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Thread: Terminology Question

  1. #1

    Terminology Question

    Hello, Friends—

    I am a university professor currently working on a book about the German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch, whom some of you may recognize as he was a key photographer of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit). I have in the past benefitted tremendously from the combined wisdom of this forum and I hope I might again draw upon this community's knowledge of some of the finer points of older photographic processes to answer a question I have about an essay this photographer wrote for an amateur photography magazine in the early 1920s. In the piece, he was offering pointers about how to take good photographs of flowers and the problems that happen when you photograph in different lighting conditions.

    Specifically, I'm trying to decipher what "hard plates" means in the sentence "In most situations, you have to contend with harsh lights and deep shadows, and you can expect hard plates." My understanding is that with these older developing processes, thickness or thinness refer to light’s ability to pass through the plate, not the physical bulk of the negative itself. Underexposure and underdevelopment produce “thin” negatives, which are more translucent, while overexposure and overdevelopment generate more opaque or “thick” ones. Is this accurate, and if so, in this context, is "hard" simply another word for "thick" or is there more to it?

    Thanks in advance for any insight you can offer!

  2. #2
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    Re: Terminology Question

    The intended meaning is likely "high contrast". If the ambient lighting is outside of one's control and one does not want a harsh rendering, "hard" lighting is typically tamed by exposing generously and reducing development to produce a lower-contrast negative - one that has greater density in the less exposed areas ("shadows") but also a lower maximum ("highlight") density and is thus easier to print with a full tonal scale on available darkroom printing papers, compared to default exposure and development.

  3. #3

    Re: Terminology Question

    Thank you for this helpful answer! So would it be correct to say that, in the developing process, when plates are/were referred to as being "hard" or "thick" that these words mean the same thing (i.e. high contrast)? I'm trying to write a footnote for contemporary readers to clarify references to "thick" and "thin" and "hard" plates—my sense was (as you say) that it had to do with contrast and density. Thanks!

  4. #4

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    Re: Terminology Question

    I would say that hard and soft refer to the overall contrast of the plate, and thick and thin refer to how much exposure they received. More exposure equals more light and a darker, denser, thicker negative.
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  5. #5

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    Re: Terminology Question

    "High-contrast" is more than likely what is meant here ("hard" paper being high-contrast and "soft" being low).

    However, since there are many German speakers on the forum here, the original German would be helpful, if you have it.

    Best,

    Doremus

  6. #6

    Re: Terminology Question

    Thank you—this is all useful. (Keep 'em coming!) What continues to befuddle me is whether this usage (hard/soft; thick/thin) was in anyway standardized. Were these "official" or at least widely understood terms?

  7. #7

    Re: Terminology Question

    Sure, that's a good suggestion. Here are three German passages (with my English translations). The first involves "thickness" and the second and third "hardness."

    1) Ich ziehe glänzende Papiere allen anderen vor, weil Details meist nur auf glänzenden Papieren gut herauskommen. Für sehr dichte Negative eignet sich Auskopierpapier besser als Kunstlichtpaper, weil während des weiteren Belichtens durch die schon eintretende Färbung der Schicht eine bestimmte Korrektur auftritt, die das vollkommene Zugehen der Schatten verhindert."
    (→ I prefer glossy papers to any others because details come out well only on glossy papers. Printing-out paper is more suitable than gaslight paper for especially thick negatives because, during the additional exposure, the change of color of the emulsion causes a certain correction that prevents shadows from being registered completely.")

    2) "Zum Kopieren ist am besten Tageslichtpapier geeignet, da selbst harte Platten durch die selbsttätige Korrektur (Filterwirkung bei den schon gefärbten Schatten) harmonisch kopieren. Man hat es jedoch durch die Entwicklung einigermaßen in der Hand, für jedes Kopierverfahren druckfähige Platten zu erhalten."
    (→ "Daylight paper is the most suitable for printing, because through automatic correction (the filter effect on shadows tinted in advance), even hard plates print harmoniously. Even so, through developing, you have it in your hands to obtain plates useable with all printing processes.")

    3) "Auch zur Entwicklung ließe sich vieles sagen. Doch will ich ,ich kurz fassen. In den meisten Fällen hat man es, wie bei allen Aufnahmen im direkten Sonnenlicht, mit grellen Lichtern und tiefen Schatten zu tun, hat also harte Platten zu erwarten. Ich benutze 2 Entwickler. Einen verdünnten und sehr rasch arbeitenden Metol-Soda-Entwickler. In diesen lege ich die Platte und entwickle, bis ich die Details im Schatten habe."
    (→ There is also a lot to be said about developing. But I will keep it brief. In most situations, you have to contend with harsh lights and deep shadows, and you can expect hard plates. I use two developers. The first is a diluted and very fast-acting Metol Soda developer. I place the plate into it and develop until I have details in the shadows.)

  8. #8

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    Re: Terminology Question

    Much of the text concerns itself with the self-masking property of printing-out papers, i.e., kind of a built-in contrast control since the exposure in the densest areas of the paper is held back by the appearing image density that occurs during exposure. Here's my translation of your excerpts:

    1) Ich ziehe glänzende Papiere allen anderen vor, weil Details meist nur auf glänzenden Papieren gut herauskommen. Für sehr dichte Negative eignet sich Auskopierpapier besser als Kunstlichtpaper, weil während des weiteren Belichtens durch die schon eintretende Färbung der Schicht eine bestimmte Korrektur auftritt, die das vollkommene Zugehen der Schatten verhindert."

    I prefer glossy papers to all others because details are usually only rendered well on glossy papers. Printing-out papers are better suited for very dense/contrasty* negatives than gaslight papers because a certain correction is provided during the continuing exposure due to the gradual build-up of density** that occurs in the emulsion [self-masking in the denser areas].

    *Here, I believe "contrasty" is meant, but "dense" and "contrasty" are often confused/interchanged - if you want to "correct/clarify" the original text, then "contrasty" is likely the better choice.

    **Yes, "Färbung" normally means "dye/dying" or "color/coloring," but here it refers to the build-up of image density and should be translated as such, since "color/coloring" has no real meaning in this context.


    2) "Zum Kopieren ist am besten Tageslichtpapier geeignet, da selbst harte Platten durch die selbsttätige Korrektur (Filterwirkung bei den schon gefärbten Schatten) harmonisch kopieren. Man hat es jedoch durch die Entwicklung einigermaßen in der Hand, für jedes Kopierverfahren druckfähige Platten zu erhalten."

    Daylight paper/Printing-out paper* is the most suitable for printing because even hard/contrasty plates print pleasingly due to the automatic [contrast] correction (the self-masking effect in the shadows). However, one has reasonable controls at hand with [changes in] development to obtain plates suitable for all printing processes.

    *I can't find any documentation quickly, but I believe "Tageslichtpapiere" and "Auskopierpapiere" both refer to printing-out papers (which are exposed by daylight). Maybe AgX or one of the native speakers who are familiar with these processes can confirm.

    3) "Auch zur Entwicklung ließe sich vieles sagen. Doch will ich mich kurz fassen. In den meisten Fällen hat man es, wie bei allen Aufnahmen im direkten Sonnenlicht, mit grellen Lichtern und tiefen Schatten zu tun, hat also harte Platten zu erwarten. Ich benutze 2 Entwickler. Einen verdünnten und sehr rasch arbeitenden Metol-Soda-Entwickler. In diesen lege ich die Platte und entwickle, bis ich die Details im Schatten habe."

    There is also much to be said about developing, but I will keep things brief. In most situations, as with all exposures in direct sunlight, one has to deal with harsh highlights and deep shadows. Therefore, contrasty/hard plates are to be expected. I use two developers. The first, a dilute and very fast-working Metol-soda* developer. I develop the plates in this until I have details in the shadows [shadow areas].

    *It might be nice to indicate exactly what "Soda" means in this context if you have the information; sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, etc.?

    Hope this helps,

    Doremus

  9. #9

    Re: Terminology Question

    Yes, very helpful indeed. Thank you for so generously addressing this query!

  10. #10
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    Re: Terminology Question

    I prefer thick (one stop or so more extra exposure, extra development) negatives for my alt processes because of the longer exposures needed and the corresponding increase of build-up of the printed-out image that forms in develop-out processes. And I prefer hard negatives (high contrast relative to negatives used for silver gelatin printing) for the same processes, as I prefer the way of working without needing to use much contrast control in the print process itself (such as printing platinum/palladium using just ferric oxalate and the metals with no added contrast agent/s.)

    I think that those usages of the terms as mentioned by Doremus and others sound good to me.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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