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chassis
22-Oct-2011, 10:37
I'm wondering what epiphany, technique or thought process has taken your enlarging/printing to a new level. For a long time I enjoyed creating a large number of images (35mm and 120), and got alot of satisfaction from processing film. My printing, however, was pretty utilitarian. It consisted of basic contact prints, and 1 out of 100 enlargements exceeded the "OK" level.

Now I am working with 4x5, which has helped my image taking (composition) process, and I'm trying to get more "wazoo" into my images before tripping the shutter. Processing film is very enjoyable for me with 4x5, as it has been in the past with smaller formats.

On to the improvements. Firstly, my printing has improved to my eyes because I now print with a VC filter-always. Experience, combined with postings on this site, has influenced me in this direction. Secondly, I am more patient when making work prints, or prints for gifts. This means putting more time into each print to get the right exposure and contrast. The result of these two adjustments has been better tonality and emotional impact in the final print.

What aspects of your printing journey have made noticeable improvements?

ROL
22-Oct-2011, 10:48
Exposure/Printing? –> The Zone System.

Image/Composing? –> Art/Drawing Classes.

(But I'm not saying I've ever attained any specific level ;) )

Brian Ellis
22-Oct-2011, 10:55
George deWolfe's five-day workshop at the Palm Beach Photographic Workshops on printing black and white digitally was a huge help for me. Only one other person signed up for the course so with just two students it was like have a private class for five days. I took four weeks worth of John Sexton's darkroom workshops and they were also a leap forward for darkroom printing and much of what I learned in them remains useful in printing digitally.

Vaughn
22-Oct-2011, 10:59
Looking at prints of master printers. Knowing what is possible helps a lot.

Looking at my own prints. Really looking.

Working slow. Back in my 16x20 silver print days (from 4x5), I would take 10 hours or so (single printing session) to make a print using perhaps 7 to 10 pieces of paper. A lot of time spent judging each print before moving on to the next piece of paper.

But I learned carbon printing without ever seeing a carbon print, which strangely enough helped me to find my own printing style. I was free to take it any direction without being influenced by what others have done with the process.

jp
22-Oct-2011, 11:01
Experience in the darkroom will help you understand what a tiny adjustment in contrast or exposure is going to look like. Over time you'll become more comfortable and then creative with the materials.

Upgrading to LF isnt' necessary of course, but it does make you want to get the best out of the better negative, and that's sometimes part of the reason for using LF over rollfilm. Upgrading to include LF has improved actual darkroom quality in one visible way for sure though; cleanliness. I never had to worry about dust handing film as rollfilm stays clean in the rolls and loaders, etc... Keeping the darkroom clean, lenses clean, work spaces clean is what separates good private darkrooms from grimy shared high school darkrooms.

I've found sticking with certain materials helps me get great results too. If you're buying something to try or because something was on sale, expect a variation in results if it's a different product than what you are accustomed to. Do change if you're not using compatible products, but don't just because the grass is greener on the other side. There may be different materials though that provide a certain look, and you should be willing to try them. I've tried a bunch of papers and settled on a couple.

Some inspiration is helpful too. Images on this site are creative inspiration, but don't show actual print quality. Go to some museums, galleries, shows, etc... See some of the historical favorites from the f64 and pictorialist famous dead guys. See some Karsh portraits, Find a gallery that's not entirely inkjet & c-prints.

RichardRitter
22-Oct-2011, 13:07
Contact prints. Which needs a bigger camera depending on the finished size print you want.

Kevin M Bourque
22-Oct-2011, 13:20
I attended a Howard Bond workshop. There's nothing like watching someone who knows what they're doing, and being able to ask questions.

kev curry
22-Oct-2011, 13:32
Reading ''Photographic Printing'' by Gene Nocon. Learning f/stop printing and buying a ''Stop clock Pro'' enlarging timer.

jnantz
22-Oct-2011, 13:36
printing things that aren't made by a camera ..
anything from flexible collodion with ink to plastic to melting wax on a slide, to ...

Sirius Glass
22-Oct-2011, 13:44
I had no problem with composing great photographs because my parents took me to all the art museums in Washington DC, Baltimore and New York many times when I was growing up. [Met the woman who was the little girl in http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg83/gg83-46681.html when she was in her sixties or seventies, but that is a story for later].

However to go to the next step, putting "pop" and sizzle into the print and handling challenging spotting and dodging I took a one on one all day class with Per Volquartz. It was worth much more than the money. I still go back to my notes to that class when I am in the darkroom. While Per has passed, one can still find highly skilled masters who are willing to teach one on one. When you take a class like that, forget about the cost, one day screwing up 11"x16" or 16"x20" paper is less than the cost of the class.

My only regret is that I was still working on incorporating what I had learned from Per so that I did not take another class with him. Those who knew him know what I am talking about.

Steve

AF-ULF
22-Oct-2011, 13:55
Print. A lot. Take chances. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Fill up the trash can. Experiment. Never be satisfied.

Mark Barendt
22-Oct-2011, 14:15
Practice.

Incident metering at the camera.

Beseler pm2l meter for the enlarger.

Practice is the most important piece.

What the two meters do for me is give me great reference points so when I make a change I can understand what I did.

Peter Gomena
22-Oct-2011, 14:21
Beyond the Zone System by Phil Davis. For the first time I understood the relationship between negative and paper. My printing was forever better after that.

Peter Gomena

matthew klos
22-Oct-2011, 14:26
Going step by step through a whole print with brian unwin. Nobody beats the brizz

Heroique
22-Oct-2011, 14:40
One might not remember every lesson that takes you to “the next level.”

That’s why I take notes about “lessons learned” – and even organize them into a journal.

Better, the lessons I write down (and therefore think about) often lead to additional lessons that may not have occurred to me.

ic-racer
22-Oct-2011, 14:53
Print. A lot. Take chances. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Fill up the trash can. Experiment. Never be satisfied.

Yes, all those things.

jeroldharter
22-Oct-2011, 15:37
Understanding BTZS and calibrating exposure and development so I can focus on composition and pre visualization.

F stop printing using an RH Designs timer and doing a proper dry down test.

Experimenting with split grade printing helped me get a better idea of what I could get out of a particular negative. I don't do it anymore but I learned a lot by trying it.

Settling on one film/developer and paper/developer.

Making a lot of mistakes. At this point, I am not sure what else I can screw up...

Oh, and a little bleaching here and there.

PViapiano
22-Oct-2011, 21:52
Sirius mentioned the great Per Volquartz...absolutely agree. Even if you didn't take a class with him, even one hour at lunch was a gift to be savored. Per was a wonderful mentor to me, as is Domenico Foschi and I've learned so much from them, not always in answers to my questions, but they allow you to find your own answers and that is the greatest gift.

Bob Carnie speaks at length about getting better over on the APUG forum somewhere. Try to find it...basically it's just doing and doing. Keep printing and printing...10,000 hours to mastery (I'd say the beginning of mastery...)

tgtaylor
23-Oct-2011, 05:40
Get the Fred Picker video from Calumet and follow it step by step.

Thomas

jeroldharter
23-Oct-2011, 06:36
Get the Fred Picker video from Calumet and follow it step by step.

Thomas

Fred Picker seems to elicit a lot of reactions from people. He was before my time. But I agree the video was very good. Of course practicing helps, but practicing with a purpose and knowledge helps a lot. I remember another post where people were listing good resources for information. Here is a list of resources currently available:

The Fred Picker video/DVD from Calumet
The Print by Ansel
Way Beyond Monochrome by Ralph Lambrecht
beyond the Zone System by Phil Davis
The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum
How (or Why?, I forget) Prints Work
The Basic Techniques of Photography Book 1 by Ansel Adams
Post Exposure by Ctein
The Master Printer's Notebook by Macleod
Finely Focused, a PDF book by Bruce Barlow
The DMAX newsletter available on DVD from The View Camera Store
The Zone VI Newsletter (I don't have those but heard they are worthwhile and available used)
The Toning Book by Tim Rudman

I have not done many workshops (4 days worth) but they are helpful both for the information that you learn, but also for the value of seeing how others work and think through a print.

Jim Fitzgerald
23-Oct-2011, 06:47
I have to say that taking a class with Per helped in many more ways than just the printing techniques I learned. He helped me understand the meaning of what I was trying to say. Building my cameras was a catalyst to work with contact prints and Azo. My printing and the passion for everything I was trying to say was unleashed when I took a workshop from my good friend Vaughn. My carbon transfer flood gates were opened and I have been printing non stop for years now. Giving the gift to others now is my real reward. It just gets better and better.

Jim Noel
23-Oct-2011, 08:14
I'm wondering what epiphany, technique or thought process has taken your enlarging/printing to a new level. For a long time I enjoyed creating a large number of images (35mm and 120), and got alot of satisfaction from processing film. My printing, however, was pretty utilitarian. It consisted of basic contact prints, and 1 out of 100 enlargements exceeded the "OK" level.

Now I am working with 4x5, which has helped my image taking (composition) process, and I'm trying to get more "wazoo" into my images before tripping the shutter. Processing film is very enjoyable for me with 4x5, as it has been in the past with smaller formats.

On to the improvements. Firstly, my printing has improved to my eyes because I now print with a VC filter-always. Experience, combined with postings on this site, has influenced me in this direction. Secondly, I am more patient when making work prints, or prints for gifts. This means putting more time into each print to get the right exposure and contrast. The result of these two adjustments has been better tonality and emotional impact in the final print.

What aspects of your printing journey have made noticeable improvements?

Obtain an original print by a photographer you admire, of a subject you like. Use it as a master against which to compare your prints. I did this about 50 years ago with an Ansel Adams print, they were far cheaper then, and it did wonders for my printing.

Andrew O'Neill
23-Oct-2011, 08:54
If you want to take your prints to another level, try printing with an unsharp mask.

Mark Sawyer
23-Oct-2011, 11:05
Learn to make good negatives. "Taking your printing to the next level" should really be read "taking your negatives to the next level".

Settle on materials and a technique, and really learn it. People are making wonderful prints in so many different ways that you can't point to one way and say "that's it!" Just pick one that seems right for you, and say "that's it for me."

And learn the very basics. Waaaaay too many photographers can't tell if a too-thin negative needed more exposure or more development.

Rick A
23-Oct-2011, 11:57
See the finished print in your mind before ever making the exposure. Use every trick in the book to get it there. If you come up short on tricks, study all the books that others have suggested, and take any courses and seminars you can. Challenge yourself and don't be timid, push yourself.

Sirius Glass
23-Oct-2011, 14:06
My negatives were beyond the next level and the level above that when I took Per's class. No matter which books I had read and tried, I could not get what I wanted out of the negative. He showed me how and he showed me to get the meaning of the negative into print. The last is something that cannot be learned from reading or seeing movies, one has to work with a master to learn.

Those who have been there understand; those who have not been there will say make more prints or read more books, but they will never understand until they have been taken there. It is way beyond some tricks or techniques ...

cyrus
23-Oct-2011, 14:54
Started using masks

Sirius Glass
23-Oct-2011, 15:37
Started using masks

Yes, Halloween is coming soon.

Tom J McDonald
23-Oct-2011, 15:39
Yes, Halloween is coming soon.

Har har.


I'm still stuck on level 1 with my printing.

Michael Clark
24-Oct-2011, 07:51
The first words Per Volguartz said to me were " Think about what you are doing before tripping the shutter". After that I tried to attend as many of his workshops I could.
Mike

RPippin
25-Oct-2011, 08:44
I have to second everything said about Per, I had the good fortune to do a one on one, week long workshop with him last year in November. My hope before going out to California was to unlearn all my bad habits in printing and relearn new proper habits. What I learned was to work within my existing workflow and pay more attention on the finished print before exposing the film. It was a huge confidence builder. Other workshops that were helpful were at Project Basho with Chuck Kelton, and with M&P in Pennsylvania. Get to know other printers and see what they are doing. You might find out your on the right track, just need some tweeking. As far as books, I've read just about everything listed by other posters, but one comes to mind that was the most useful. Get "The Elements of Black-and-White Printing, Going Beyond Darkroom Basics" by Carson Graves. You'll probably have to search Amazon for it, but well worth the effort.

kev curry
25-Oct-2011, 10:09
My negatives were beyond the next level and the level above that when I took Per's class. No matter which books I had read and tried, I could not get what I wanted out of the negative. He showed me how and he showed me to get the meaning of the negative into print. The last is something that cannot be learned from reading or seeing movies, one has to work with a master to learn.

Those who have been there understand; those who have not been there will say make more prints or read more books, but they will never understand until they have been taken there. It is way beyond some tricks or techniques ...

Are these otherworldly skills that you've leaned so mystical and esoteric that they're impossible to communicate with the use of written language?

It must be a great privilege to stand in the presence of one of your prints Sir Sirius...they truly must be beyond all belief!
You must start offering a programme of master printing workshops without delay!

Yours
Grasshopper.

atlcruiser
25-Oct-2011, 11:47
My printing is still a work in progress but I have gotten 10000000000% better in the past year.

The main help was to really set a schedule and get out shooting and in printing. I have one day a week dedicated to this now.

I took a workshop with M+P where i was told all of my prints suck and most of my negatives were underexposed and given a short course in how to go at it better.

I spent a week with M+P where i was told most of my prints suck and some of my negatives were underexposed and then I spent a week learning how to make them better. Really watching, asking questions and taking notes. That much time immersed in the darkroom with them was a life changing experience.

My prints went for a low end of "OK" to now where they dont really suck...some are actually good and I can now see why they are good or bad and I have some tools to work on them.

One thing I really took away from M+P was dedication to a film, process, paper etc.... They have their system down solid. It may not be the end product system for me or for anyone else but the dedication to learn 100% about 1 way of doing negatives/prints made a hell of an impression on me.

Another great thing I got from them was the time to look at their prints and really talk about them. Why it looks as it does printed? What they saw? What about it drew their attention? Those conversations have proved very vaulable.

Next year I want to expand and work with another printer a bit to get some different perspectives and try to take my prints to another step.

I have narrowed my scope considerably. I use only 1-2 films, 1-2 developers, 1 paper, all contact prints etc....

Merg Ross
25-Oct-2011, 13:01
Summing up, in no particular order, there are good points made in the foregoing posts.

Most important, in my opinion, is knowing what an excellent print looks like. This is not to be learned from book reproductions, monitor screens, or random exhibits of photography. There are some famous photographers who were/are mediocre printers. The fine print is not for everyone, but if you consider it to be the goal of your creative vision, one must learn what a fine print looks like. Where are they? In different places, sometimes exhibitions, or museum collections, or in the hands of the aforementioned teachers like Per, and hundreds of other individuals scattered around the world willing to share their expertise.

The fine print starts with a properly exposed and processed negative. To proceed otherwise will lead to frustration and never a fine print, only an acceptable print. I can not place enough emphasis on this aspect of the process, something that seems self-evident but not always followed. This, by the way, does not suggest the use of the Zone System per se, but rather a complete understanding of exposure and development.

Somewhat related to the previous, the process should be kept as simple as possible, preferably one film, one paper and perhaps a combination of developers. Often, too much time is spent chasing the silver bullet, when all that is needed is an understanding of what is possible with the materials at hand.

h2oman
25-Oct-2011, 15:16
I'll perhaps save others the time I had to spend thinking about M&P, M+P - I'm assuming you mean Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee?

atlcruiser
25-Oct-2011, 17:19
I'll perhaps save others the time I had to spend thinking about M&P, M+P - I'm assuming you mean Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee?

yep....I should have not been so lazy in my reply!

David Karp
25-Oct-2011, 17:55
I spent a week at a John Sexton workshop. The very next print I made was light years ahead of most of my prior prints, and substantially better than my very best. I have continued to improve with more time and practice in the darkroom.

Bill Burk
25-Oct-2011, 19:07
Merg, you left out the role of master/teacher. Was that deliberate?

Vaughn
25-Oct-2011, 19:36
Bill:


Summing up, in no particular order, there are good points made in the foregoing posts...one must learn what a fine print looks like. Where are they? In different places, sometimes exhibitions, or museum collections, or in the hands of the aforementioned teachers like Per, and hundreds of other individuals scattered around the world willing to share their expertise...

Bold is added...

Merg Ross
25-Oct-2011, 20:47
Merg, you left out the role of master/teacher. Was that deliberate?

Bill, not really. I did mention Per, who is praised by those fortunate to study and learn from him. In an edited earlier draft, I deleted a few fine printers that came to mind; Dick Garrod, John Sexton, Michael Smith, Morley Baer, Oliver Gagliani, and Don Worth, after realizing the folly in continuing with such a list. All of them were fine printers and teachers and, although some are no longer with us, they have set the bar high for those seeking "the next level".

All of which relates to the initial paragraph of my post.

Bill Burk
25-Oct-2011, 21:17
Ah, I thought you were talking about seeing the prints of the masters, and left out the part about talking with the masters.

zoneVIII
29-Oct-2011, 17:52
get a benchmark print, an original print by true master, take your print side by side, then you'll know where you stand now and what kind achievement in prints you chase

Doremus Scudder
30-Oct-2011, 04:37
I think Merg has it right when he emphasizes that a properly exposed and developed negative is indispensable to making a fine print. Exactly that is what catapulted my printing to a higher level years ago. I taught myself the Zone System using Adams "The Negative" and "The Print" as well as "The New Zone System Manual" by Minor White, Richard Zakia et al. I made Zone Rulers for all my films and development combinations and used them in the field for years. This helped immensely in visualizing what my meter told me. Simply having an adequately exposed negative to begin with really helped. The nuances of development and placement came later and gradually, but also steadily improved what I could get out of my negatives and onto the paper.

I'll also second knowing what a fine print looks like is crucial, with a caveat. Unless you are sensitive to the expressive potential of different shades of grey, and open to experiencing the illusion of luminance and brilliance that the relationships of these can evoke, then you will not even be able to recognize and appreciate what a fine print is. Here is where a sensitive guide can give one a better understanding of the use of tonality as expressive medium by simply pointing it out in reference to specifics.

For me, exploring the potentials of the printing process to the fullest with a negative or two, simply as an exercise, gave me a more comprehensive idea of what was possible and feasible with a print in terms of dodging and burning, contrast control, flashing, bleaching, toning, etc. After one acquires this, then identifying potentials in a negative (or the lack thereof) is much easier. Mastering the craft is the first step to "forgetting" it, and being able to use it as a means of expression.

Knowing what I am after (and what is possible) before the shutter is released is really critical for me. I don't mean just getting the subject brightness range recorded on the negative. Considering which tonalities go where expressively, how much separation I want where and coupling this with a thorough knowledge of what my materials can deliver. This knowledge comes with experience... if you are seeking it.

I find also that a willingness to be critical of not only your own prints but also the prints of others, even the "masters," in these regards is a healthy attitude. I have seen Adams prints that I would loved to have tried to print better, because I really thought I could have done a better job (for my taste, anyway). I don't find this to be hubris, rather an expression of my own vision and confidence (without which, I don't think one can really make a fine print). Conversely, I have seen prints by photographers I have never heard of before that humble me. When something in a print really smacks me over the head, I try my best to absorb it, figure it out, learn how it was done, add it to my toolbox so I can do that too.

For me, taking my printing to a higher level is an ongoing process.

Despite all the above, however, the most important aspects of a fine photograph lie not in the virtuosity of the print, but rather in the emotional content as transmitted by subject, treatment of the subject, composition, form, allusions, metaphors, and all the other myriad elements that make up artistic communication. Printing well is one of these elements too, but often in simply a clarifying way, enhancing and making more evident and approachable the other elements. For me, all the visualizing I do and all the printing choices I make are in the service of expressing something other than my printing skill. I am convinced that the most important aspect of photography is what you point your camera at.

I hope the above ramble adds something to the conversation here and doesn't come across as either too disjointed or too preachy.... I'll get off my soapbox now, it was fun processing my thoughts about this again here.

Best,

Doremus Scudder

Kimberly Anderson
30-Oct-2011, 06:12
Doremus, I love your post. I will read it again now.

Mark Barendt
30-Oct-2011, 07:07
For me, all the visualizing I do and all the printing choices I make are in the service of expressing something other than my printing skill. I am convinced that the most important aspect of photography is what you point your camera at.



I truly believe that too.

Interesting subjects, in interesting compositions, in interesting situations/light, evoking emotions, trump everything else.

Knowing what you want accomplish ahead of time makes really nice prints much easier.

Emil Schildt
30-Oct-2011, 07:40
Despite all the above, however, the most important aspects of a fine photograph lie not in the virtuosity of the print, but rather in the emotional content as transmitted by subject, treatment of the subject, composition, form, allusions, metaphors, and all the other myriad elements that make up artistic communication. Printing well is one of these elements too, but often in simply a clarifying way, enhancing and making more evident and approachable the other elements. For me, all the visualizing I do and all the printing choices I make are in the service of expressing something other than my printing skill. ...

yes!
thank you for this.

My "next level" was based on my mistakes. So in addition to all the true words about practice - practice - take classes with masters - look at master prints and so on, I'll put the word: curiosity. Willingness to "kill your darlings". Not to settle for "good enough"...

My bad printing technique made me make a lot of crappy prints - I could see that, but didn't know how to better my self (I have never been taught photography - totally self taught)..

But I am a curious person, so when I got these bad prints, I'd think to my self: what can I do to make this better?

And started to experiment. a lot...

I have seen "perfect" prints that leave me emty - and less than perfect ones that sing...

"the virtuosity of the print" might not be aiming to make the "perfect" print, with all the tones perfectly developed... It might also be to avoid them once in a while.. (?)

that said, I am in awe of my girlfriend.... She has this drive. To try and make the finest print she can - and patently print, and print and print. And now makes a fine printing, I can't do.....

But I might still be better in telling stories....

Michael Graves
30-Oct-2011, 07:51
Fred Picker's video on printing helped me a lot.

tgtaylor
30-Oct-2011, 09:03
I think Merg has it right when he emphasizes that a properly exposed and developed negative is indispensable to making a fine print.


At first thought having a "properly exposed and developed negative" seems self evident. But I wonder how true that really is. Consider, for example, Ansel Adam's Moonrise over Hernandez. Adam's himself complained how difficult the negative was to print and that in later years he even resorted to intensifying the foreground to make it easier to print. He also complained about the poor negative quality of Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Kaweah Gap and the difficulity of printing it. Yet both of those images are routinely included among his best.

Consider also Fred Picker's admonition that you "can't tell from the negative" and Brett Weston's complaint that the 6x6 negatives of his later period were "a bitch to print."

So how can you tell from looking at the negative? What do you look for?

Thomas

Merg Ross
30-Oct-2011, 10:11
Thank you, Doremus. As usual, a very thoughtful and articulate reply. I particularly like this:


............. Despite all the above, however, the most important aspects of a fine photograph lie not in the virtuosity of the print, but rather in the emotional content as transmitted by subject, treatment of the subject, composition, form, allusions, metaphors, and all the other myriad elements that make up artistic communication. Printing well is one of these elements too, but often in simply a clarifying way, enhancing and making more evident and approachable the other elements. For me, all the visualizing I do and all the printing choices I make are in the service of expressing something other than my printing skill. I am convinced that the most important aspect of photography is what you point your camera at.


Doremus Scudder

Ari
30-Oct-2011, 10:18
It took a few years before I figured out what I liked, and then having enough nerve to put it out there and say "This is what I do."

Shameless plagiarizing of my influences helped a lot in the first few years, too.

Kirk Gittings
30-Oct-2011, 10:29
Buy, borrow or steal a truly great print. Hang it on the wall next to your enlarger. Don't give up till you can make one like it.

Mark Barendt
30-Oct-2011, 11:17
At first thought having a "properly exposed and developed negative" seems self evident. But I wonder how true that really is. Consider, for example, Ansel Adam's Moonrise over Hernandez. Adam's himself complained how difficult the negative was to print and that in later years he even resorted to intensifying the foreground to make it easier to print. He also complained about the poor negative quality of Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Kaweah Gap and the difficulity of printing it. Yet both of those images are routinely included among his best.

Consider also Fred Picker's admonition that you "can't tell from the negative" and Brett Weston's complaint that the 6x6 negatives of his later period were "a bitch to print."

So how can you tell from looking at the negative? What do you look for?

Thomas

Content first for me.

I don't disagree with Picker in that if it's passed my content test, it still needs a test print.

For example I started developing my own film before I had a darkroom and started printing. At that pre-printing point in my journey I tried hard to make pretty negatives, much as if I were trying to make pretty trannies. After I started printing I realized that pretty negatives don't necessarily make for easy printing. Because of that, with a lot of my early negatives I'm in Weston's boat.

Bill Burk
30-Oct-2011, 18:35
I hope the above ramble adds something to the conversation here

Thanks Doremus, I think it adds quite a bit and belongs in a book.

Robbie Bedell
30-Oct-2011, 19:53
I am really enjoying this post. I have struggled with printing for a long time. I worked for newspapers for 25 years and the printing we did had to be fast and because of it I became very careless. They were never fine prints because they never had to be. But I wanted to make fine prints way before I ever was hired a a paper. I have been away from the news environment for more than ten years and I have to say that it has been a struggle to cast away my careless ways. But the biggest leap for me has been learning to 'split print.' That is using two or more contrast filters in the making of a single print. This has been an ongoing learning experience, but I am now making the best prints I have ever made and am seeing details that I never saw from negatives more than 30 years old. I went once to a Robert Capa exhibit in New York. Capa's negatives are said to be all over the map, which is no wonder from the shooting situations he was in. But the prints I saw were beautiful. There was ample detail in the shadows and in the highlights. The prints were just gorgeous. Obviously Robert Capa was not around to make them. It was not until I began to split print that I realized that whoever made the prints for that show must have used this technique. I wish I had known of it years ago. Robbie http://robbiebedell.photoshelter.com

Doremus Scudder
31-Oct-2011, 03:13
Thank you all for the positive comments and reactions! Glad to have contributed.

tg and Robbie,

I do agree, that great prints can be made from less-than-perfect negatives. That's why we spend time learning our craft and the tricks of the trade (and why this thread exists in the first place): to be able to coax a fine print from an unwilling negative. We all have a few of those, I'm sure. I can think on one of mine in particular that, even after I have all the testing for exposure, dodging, burning, etc. figured out, is so finicky that I'm lucky to get one "keeper" in four or five tries.

However, that is not our goal. My favorite negatives are the ones that I can just shine on the paper and voilŠ, fine print. These are few and far between, though. Most of the rest fall somewhere in the middle.

To address printing difficult negatives in a bit more detail: Here is where one needs to rely on his/her vision, experience, taste, acquired skills, and often, a bit of luck. To use an aforementioned example: Adams knew how to intensify locally, how to dodge and burn at a high level and many other contrast manipulations (perhaps bleaching too) in order to get "Moonrise" to work. I'm also sure he had more than enough negatives that were simply not worth trying to print, for one reason or another.

Being able to recognize the possible (which always grows with our acquisition of technique) is a function of our abilities and foresight. This was the gist of part of my above post. There are times in the field when I set up, meter and then take down again, knowing that there is just no use trying. There are often also "borderline" cases, where I'm pretty sure things won't work, but, "what the hell, it's just a sheet of film or two, I might as well try." Of these shots, I sometimes get one that I can work with and coax a print from (and, then there are the mistakes, which happen all too often, no matter how carefully I try (sigh) and which make for some hair-pulling printing sessions).
What helps me here is knowing when to quit and move on to more "low-hanging fruit."

To recap the point though, easy is the goal for me, and getting the negative right is the single biggest step in that direction for me.

Best,

Doremus Scudder

Michael E
31-Oct-2011, 03:23
For me, one of the keywords is "consistency". Everybody gets a great print every once in a while. Keeping up the quality is the difficult part.

Consistency also means that you can hang any number of prints and they work well together. It really helps to simplify your taking technique. One format, one lens, one film is one extreme, but the opposite extreme is far more difficult to print and present. If you want a homogeneous body of work, limit yourself.

After spending way too much time "polishing my virtuosity", I find myself concentrating on content much more than I used to. Find myself a theme, work in larger groups of photos, sometimes shoot with total disregard of lighting or compostion rules. I try to avoid thinking about the craft too much (after two photography degrees and more than 20 years of darkroom practice, to be fair). I like my prints much more than back when they were just pretty prints of pretty lit situations.

Michael

bob carnie
31-Oct-2011, 06:07
One thing about the perfect negative.
One persons ideal negative is another persons throwaway.
Defining the final print style will help in determining what negative is required and there are many standards to think about when making negs. People can argue this until the cows come in, but like anything there are many ways to get to the final result.
I have yet to see the perfect neg and a perfect print.

J. E. Brown
31-Oct-2011, 12:21
Being able to recognize the possible (which always grows with our acquisition of technique) is a function of our abilities and foresight. This was the gist of part of my above post. There are times in the field when I set up, meter and then take down again, knowing that there is just no use trying. There are often also "borderline" cases, where I'm pretty sure things won't work, but, "what the hell, it's just a sheet of film or two, I might as well try." Of these shots, I sometimes get one that I can work with and coax a print from (and, then there are the mistakes, which happen all too often, no matter how carefully I try (sigh) and which make for some hair-pulling printing sessions).
What helps me here is knowing when to quit and move on to more "low-hanging fruit."


So true. This is the lesson learned that has helped me most in the last couple of years (I am beyond a novice, especially compared to the revered crowd here). To me, struggling to print negatives I was pretty sure would be a waste of time when I exposed them have been invaluable slaps in the face. These experiences have taught me when to pack up, and when to pull the slide. And, it has saved me a good deal of money.

I feel I set myself up better when I don't cripple my printing session with the 'no use in trying' and the 'I might as well try' negatives. Heck, the 'low hanging fruit' are still enough of a challenge for me. :o

This is a great discussion and I have learned much from the posts. Thank you all for contributing.


As a quick P.S.: Are there any 'masters' or the like doing b&w darkroom day sessions in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area? I don't know if that kind of thing is typical, but I would be interested.


Kind regards,

-JB

h2oman
31-Oct-2011, 12:35
This is one of the best threads I have ever read here. Thanks to all the contributors.

Jon Shiu
31-Oct-2011, 19:53
As a quick P.S.: Are there any 'masters' or the like doing b&w darkroom day sessions in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area? I don't know if that kind of thing is typical, but I would be interested.

There is a former Ansel Adams assistant in that area doing lessons, I think his name is Alan Ross.

Jon

Dennis McNutt
31-Oct-2011, 21:45
Masking allowed me to escape the tyranny of the S curve of film and paper response to exposure and development.

Michael Rosenberg
2-Nov-2011, 14:26
JB

Don Kirby offers one-on-one darkroom and field workshops at his home in Santa Fe. Look on his web site donkirby.com He and Joan are wonderful people and great teachers.

Mike

J. E. Brown
3-Nov-2011, 05:50
Mike,

Will do. Thank you for the information.

Kind regards,

-JB

KenM
3-Nov-2011, 11:53
Masking allowed me to escape the tyranny of the S curve of film and paper response to exposure and development.

Pffft. What do you know about masking?

(Yes, I know who he is)

I'll add my 0.02 regarding how to improve:

- make lots of negatives
- make contact prints. Or 'contact scans'. Play with cropping.
- make lots of prints
- be ruthless in your evaluation - don't be afraid to use the round file
- take what you learn and feed it back into the process
- iterate. Forever.

tedw6
10-Nov-2011, 19:22
The three things that helped my printing most are

1 Eddie ephraums books on split grade printing
2 a really good enlarger with a 2 tube cold light head
3. Seeing ansel Adams photos and realizing that I did not want to print as far down as ansel. I like air in my prints.

Keep at it
Ted simon

chassis
9-Feb-2012, 09:11
Interesting comment on not wanting to print as far down as Ansel Adams. I have a similar view also. I am working on an image now, of a beach scene in full midday sun. The negative is very printable (no blown highlights thankfully), and I have printed it with a couple of different exposure + contrast grade combinations. I prefer the softer, higher key images, and my wife prefers the harder, lower key images. Pretty interesting if you ask me, the differences in aesthetic perceptions of two people.

I have wanted to make high key images, but how to approach it hasn't been clear to me. An image that is "high key", but clearly under exposed in the print, is not appealing to most people. Also, if the highlights and overall tones are high key and have texture, but the shadows are sooty or underexposed, this doesn't make a great image either, IMHO.

I guess the question is can any image be printed "high key", or does it only work with certain subjects and lighting conditions? Additionally, when striving for a high key rendering, what are the concepts to think about from film exposure to final printing?

ROL
9-Feb-2012, 10:46
Despite all the above, however, the most important aspects of a fine photograph lie not in the virtuosity of the print, but rather in the emotional content as transmitted by subject, treatment of the subject, composition, form, allusions, metaphors, and all the other myriad elements that make up artistic communication. Printing well is one of these elements too, but often in simply a clarifying way, enhancing and making more evident and approachable the other elements. For me, all the visualizing I do and all the printing choices I make are in the service of expressing something other than my printing skill. I am convinced that the most important aspect of photography is what you point your camera at.


Or more compactly said (paraphrase of Adams): Nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy subject.

Scott Walker
9-Feb-2012, 14:14
This is an excellent thread, lots of great insight into stepping up your game and what it takes to make a great print.

For myself I guess there have been a couple of eye openers over the years that really forced me to get better, knowingly or not. My initial darkroom knowledge was taught to me by Ken Sinclair at a continuing education course at the University of Lethbridge. Over the following years I was lucky enough to befriend Ken and with his encouragement and knowledge he was able to really help me take my game to the next level. Ken would critique my prints and negatives and give me insight into the direction I needed to go in order to improve. Kenís philosophy was that no matter how artistic you might be you donít have a hope if you are not 100% technically sound in your darkroom skills and your exposure and development skills. I was incredibly fortunate to have this mentoring and learned from it immensely.

I think the next big hurdle was confidence in my abilities and my vision of the finished print. All too often I found myself second guessing my decisions in the darkroom because of something I had read or seen in a book. Specifically I was often basing my actions on what one of Anselís prints looked like in one of his books that I owned. I was trying to achieve a goal without really knowing what the goal was; at this point in my life I had never seen a fine print from one of the masters. Finally seeing some of Anselís prints in person lifted a tremendous weight off my psyche and really enforced my vision of the fine print. I had been restricting myself and my printing because my idea of the fine print was completely wrong. I have since then made it a point to view fine prints at every opportunity that presents itself.

The next step for me was very subtle and I donít think I realized how important it was at the time. I submitted a portfolio of B&W photographs and was accepted into the Alberta College of Art which had a small photo department. I took one photography course in the first semester and decided that their program direction and my vision of where I wanted to go with my photography were light years apart. I opted not to be a photo major and instead spent the next 5 years of art school focusing on more 3 dimensional art forms. Not having an artistic background or any prior interest in art of any kind other than my few years of intensely practicing photography I was shocked to discover why and how I see things. The study of art in general helped to make me understand why art was made, which in turn gave me a better understanding of why I see things the way I do and why I print them the way I do. I think what I came away from art school with was every bit as important to my printing as the technical skills I learned from Ken, albeit very subtle in comparison.

I am opening a new chapter in the quest for becoming truly competent at this game. I now have an assistant that is contact printing all of my negatives for me. To help with the learning process he is printing some of my negatives as well. It is interesting that he is choosing to print negatives that I didnít necessarily find worthy of taking to a final print. He has a different vision than I do and it can certainly be seen in the contact prints that he is making as well. I think it is really opening my eyes to other possibilities that I may have overlooked had I done the contact printing myself. Having him here is making me think that I should take a workshop on printing in order to expand my abilities and vision of the finished print.

ROL
9-Feb-2012, 15:59
Or more compactly said (paraphrase of Adams): Nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy subject.

That should of been: Nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy concept.

Michael E
9-Feb-2012, 17:17
Not having an artistic background or any prior interest in art of any kind other than my few years of intensely practicing photography I was shocked to discover why and how I see things. The study of art in general helped to make me understand why art was made, which in turn gave me a better understanding of why I see things the way I do and why I print them the way I do. I think what I came away from art school with was every bit as important to my printing as the technical skills I learned from Ken, albeit very subtle in comparison.

Although I'm sure that somebody will pitch in with a remark that it's all just about pretty pictures, I agree that it is immensely important to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. I think that the "next step" needs to happen in the head, not in the darkroom. That's what makes prints better.

Michael

neil poulsen
10-Feb-2012, 01:31
Printing isn't so much about "printing" as about having a good negative. So for me, it was the generosity that Ansel Adams displayed in making the zone system available to others.

It's always worthwhile to know the principles of good printing. But in my experience, while one can adjust the contrast of the image in the darkroom, no mount of darkroom "magic" can compensate for the loss of not having a well exposed, well developed negative.

Doremus Scudder
10-Feb-2012, 03:21
ROL,

You got me again :). Touchť!

Yeah, I tend to get a bit verbose at times... must be from all those years in doctoral school.... precision in expression, disambiguity, unmistakability.....

Oops, there I go again!

Best,

Doremus

Jim Shanesy
13-Feb-2012, 20:56
That should of been: Nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy concept.

I've always disagreed with that statement. A fuzzy photo of a fuzzy concept is much worse.