contrast of the final image on the printing paper. This could help if you have a negative where the contrast range is too high (caused by the time in the developer during processing) but is exceedingly difficult to burn and dodge properly while printing. What would occur if the mask is properly created is that there would be a small amount of density added to the high areas which in effect would permit your print time to increase for that specific negative without blocking up the high areas. (white areas on a print)

The key advantage to doing this is that the mask is a replica of the original so that the edges line up perfectly and the small amount of added density in the clear areas of the original negative (created in the mask negative) help lower the general overall contrast of the sandwich and thus during the printing stage you may print a bit longer without blowing out the highs to pure white. With practice you should be able to hold some of the high areas to give a sense of slight texture while still being able to print long enough so that you true blacks and shadow areas look properly dark. Without the mask you might be always struggling between printing long enough for a true black while not over printing and ending up with pure white in your high areas. In fairness though do not expect miracles from this masking technique. The results in my experiments have been subtle and a welcome addition but I am rapidly learning that the original negative has a key a role in the outcome. Some of my negatives seem to work better than others when using a masking technique. Perhaps when I have learned more I can write a follow-up to this article explaining why this is the case.

The Equipment:

Well let's start with the equipment I have been using. The first part of the article will be just covering the equipment and then the second part I will tell you how I have used the equipment. For those of you who may be unaware it is still possible to buy a new punch and easel set from Alistair Inglis who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Contact Alistair Inglis Masking system.). The equipment you see below was made by Alistair. Of course you do not need to have a registration punch and easel, it just makes things easier. Some others that I have read about were patient enough to register the negatives on a light box and tape them together by the edges. I myself much rather use a registration punch and easel. 

    One of the nicest aspects of the Inglis System is that the punch makes tiny hole on the very edge of the negative so that you are not required to tape an additional piece of film to your original negative. Other techniques that I have read about use a 5x7 negative as a mask. I do not want to start another negative file for holding 5x7 negative masks so I am quite happy to use a punching system that can use the original 4x5 format for all of the masks. The holes are about the size of a mechanical pencil lead which I approximate to be 1.5mm in diameter. This permits me to keep my masks and original in separate sleeve but in the same binder. I have also made more than one type of mask so an 4x5 holder in a binder holds for me the following now.

  1. The original negative

  2. The unsharp mask

  3. Sometimes a contrast reduction mask

  4. Sometimes a second unsharp mask

  5. A 4x5 white paper with notes

    Of course I will do my best not to mislead you in any fashion. I do not make masks for all of my negatives now that I have begun using this technique. At this early stage I am more on an exploration mission and learning when a mask is helpful and when it is not. But when I do make a mask I seem to be giving that negative at least half of an 8x10 sleeve (divided into 4x5 squares) and sometimes the whole sleeve for the extra masks.

    Here are a few pictures of the registration punch I use.

    The registration punch is the heart of the system. All of the parts with the exception of the base are machined from steel and handcrafted by Alistair. He tells me that he matches each easel to a the punch before sending them out to a customer so as to obtain the closet tolerances on the spacing of the holes. It is nice to see that his consideration and forethought in the building of such a system.

The registration punch from the top.

This is actually a three hole punch with the center pin hidden by the hand lever. Approximate dimension is 7 1/2 inches x 7 1/2 inches.


A frontal view of the punch. 

    As you can see from the above pictures I have the three pin punch. Alistair makes both a two pin punch and a three pin version. The idea behind the three pin version is that you may punch a 120 film negative and use unsharp masking with this format. I asked Alistair his opinion on this and he told me that he uses the two pin version and still on occasion does roll film. He told me that he cuts out the center of a 4x5 film and tapes the 120 format to this. Then he does his masking just as he would for a 4x5 negative. After having the pleasure of talking with him on the phone and not taking his initial advice, I can now attest that he most definitely knows what he is talking about. I believe that if I was to buy a new system I would now elect to go with the two hole punch system.

    What you will notice about the pictures above is that the negative registers at the top of the punch as well as to a ledge on the left side. My punch is not completely square and I must always be sure to push the film to the top and just use the upper left of the bar as a general guide. When I first began I was holding the film tight to the left and the upper right "punched" hole was partly off the film. This does not occur if I hold the film tight to the top. The punch works well but does require a bit of effort to make it pierce the film. I believe that this may be one disadvantage to the three hole version as there is an additional pin required to pierce the film.


Now lets take a look at the registration easel.

    My registration easel has three pins for mounting the films. I contacted Alistair to ask some questions and told him that I was intending to do this web review. I also wanted to buy a registration carrier for my enlarger (more on this later) and he offered to send me his new easel for testing so that I could test his design improvements. You will notice in the pictures below that he has now incorporated a movable pin on the easel. I tried this easel and it definitely makes it easier when attempting to place the film on the easel. He also agreed to include both a Anti-Newton Ring glass and  a regular glassless carrier for me to review. I purchased the glassless model but did have the opportunity to take pictures of the glass carrier for all of you.


Picture of the easel with the floating pins. (3 pin version)



As you can see by the pictures, one of the pins is a "floating pin" on a moveable point and this is a wonderful addition to the previous standard model. This makes it considerably easier to load under both under a safelight or in the complete dark when you are mounting the original negative and the clear film to do the original exposure of the mask. If you look at the above picture very closely you can see the elongated slots for the pin in the center and on the left. These are the floating pins on the new easel style. I used this easel when doing some of my work and then returned it to Alistair.

The top of the easel is a clear acrylic cover that is hinged. I am attempting to show you below how the cover hinge fits into a slot on the easel and can be changed. The used easel I acquired came with both a clear acrylic cover as well as a frosted (diffused) cover. I have used the diffused cover for my testing. If you look at the picture above you can perhaps better see the hinge in the slot on the easel.


Picture of the easel top removed. The slot in the baseboard is displayed.


This picture shows the top of the easel with the holes for the pins to pass thru:



Here is probably the best shot displaying the floating pins:


Here is a shot of the punch showing the "half-moon" clearing slot for the punched film to come out of.


    Well now that we have seen the punch and easel we will move onto to the next area of interest which is the registration carrier. This perhaps is the area that I did not comprehend early in my masking making adventures. I was always focused on making the different styles of mask and getting the density ranges worked out. When it came time to print the original and masks with my enlarger I became acutely aware of the challenge of keeping the mask(s) aligned with the original. Aligning a single unsharp mask with the originals can be accomplished on the light box with tape. This will work fine as long as you only wish to use a single mask during the printing stage. I also did not find it much fun to try to hold both the negative and the mask in perfect alignment (before my light bulb went on in my head) on the light box while taping them together. Of course most of you will have asked why I did not tape the negatives  together when the negatives where on the 3 pin easel. Well after doing the dumb thing of aligning them on the light box I sat back and realized that I did own the easel and that taping them while mounted on the easel pins was a piece of cake.

    This all worked fine for my first tests. I then wanted to use a mask of a different density to see what effect this would have. I now had to untape the original negative from the first mask and then retape the second mask in place. This works but is not the best solution possible. I next wanted to add a highlight mask to my process. Now I had a problem. If I removed my negative from my carrier to change the mask then it would be virtually impossible to replace the negative carrier in the exact same position and be able to expose the paper again. Also I would need to do some struggling to remove the tape from the original sandwich  in the darkroom with only safelight illumination and attach a second mask to my original negative. I actually did not do this with a true print in mind, but I did go through all of the steps with my enlarger set-up and the safelight only for illumination to see how difficult it would be. Lesson learned. I picked up the phone and called Alistair to inquire about buying a registration carrier.


Registration ANR Carrier:


    You can easily see that this specially modified carrier has pins for the punched negatives. What you cannot see is that the carrier also has pins to align the carrier to one very specific location within my enlarger. (Saunders LPL 4500). This is to ensure that I can remove the carrier, change masks, re-insert the carrier and still have the image projected to the exact same location on the easel. I tested this function with only my safelight on and I was quite surprised by the result. I actually can remove the carrier, change the mask and print another exposure with success. My final projected image stays aligned and the print looks like it should. I guess I was expecting to see two images, slightly out of alignment in the final image. Lesson learned and accepted. Alistair makes different carriers for different enlargers. You may want to contact him.

Another picture of the carrier with film sandwich:


Clear film in Glassless Carrier:


    The above is the carrier I  purchased from Alistair and use today. I find it much easier to use a glassless carrier as I do not have to keep the dust off of the glass. I asked Alistair about the tension of the film (popping with lamp heat) and his opinion was that a glass carrier worked fine. He told me that others such as Howard Bond insist on using glass carriers but Alistair himself uses a glassless carrier. I have become a Alistair convert and as such use a glassless carrier. I have to experience any problem with negative popping and going out of focus but of course your mileage may vary.

Hardware conclusion:

    This is the wrap up of the hardware section of the review. I did however want to tell you about the things I have discovered along the way. the first is that having the hardware alone does not ensure that you can successfully make good masks. Of course if I can do this then so should you be able to figure it out. I thought that I would need a time such that 1/10th of a second would be important for exposing masks. this was not the case. With the diffusion top on the registration easel I am able to expose the film for a few seconds and obtain very good masks. I probably could have done this with my GraLab 300 timer. I also discover that mounting the film on the little pins in complete darkness is a challenge like other activities of this nature. I am getting better at this , just like the first time you try to load a metal 35mm developing reel in the darkness. Patience and good music help.

    I was also fortunate in already owning a Stouffer's 4x5 test negative. I used this in the beginning when I was trying to learn how to expose and develop for a good unsharp mask. During the first steps I did the stupid thing of punching the mask film (in total darkness) and then mounting it over top of my Stouffers negative on the three punch easel. This also gave me practice placing the negatives on the little pins. I then did exposure tests. Until my light bulb went on I was getting completely black exposed test masks. Think about it and you will figure out why.

    I am now wondering if not a two hole punch would be a better choice. The punch requires a good amount of hand pressure to put the three holes in the film Also my holes do not always occur on the proper edge of the film. sometimes I get the alignment wrong on the left reference edge of the punch and end up with holes going over the edge of my negatives. I mucked up two original negatives this way and now have difficulty using them with masking negatives. I suggest that you practice punching junk negatives to get to learn your punch well before subjecting a good negative to it.

    I began by using FP4+ as my masking film. This works very good but needs total darkness. I have been able to get Ilfrod Ortho to work for allof my needs so far with the added benefit of being able to keep the safelight on. Much easier to do and I recommend that you try this first with Ortho film before deciding if you need to do everything in total darkness.

    The ANR glass carrier is very well made but way too much trouble keeping the dust off the surfaces. In my area perhaps the air is too dry and static has a great deal to do with this. Your mileage, as they commonly say, may vary in comparison to mine.



The Process

Making of the actual mask:

    Well what good would an article like this be without helping you to begin to make masks. So here we are about to learn how to make a mask. I am going to help you make a faint image mask for unsharp masking. The more advance techniques like highlight masking or fog masking are still in my learning curve. I just want to show you how easy it really is to make a mask.

    There is much on the internet in regards to masking that could help you. At the end I will provide some information that you can search on to learn more but for now I will show you what I have done. As I stated earlier I first tried this with FP4+ film from Ilford. The film works well but had two aspects which I did not relish. The first was that this film was too fast for my liking. Exposure times needed to be short and it was quite easy to have different masks produced by small changes in exposure times. I wanted a film that has more latitude in the exposure time without having such a quick effect on the final mask. I also did not want to work in total darkness if I did not have anything to gain (quality of the mask) from doing this. For these reasons I tried and was able to successfully use orthochromatic film.

    What I will present to you is a table of my mask densities for FP4+ and Ilford Ortho film. I will also show you development times and the effect that this has on the overall results of your masks. I am not going to show graphs because in this case I do not believe that graphs will tell you any more than the tables can provide. What I believe you are looking for in an unsharp mask (on average) is a negative with a density range of approximately 0.25 to 0.55 depending on the original negative you are working with. In plain English this is just a piece of film with a very faint image of your negative on it. Do not get tied down to the mechanics and measuring too much because masking is more of an artistic control that a definitive science. Trust me, a proper faint image will bring forward a unsharp effect and then you can tweak your process as you proceed. The only reason I am providing you with the numbers here is to show you that it is relatively easy to do and to get you started.



These paper grades are from the Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe PDF file

Paper Grade 00

Density range of 180 D.U.


Paper Grade0

Density range of 160 D.U.


Paper Grade 1

Density range of 130 D.U.

Paper Grade 2

Density range of 110 D.U.

Paper Grade 3

Density range of 90 D.U.

Paper Grade 4

Density range of 60 D.U.

Paper Grade 5

Density range of 40 D.U.


Mask density to add to get a negative to print on these paper grades.


Mask needed in Density Units (D.U.) where 0.30 is a reading of .30 above film base + fog of mask

 Negative Density  Without Mask  Paper Grade 1 Paper Grade 2 Paper Grade 3 Paper Grade 4 Paper Grade 5
  No Mask Mask Density Mask Density Mask Density Mask Density Mask Density
 ~ 160 - 180 Grade 00 paper  ~ 0.40 D.U.  ~ 0.60 D.U  ~ 0.80 D.U  ~ 1.10 D.U  ~ 1.30 D.U
 ~ 160 - 140 Grade 0 Paper  ~ 0.20 D.U  ~ 0.40 D.U  ~ 0.60 D.U  ~ 0.90 D.U  ~ 1.10 D.U
~ 120 - 140 Grade 1 Paper N/A  ~ 0.20 D.U ~ 0.40 D.U  ~ 0.70 D.U  ~ 0.90 D.U
 ~ 100 - 120 Grade 2 Paper N/A N/A  ~ 0.20 D.U  ~ 0.50 D.U  ~ 0.70 D.U
 ~ 0.80 - 100 Grade 3 Paper N/A N/A N/A  ~ 0.30 D.U  ~ 0.50 D.U
~ 0.60 - 0.80 Grade 4 Paper N/A N/A N/A N/A  ~ 0.30 D.U
 > 0.60 Grade 5 paper N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A


You need to subtract the film base + fog of the mask negative from your readings to obtain the negative density range of your actual mask when taking a reading on a densitometer. You also need to do this to get the actual range of densities for your original negative. For example what we might consider a Grade 2 printable negative with a density range of 1.10 with a film base plus fog of 0.17 D.U. would give us an actual high density reading of 1.27 density units. The above matrix is displaying  the range of usable densities for the negative mask depending on which paper grade you would like to print the sandwich on. You would first determine where the original negative prints properly (paper grade) and then slide across the table to the right to find a mask density that would permit you to print on a harder grade of paper. Your decision as to which grade of paper (progressively getting to the higher grades) to print on is based on your experience through doing the process as well as any artistic variation you are attempting to achieve. The total density readings of the negative mask and the original negative would then be displayed in the far left column. The film base + fog of the mask plus the original negative just uniformly increase the printing time of the sandwich in comparison to the printing time of the original negative.


The above two tables provide you with the theory about making a mask to match a certain negative. My actual experience is that the range of the masks that work is not anywhere near the high densities shown above. Experimenting with masking has led me to the conclusion that I have yet needed to create a mask that is over 0.60 density units (D.U.) that has worked successfully on a grade 5 paper. As well any mask below 0.30 D.U. that I have tested seems to have little impact on the outcome and does little if anything to improve the printing process. Probably the high values shown above are a combination of Ilford's optimistic values in conjunction with my color head being unable to print a paper grade of 00 properly due to the lack of yellow in the light beam.

Very Important:

Keep in mind that your results will vary in comparison to mine. None of the above is written in stone and I am just trying to help you understand the practical side of the equation. In general a negative that you have which prints properly on a very low paper grade (i.e. Paper 0 to Paper 1) may be a very good candidate for unsharp masking. If you negatives typically print on Grade 3 or higher  paper, then you may find making an unsharp mask to be a bit more challenging. In general remember that a longer development time for the original negative will increase the contrast and thus require the sandwich negative to be printed on a softer grade of paper. A negative that prints on a softer grade of paper is easier to work with for masking but you should understand the whole exposure/development process (i.e the Zone System concept) before altering your development times. Of course a bit of experimenting with an unimportant negative to see how it works with masking is also a good thing in my books.

I would expect that most of us will be aiming for creating masks in the 0.35 to 0.65 density unit range. I also expect that we will be working with negatives that print on paper grades from 0 to 2 with the most success. I am going to go over this again in a more narrative method. so if you are comfortable with the previous then you may want to skip this next section.



How to match Masks to Negatives:

You first need to have some idea about the negative range of your original negative. The simplest way to determine this is to print the negative as best as you can without dodging or burning and see what paper grade works the best. As a very rough rule of thumb you can conclude that if you are printing on a grade 00 or grade 0 paper then you probably have a negative with a density range somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.50 D.U. to 1.30 D.U. With this information you should be able to make a mask somewhere in the density range of ~30 to 60 D.U. and print the entire sandwich (original negative + mask) on a grade 3 to grade 5 paper depending on the mask and the desired effect you are after.

If you original negative is printing on a grade 1 paper then you can also use a mask in the ~30 to 40 D.U. range and print on a grade 4 or even grade 5 paper. You may even manage to push the mask up to a 50 D.U. range and still be able to print the combination.  The important part is not to have such a high density mask that it makes the density range too small for the total sandwich of masking negative and the original. I doubt very much that you would like the result.

If you are presently printing on a grade 2 or perhaps 2 1/2 paper you are now entering into the area where you need to be more consistent. Within this range the mask becomes important that you get it dense enough to have the desired effect but not so dense that it flattens the density range of the original + mask too much. This requires a mask in the density range of ~35 D.U. and not much higher. You will also need to print this at a grade 4 /12 to grade 5 paper. Make sure that if you are using a dichroic color head that you are able to print on this hard of a paper grade properly.

My Actual Data:

I am going to provide you with some actual data from my testing so that you may see what I have discovered. This is only for helping you to understand the practical aspects of the process and I can almost assure you that my exact procedure will not give you the exact same results. What it will do however is maybe show you where you need to be tweaking your procedure to get the results you want.

My data for mask creation :

I use  a  Nikkor 150 mm lens to both make my masks and print my sandwiches. Any lens will work so use what you own.

I like to stay within the f stops  from f/11 to f/45 and only change them if my mask print time gets too short to manage

I use an empty 35mm carrier in my 4x5 Saunders  to confine light area (bellows fully compressed)

I have a light attenuator always engaged (to reduce light output) and do not use any filtering on the color head

I mostly use f/32 and varied the time to adjust my exposure for most of my masks.

I always use the diffusion top on my masking easel which diffuse the light but more importantly provides a longer exposure time

I contact printed a 21- Step Stouffer's 4x5 test negative on my masking film of choice to learn how the densities would come out.

I read the densities  from #1 (clear on Stouffer wedge) to # 10 (ten steps up the wedge) if it goes higher than #10  my mask is usually too dense

I started by using FP4+ developed in ID-11 stock @ 20 C to learn how this would turn out even before I had a masking punch and easel

I converted to Ilford Ortho film because it is easier to do with the safelight on and I can get the same results in my masks


The most important discovery I made was not to use the exposure time for mask control but rather development time. Both are important but with an Ortho film I discovered that the contrast would quickly increase if I went to a full development time. I struggled with the process at first but once I made my discovery I am now able to make consistent masks of the proper density ranges. The other discovery is that Ilford's Ortho (and I suspect other Ortho film) has a very, very low film base + fog factor. This is probably a very good thing when using the film for a mask.

I was able to get very good masks from FP4+ by exposing a f/32 for 2 seconds and developing in ID11 for 1 1/2 minutes. This is much too short of a developing time for my comfort range to produce consistent results so I moved on.

Here are some of the results I obtained by controlling the development time, exposure and dilution ratio.

Sheet #8 is Ilford Ortho and sheet #9 is FP4+ both developed in ID-11 stock solution.

Sheet 19 to Sheet 22 are all Ilford Ortho developed in ID-11 or  HC-110 solution as a one-shot.


                                        sheet # 8          sheet # 9                sheet # 19               sheet # 20        Sheet # 21            Sheet # 22

Density    #1                    1.03                   1.16                           .60                        .38                    .34                       .46

Density    #2                    0.79                     .97                           .48                        .29                    .25                       .36

Density    #3                    0.58                     .82                           .37                        .22                    .18                       .26

Density    #4                    0.42                     .68                           .28                        .15                    .12                       .18

Density    #5                    0.30                     .55                           .22                        .11                    .08                       .13

Density    #6                    0.20                     .43                           .15                        .07                    .05                       .09

Density    #7                    0.14                     .34                           .11                        .05                    .03                       .06

Density    #8                    0.10                     .25                          .07                         .03                    .02                       .04   

Density    #9                    0.08                     .18                          .05                        .03                     n/a                        n/a

Density    #10                  0.06                     .13                           n/a                        n/a                     n/a                        n/a

Film base + fog               0.05                      0.06                      0.03                      0.02                   0.01                     0.02


Note the following development and exposure information is based upon how high my enlarger head was from the baseboard easel. Your results will be different if you use my times.

                        Exposure /secs        F /stop        Developer            Developer time        Temp.        Agitation

Sheet #8                 8 s                    f /32            ID-11 (stock)        8 minutes               20 C        Unidrum (continuous)

Sheet #9                 2 s                    f /45            ID-11 (stock)        8 minutes               20 C        Unidrum (continuous)

Sheet #19               2 s                    f /32            ID-11 (stock)        2 1/2 minutes         20 C        Unidrum (continuous)

Sheet #20               2 s                    f /32            ID-11 (stock)        1 1/2minutes          20 C        Unidrum (continuous)

Sheet #21               2 s                    f /32            HC - 110              2 1/2minutes          20 C        Unidrum (continuous)

Sheet #22               2 s                    f /32            HC - 110              3 1/2minutes          20 C        Unidrum (continuous)


HC -110 diluted 500ml water to 5 ml of HC - 110 syrup. (North American)

Sheet 8 was exposed at F/32 for 8 seconds. Sheet 9 was exposed at F/45 for 2 seconds. Both were normally developed for the full recommended time of 8 minutes. Neither negatives were of any use as an unsharp mask as the density range was too great. The first sheet had far too much density range  and the jumps from step to step where to significant while the second sheet also has far too great of a density range and could almost be referred to as a poor quality dupe.

What I discovered was that it was not as critical to control the exposure time as it was to control the developing time while keeping all other things constant in the testing cycle. By controlling the developing time I was able to achieve my desired masks. I started out making headway with FP4+ film in ID11 and then switched to Ilford Ortho film. Through each success progression of exposing two sheets and developing one first, I was able to narrow down the variable until I got a very usable mask. I then asked myself if I should do like I have read and try to use Dektol as the developer? An old package of Dektol I had kept had directions for dilutions for both paper and film. The directions indicated that Dektol should be diluted to 1/2 the ratio for film as paper (more water for film). I then asked myself why I would use a developer that was so active to tame the contrast of my masks down? The answer for me is that I would not use Dektol as I did not see any advantage to using this developer.

Perhaps somebody else would like to take on the task of testing Dektol to determine if there is a real benefit to this developer in this situation?

I did however want to start using my normal developer which is HC-110. So that is what I did. I switched form ID11 to HC-110 and started to use the dilution of 500ml of water to 5ml of HC-110 syrup. With this dilution I was able to get the results I wanted if I developed for a time of 2 1/2 minutes to 3 1/2 minutes depending on the density range I wanted. The advantage is that I now am using a one-shot with consistent, repeatable results and not having to keep another developer in the darkroom. I am sure that any developer can be made to work if you have the patience to sort things out. The key is to adjust the development time to control the contrast range of the mask.

As a side point of interest I noticed that Ilford Ortho film has a very clear base after development which I think is good for masking negatives.

As you can see from the above I have achieved all that I was seeking. I am using an orthochromatic film, my standard developer (HC-110), a reasonable exposure time and a easy to maintain development time. Most importantly I wanted to get into the mask density range of 35 to 50 density units with consistency.

In concluding this article I want to tell you about other masking techniques that you can use to improve your photos. I will be brief in my descriptions so that you may search out other sources. These are the different types of  masks that I know of and that you can create.

Contrast Reduction Mask:

This mask is commonly referred to as CRM mask and is self explanatory.  The area that you need to be careful about is reducing the contrast so much that the print may start to appear too flat.

Shadow Contrast Increase Mask:

This is the sometime confused with the CRM mask. This is a different  mask than the CRM one and was named (to the best of knowledge)  by Dennis McNutt. When you have a negative that is not  exhibiting a sufficient amount of contrast in the shadow areas then you probably may want to experiment with a mask like this. The advantage of this mask is that you may alter the overall contrast of  a specific range of densities in the print with very fine control of those specific areas and have it be repeatable with accuracy. If you were to attempt to dodge and/or burn these areas you maybe struggling to avoid the halo effect as well as find it quite difficult to obtain repeatable prints each and every time with masking.

Highlight Mask:

I would call this mask another form of the SCIM mask. The difference is that it is designed to control or alter the contrast in the highlight areas of a print. Creating both this mask and the SCIM mask is a two step process.

Fog Mask:

Briefly I understand that this mask is used to control the fogging of the paper in specific areas. As a printer you may already under certain circumstances using paper fogging or what is more commonly termed as flashing to control the overall contrast of the final print. With a fog mask you should be able to better control your flashing to area specific goals. I have not yet made or attempted to use this mask.

The Finale:

My experience with these mask is very limited and could only be properly classified as a beginners assessment. Hopefully I will continue to learn more as I use masking during some of my printing sessions. The one aspect that I have learned and discovered from attempting these masks is the fact that a negative registration carrier  is a must. To properly use these masking techniques you may have to remove the original and add to it or completely replace it with a mask. In order to accomplish this fact you need to be able to properly re-insert the carrier at the exact same position as before and this is where a registration carrier system comes into play. The Inglis system works very well for my needs.


Helpful  Links:

Radeka Masking System:   http://www.maskingkits.com/maskingexamples.htm

Unsharp Masking Page   http://www.tech-diy.com/UnsharpMasks.htm

Masking 101    http://www.rit.edu/~rckpph/faq/20.03.html

Unsharp Mask PDF file   http://www.ktphotonics.co.uk/pdf/UnsharpMasking.pdf

Registration Pins       http://www.billowsprotocol.co.uk/pin_tabs.htm

Masking Developer    http://members.aol.com/fotodave/Articles/LC-1.html

Generial Tutorial on Unsharp Masking: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/unsharp-mask.htm


Contact information for Alistair Inglis

Alistair Inglis  @  604-266-0260
4987 Dunbar Street
Vancouver B.C
Canada V6N 1V4

If you wish to purchase a pin register punch and /or unsharp masking equipment or perhaps just  talk with Alistair Inglis you may contact him by phone at the number listed above. He also uses the same telephone number to receive faxes. I  highly recommend that if you do have questions about the masking kits you should contact Alistair for he is a wonderful gentleman who is both patient, knowledgeable and just a pure joy to talk about photography with. During our phone conversations when I was purchasing my equipment and learning the process I have found Alistair to be warm and friendly gentleman and always quite helpful with his insights. He is also a large format photographer and perhaps you will discover the opportunity to swap a story or two during your conversations on masking techniques (he was good enough to tell me about his recent Red Dot Artar acquisition). Alistair has sold over 100 of these masking kits in both North America as well as Europe to a variety of photographers including Howard Bond, John Sexton and The Ansel Adams Photographic Workshops. The system described in this article is also demonstrated at masking workshops presented by Howard Bond which some of you may have already attended. Perhaps you may be lucky enough to have the March/April copy of View Camera magazine which has an article on Alistair's masking sets. If not  then I am confident that Alistair can answer your questions or at least point you in the right direction for any assistance that you might request. I can also assure you that his experience with using masking techniques far outweigh mine but I also would be willing to help you get started.. Best of luck with your entrance into the world of Unsharp masking.

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