View Full Version : Split Filter printing

Dan Jolicoeur
15-Jul-2005, 07:06
I have done very little split filter printing until recently, and have found the results very rewarding. I remember when I started in the dark room, only 4-5 years ago. My instructor gave us a demonstration on split filter printing. One of the other students had a negative of a grave stone in the shape of a cross lying down, with a large contrast. When she was done helping him with the print the lichen and other moss on the stone was just amazing along with the highlights of the stone. In order to burn and dodge this print I don’t think it could have been done with the same out come? She also made a comment at the time that most landscapes would benefit from split filter printing, “not just a way to save that thin negative”. Anyhow I was wondering how many of you in fact do this regularly with high contrast prints, and I do not mean digitally. I compared a print that I just did with no filters, and then did the same one with a #5 filter, then again with a #0 filter. Wow the print reveled with very little dodging, and no burning at all. I was just amazed with the advantages of this technique, because I never seriously played around with it before. Obviously I have a lot to learn to master the fine craftsmanship it takes to be a better than average printer……Second part of the question; I have boxes of 100 sheet Kodak RC paper that was half price and still fresh. When I bought it they had one box of Ilford multigrade IV. I tried that the other day just to see if there was a difference between RC papers. I was very amazed with the Ilford paper. I hate do go out and buy paper when I have 400 sheets plus now, but I think it is time to try some Ilford multigrade Fiber base in 11x14? Unless someone can convince me of another VC paper to try for enlarging, or is this a personal preference type of question? Will the print look better or noticeably different with fiber base, rather than RC? I would appreciate any comments.

15-Jul-2005, 07:40
You answered your own question about the papers. I feel that fiber will always look better than RC. Other types of fiber paper may give you a different "look", but the Ilford paper is a good choice, and you like the results.

Tom Westbrook
15-Jul-2005, 08:20
I've tried split filter printing with a few prints and have found the effect (on polymax fiber paper, at least) for most negatives yield the same results as finding the right single filter value, assuming you have a variable contrast head. Of course, if you are using the VC filter sets, split-filter printing can be a way to get those intermediate grades you don't have filters for but you pay with all the fiddling around changing filters.

As for papers, it is a personal thing, but don't use a material you don't like. Just sell the Kodak you have and give Multigrade a whirl and see how it performs for you. I like fiber better than RC, but I think that could be due more to how if feels than how it looks. I assume you know that fiber will probably last longer given careful processing.

See this free article (http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/ktphotonics/pdf/BasicSplitGradePrinting.pdf) from the book Way Beyond Monochrome that has some interesting info on split-filtering.

Neal Wydra
15-Jul-2005, 08:28
Dear Dan,

May I suggest that you use your present inventory of RC paper to explore and practice b&w printing? Kodak RC paper is a high quality consistent product that is easy and fast to work with. You can actively try burning areas with different contrasts in an effort to see how split filter printing works. You can hone your dodging and burning techniques and practice determining the best overally contrast for various prints. You can do all this without spending any more money on paper. Trust me, 400 sheets will not last long. :>)

Dan Jolicoeur
15-Jul-2005, 09:01
Neal, I totally agree with you. Yes I will still use this paper for general all around paper. I should have clarified it a little more. I was thinking more of the occasional keeper that I would like to hang on my wall. The paper I have is all 8x10, and I would like to use at least 11x14 for these prints that I invest in framing. For this reason only I was wondering if it would be worth my effort of buying FB, or stay with the RC? Also taking in consideration that FB is supposed to last longer? I would like to leave something personal to leave behind for my wife and kids when I am no longer here. Also starts to get my feet wet with the fb paper at the same time? Those are the things I am wondering about. Is FB all that much better than RC? Yes I have read all the archival reasons why to go to FB, but wonder if it is that much of a difference for alot more work.

Mike Butler
15-Jul-2005, 10:00

I think the reason you like Ilford RC so much is because it is the one RC, IMO, that comes closest to the look of fiber. (I'm referring to the pearl surface.) The average person would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a selenium-toned Ilford RC Portfolio (double-weight) print and a glossy Ilford fiber print that has been air-dried. (Once it's matted, framed, and on the wall.) And I'm sure the toned RC print would last many years in a home environment.

Having said that, though, fiber does reveal more depth in the highlights and shadows and isn't all that much more trouble once you get used to it.

Happy printing,


M Brian Mills
15-Jul-2005, 10:30
You mention that fiber lasts longer than RC and this is one of those situations that is debated over and over again, but how long are you going to live? An RC print will outlast you and me and everyone else who is reading this.

If longevity is the issue, then work on making photographic etched plates and use etching inks, a printing press, and cotton rag paper. Those prints will last upwards of 1000 years and quite easily will make it 700 (which is about 4 or more times longer than a fiber print).

Fiber allows for a different look, however. I honestly think that the RC versus fiber question is for the individual. I prefer RC in most cases and love the look of RC glossy prints because that shine is so incredible!

Ilford...amazing. Fabulous paper! I agree that you should still experiment with the Kodak. That is the fun stuff that keeps us alive--me thinks.

Split filter printing. I have found that the best option is to avoid split filter printing and the way that I do that is to initially over-expose your negatives and then under-develop them. Most film is better off if you shoot it at half the speed (expose ISO 100 film at ISO 50 aperture/shutter speed) and then decrease the processing by about 20%--once again, my opinion. But I feel it is worth testing.

Dan Jolicoeur
15-Jul-2005, 11:30
I didn't mention that fiber last longer for I do not know. What I said was that I have read the archival reasons of using fiber based, and quote "wonder if there is that much of a difference."
I had two questions for one such as use of materials I should have known was going to be a personal opinion, and should not have mentioned it. BUT, I have never used FB so I do not know how one would look compared to the other. Personally I like the glossy look of an RC print. I do not know how long it will last, but hopefully a long time? The second part of the question was just a kind of a sensuous of how many people did split filter printing. I found it to be a very nice technique that does not take but a few minutes longer once you get use to it. I also think that that on high contrast prints it is a technique that should be mastered as a B&W printer IMHO.

MacGregor Anderson
15-Jul-2005, 11:43
I've only been printing seriously in my home darkroom for two years. I took classes in high school, but then took a 15 year break from the darkroom. So I'm still very much a beginner.

I started split grade printing about eight months ago. It has improved my printing a great deal.

From what I've read, you can achieve the same results using a single filter approach, with the exception of being able to dial in exact contrast levels between half grades. Many enlargers will even allow that.

However, I find the process of arriving at the best initial exposure much easier with split grade printing. Something about how my head works, I guess. With the traditional approach, I always felt like there were too many variables at play. I spent a lot of time going back and forth, never really nailing down one aspect of exposure time or filter grade so I could then nail down the next. Probably a problem with my technique, but that's my experience.

There are drawbacks to the approach. Primarily the fiddling with the enlarger between exposures. I haven't noticed any drop in sharpness, but no good can come of double exposures with manual adjustments to the enlarger between them.

Where split grade printing really shines is in burning and dodging. Even if I were to revert to the traditional technique of finding a single filter factor and exposure time, I'd still burn and dodge using different filters than the primary exposure. I've managed to reduce or eliminate those nasty sharp transitions that leave horizon lines looking unnatural.

For me, split filter printing is the easiest way to get to a good print quickly. It has helped me control my printing more precisely. And understand what I'm doing.

The Apug.org forums have a lot of info on this if you want to read more about it.


Brian Ellis
15-Jul-2005, 12:37
The term "split filter printing" can be used in two different ways and discussions of its merits occasionally lead to heated arguments because different people use the term differently. It's common practice with VC papers to make the overall print at one contrast and then to burn specific areas using a different filter or head setting than was used for the basic exposure. That's a very useful technique and the ability to do that is IMHO the principal benefit of using VC paper. Some people refer to that practice as "split filter printing."

Then there's the entirely different practice of making two overall exposures at two different contrasts, one low contrast exposure and one high contrast exposure. From a technical standpoint printing that way accomplishes nothing that couldn't have been accomplished with a single exposure, as Phil Davis demonstrated in his 1994 article in Photo Techniques magazine. But some people find it more intuitive or for some other reason just like to print that way, which is fine, whatever works etc. etc.

Dan Jolicoeur
15-Jul-2005, 21:02
Mac, I would have to agree with you as you say you; “ I find the process of arriving at the best initial exposure much easier with split grade printing” Basically with four sheets of paper you can nail down the two exposure times and have at least one print with which will be very close to a final dodge and burn. I myself can’t do this with a single filter technique. Yes you maybe able to do it with a single filter, but I also find it takes longer, and lot harder IMHO.

Paul Fitzgerald
15-Jul-2005, 21:57
Hi there,

"From a technical standpoint printing that way accomplishes nothing that couldn't have been accomplished with a single exposure, as Phil Davis demonstrated in his 1994 article in Photo Techniques magazine."

Really? I guess he forgot split diffusion, works well with portraits.

Just a thought.

MacGregor Anderson
15-Jul-2005, 22:33

I find the test sheets from the process useful for determining starting points in the dodging and burning. I have even made a third sheet, like the second, but keeping the 5 filter constant and stepping the 0 filter. For some scenes this gives you two good starting points for dodging and burning. Other scenes with smaller areas that need adjustment, it's not so helpful. Still, if you do the 0 test, find your exposure, then the 5 test on top of the 0 exposure, you've got a good starting reference for your 5 filter dodging/burning.

Regarding FB vs RC. I use FB. I've used RC, but I've decided I like the look of FB better, and I also hear it lasts longer.

Here's the problem. FB is a pain compared to RC. It curls badly when it dries. And from what I understand, if you don't wash it properly, it will last far worse than RC. If you are going to jump into FB, you need to be ready for it.

On the washing front, you can use an archival washer. I bought one that I like a lot, but only use it for stuff I really know I want to keep. It's time and water consuming. You can also use multiple tray washing as described here and there on the various forums and maybe the Ilford site? You can and should test a print here and there after the wash procedure you use to be sure you got all the nasty stuff out. If you don't, you'll wish you'd used RC, which washes easier.

To flatten, you can use an iron, or weights, or any of a number of innovative and creative approaches. Or you can buy a dry mount press. That's the route I took. They are expensive to ship, but if you find one used locally, and it's clean (be sure it's not filthy), you won't be out too much money.

Just buying some FB and treating it like you used to treat your RC, you'll be frustrated. With a bit of time and effort, you'll probably like FB much better. The way I see it, there is probably a good reason that the vast majority of fine art b/w is sold on FB and not RC.

Don't forget about toning. If you're into permanance, you'll also need to enter that discussion. Poisons and contradictions await there.

By the way, maybe not right now, but next time you're up for a challenge and a new tool, check out flashing. I had a landscape with some flowers in the extreme foreground, a bunch of desert soil leading to some rough cliffs in the mid ground, and far distant hills and a hazy sky beyond that. I just couldn't burn in those far hills at all. And I loved the rest of the shot. I learned to flash the paper and all of a sudden I had those hills with all their detail, and even a few clouds in the sky. It's the most rewarding print I've done. Haven't used it since, and hope not to need it too often, but if you find yourself trying to burn some area for a minute and a half with very little luck, check it out.

Lastly, remember the goal here is to produce a negative that will print perfectly on grade 2 paper with as little manipulation as possible. Or that's my goal. The extra tools and techniques are necessary but shouldn't become too much of a crutch.

Listen to me. I get a 4x5 a year ago and I already sound like an annoying know-it-all photographic philosopher.



16-Jul-2005, 13:34
There's one use of split contrast printing that makes sense: burning at a different contrast than the main exposure.

The other commonly cited use (getting a greater contrast range than would be possible with a individual filters) is fictional. If you see a difference, it's because you're filters aren't strong enough (they do fade over time).

I experimented with split filtration for a while, but realized i almost never needed to locally adjust contrast. so for me it was a waste of time.

If you do want to do it, forget about using a #0 and a #5 filter. It's much better to do additive filtration with a blue and green filter. You'll print much faster and get the maximum rang of the paper. A google search will point you to the best color gels to use.

Craig Wactor
18-Jul-2005, 15:26
actually I think the biggest advantage is *dodging* at different contrast grades. You can dodge out all of the low filter (0, 00) in your shadows, and keep a good black, but get all the detail from the negative. Dodging shadows in single filter printing leads to muddy gray shadows.

Gene Crumpler
18-Jul-2005, 18:51
I've tried split filtering (0 and 5) and can see no difference. Burning with different filters is a very useful technique.

I had some bad experience with Ilford MG RC paper and have only use FB for the last 10 years. Maybe I got a bad batch(s) of RC, but I had cracked emulsions, strange stains and problems dry mounting. RC looks like a digital print made on Canon Photo Pro. Too shiny!

Here is a tip, If you want a bit more gloss than air dried FB glossy, steam the print surface before spotting and mounting. There is a noticable difference.

If you really value your work, do it on FB paper. Speaking from 50+ years of B&W printing starting when all we had was FB!

There is no short cut to producing a fine print.