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Thread: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

  1. #1

    My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Hi y'all:

    I've been processing my black & white prints in my home darkroom for many years. My procedure has evolved over time but never changed in the past 10 +- years - Ilford Multigrade glossy warmtone in Zone VI developer, (Fresh, 2.5-3min. dev. time) - Indicator stop bath (30 sec.) and Kodak or Zone VI fix. (Fresh, 10 min.) Wash in Zone VI washer (20 min.) Usually no toning. The past year + - my prints are getting darker, flatter. In short - dead. Wet prints look OK. Shadows show details and highlights with some texture. I've microwaved a washed print to full dry and see no (if any) difference between a wet print and dry. So I don't think that "dry-down" effect is at play. I've tried to reduce print exposure by as much as 10% but they still look crappy. A bit lighter, but still crappy. I've tried increasing contrast, decreasing contrast, split filtering. Still crappy. BTW - My film is 4x5 Ilford HP5+. Dev in HC-110. Contact proper proof prints on Grade 2 paper look fine with a full tonal range.

    Maybe I'm just crappy and chasing the illustive silver bullet.

    (Can't post a digi print to show - Believe it or not - I'm strickly film.)

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

    ~Steve

  2. #2
    Octogenarian
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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Check your safelight.

    Also,check for light leaks in your darkroom and the possibility of stray light from your enlarger.

  3. #3

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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Yes, what Gem said,
    You can test a safelight by placing a bit of your favorite paper on the easle with a coin laying on it about 5 minutes... then process as usual.
    Or maybe fogged or heat damaged paper, develop a strip without exposing it.
    Last edited by dsphotog; 15-May-2009 at 18:50.

  4. #4

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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Is your paper from the same batch? Is there a noticeable difference betwen older and newer paper? The safelight is indeed a good place to start. The filter on the light can gradually become unsafe. I think, since this has progressed over a year's period, that could be the whole problem.

  5. #5

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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Or developer thats oxidized.
    But since contact prints are ok...
    Perhaps its fungus quietly, slowly growing inside the lens...causng a gradual loss of contrast.
    It starts out looking like a strand of spiderweb, or a smudge inside the lens.
    I've seen it in a lot of EL Nikkors

  6. #6
    Dave Karp
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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    I agree, check your safelight.

    I had a similar problem, really fighting to get a good print. Went to a John Sexton workshop, and he asked me if I was fighting, and described exactly what I was going through. He said it was the safelight, and he was right. I bought a new safelight with a new filter, and darkroom work became much easier.

  7. #7

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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    On the assumption your current flat prints look this way when up against your prints from a few years ago processed the same way, then there has to be a safelight problem.

    Have you tried printing from older negatives which you have acceptable prints of with which to compare?

  8. #8

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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    It could be the safelight. It could be light contamination from another source. Is you enlarger light tight? How about your camera? Is it the same as before? Any changes in lenses that coincides with the decline in print quality? Internal flare at the film exposure stage can be problematic too.

  9. #9
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Feldman View Post
    The past year + - my prints are getting darker, flatter.
    This may be a key clue. If the symptoms appeared 12 months ago, and have grown progressively worse, two causes spring to my mind:

    If you're using just one enlarging lens, and it's older, perhaps it's developing more & more haze toward its center, causing "flatter" prints. (Or maybe it's collecting dust on the top end that faces up.) Also, did you mean all your contact prints are okay? If so, this would suggest a misbehaving enlarging lens.

    Another cause may be expired paper, which is becoming more & more fogged in appearance over 12 months. That's happened to me. (I don't think paper "keeps" as well as film following its expiration date, even when properly stored.) Do your boxes of Ilford MG paper display expiration dates? How long have you had them?

  10. #10
    おせわに なります! Andrew O'Neill's Avatar
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    Re: My B & W prints are dead, flat & dark . . . . Help! Please

    You are using a VC Paper...what exposure system are you using on your enlarger? Dichroic filters do fade over time. Gel filters for above and below the lens fade too. Could this be your problem?

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