View Full Version : masking

Ben Calwell
21-Oct-2005, 07:56
I just visited Lynn Radeka's web site (www.radekaphotography.com), where there is a great deal of information about various masks used in black and white printing. His photographs, as viewed on my monitor, are beautiful. I'm wondering -- how many of you who are still doing darkroom work use masks for contrast reduction, enhancement, etc.?
It seems like an awful lot of fuss to me, not the mention the cost of pin registration systems, lith film, etc.
Are those of us who are not using masks not getting the most out of our negatives? Did Saint Ansel use masks? Can great prints be made without having to do a lot of cutting, pasting, aligning, pinning, etc?
Just when you think you have a great print for the bathroom wall, along comes another method that makes you question whether it's really that wonderful.

Brian Ellis
21-Oct-2005, 08:39
If you become interested in masking and want a pin registration system, let me know. I have a Condit system (punch and pin frame) that I used to occasionally use for unsharp masking and would be happy to get rid of it for a modest price . I think it's fair to say that Condit was considered to be the Rolls Royce of this type equipment.

You don't need to use lith film, T Max 100 will work fine, probably other types of film as well. There are several systems for making unsharp masks. Some (e.g. Howard Bond's) are more trouble than others (e.g. John Sexton's). My only experience with darkroom masking is with unsharp masks. They made a subtle but noticeable improvement in some prints.

I don't remember reading that Ansel Adams used masks but maybe he did and I just missed it or have forgotten. I looked in the index to his book "The Print" and didn't see any mention of masks.

Neal Wydra
21-Oct-2005, 08:56
Dear Ben,

Just for fun, try it once. Don't fret about getting the perfect density and just align it as best you can. A single mask is not hard to make and align (at least for this purpose) as long as it's not too dense. Try it on a 35mm or MF negative with a 4x5 sheet of TMX.

21-Oct-2005, 09:06
Thanks for pointing me to Lynn Redaka's web site. Magnificant images. I remember seeing his picture in an issue of B&W Magazine, but had no idea of the quality (and volume) of his work.

Ben Calwell
21-Oct-2005, 09:11
Thanks, fellows -- I guess what I'm asking is, in your opinion, does every negative need a mask to produce the best possible print? Radeka has masks for shadow contrast, highlight contrast, contrast reducation and one that tells you the states and their capitols.

Ed Richards
21-Oct-2005, 09:32
There is a good article on masks for LF printing in Vol 26, No. 4, Photo techniques.

Oren Grad
21-Oct-2005, 10:14
I guess what I'm asking is, in your opinion, does every negative need a mask to produce the best possible print?

In my opinion, no.

N Dhananjay
21-Oct-2005, 10:19
Every negative certainly does not need masking. In fact, it is easy to start making masks because you can do it, not because the print needs it. I suspect that a lot depends on the kind of work you do - for instance, if it is documenting the landscape under difficult lighting conditions and trying to coax a print out of the resulting negatives, maybe you will use the techniques more often than someone who is using the landscape as a stimulus to explore issues of art. Probably the single most useful mask (and easiest to make - no need for pin registration) is a dodge/burn mask. You can use tracing paper and pencil to make a mask for dodging specific areas in the negative. If you want to get more fancy, you can try using something like Rubylith. While it is not the same thing as contrast masks, SCIM masks, highlight masks and shadow masks, it will allow you to make expressive prints most of the time by letting you make paper contrast choices based on local contrast rather than overall contrast. Cheers, DJ

Eric Biggerstaff
21-Oct-2005, 10:30
I use Dodge / Burn masking very often and it is easy, doesn't require any pin registration, can use either a computer to create the masks or a simple pencil the mark the areas you want to dodge and then an Exacto knife to cut holes in the mask for areas you want to burn. You will need to make a negative carrier which will take all of 10 minutes and about 10 bucks.

I like it as once you dial in the mask, then the printing becomes repeatable. I still use a little bleach but it is now rare.

Alan Ross is the guru on this type of masking and articles he wrote can be found at View Camera. Or contact Alan at www.alanrossphotography.com.

Have fun!

Kevin M Bourque
21-Oct-2005, 11:58
Howard Bond is a major proponent of unsharp masking, and he says all his old negs look better printed with an USM.

I saw a bunch of his prints when I took his darkroom workshop (recommended, by the way....nice guy and very knowledgeable). Sometimes the effect was just too much....I don't agree that all pics look better that way.

Like Neal said, you can align a mask by eye to see if you like it.

Eric Woodbury
21-Oct-2005, 12:14
I've been printing for 30 years and only recently tried masking. Certainly, you can print without. IMHO if you make every print with masks, then your prints take on a phony look: over manipulated. Some like this, I don't. The simple unsharp mask is very handy sometimes, and it is easy to do without a punch or alignment tools. Do it by eye. Lots of people do. The Arista ortho lith film is good for this and cheap.

The other mask I like is just putting a piece of acetate over the neg and doing fine, repeatable dodging with light pencil drawing on the acetate. Most convenient and more accurate than a wire and cutout.