a question of ideal negative contrast

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by David Lyga, Mar 6, 2014.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,872
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    The notion that one should process a B&W negative such that when it is laid upon a newspaper the newsprint is still visible through the negative's highlights is a concept that I have never been comfortable with. My negatives are usually a bit harder, thus unable to succeed with that test.

    I often wondered if there was, in fact, an ideal gamma (contrast index) to adhere to (assuming modification for condenser vs diffusion printing) and was always told that an amount somewhat less than '1' was ideal. However, through the years, I often wondered about that. And in pondering, I have also wondered why American authors on technical aspects of photography have usually been too terrified to NOT remain tethered to truisms, whereas the British authors seem to be the most comfortable with promulgating what they actually find through discovery, even if such discovery leads to inferences of iconoclasm within the comforts of the photographic community. Thankfully, those Brits do not care whose toes they step on, even if it is the toe of the characteristic curve. Sorry about my prejudices, folks, but I have read too many books by Brits, in and out of photography, to not state this positive divergence boldly. (Sorry, Greece, but without this 'confiscation', the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles would not exist in the condition that they are in today.)

    You will rarely find this pragmatic divergence from the status quo with American authors; instead, the mantra keeps getting repeated almost as 'duty'. No, really, not so even with Ansel Adams. Sorry, folks, but I have waited and patiently searched for years, perhaps decades, to find this truth in print. '"Photographic Chemistry" (1963) I found while looking through the photography books at Temple University's Paley Library. Tailoring a negative's contrast to a normal paper does not necessarily provide for the best print. Thank you Drs John and Field of (former) May & Baker Ltd for confirming what I have always felt in my heart.

    In essence, a softer paper offers a more balanced, extended straight line within the characteristic curve so that the toe and shoulder areas do not become, suddenly, too crowded and tonally undifferentiated. That subtlety speaks volumes. The final paragraph from page 272 is the denouement.

    And for those who will refute all this by warning about that excess grain from the excess gamma: save your efforts, as the softer paper handily mitigates this negative threat.

    But, seriously, any comments, pro or con? - David Lyga
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2014
  2. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

    Messages:
    2,674
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2004
    Location:
    Phoeinx Ariz
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Best print is subjective, Although I develop my negatives for "normal contrast paper grade 2" the old trick of using newprint is useful as it mean you have shadow detail and printable highlights. But I usally print at grade 3 or 4, it is my "style".
     
  3. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,872
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Style is one thing. Ideal is quite another.

    I am not refuting you PDH, merely bringing up 'objective vs subjective', perhaps. - David Lyga
     
  4. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Because Ken Rockwell has to stand on someone's shoulders. People read this stuff to get from novice to above average, not to go from good to masterful.

    The era and styles of photography are where the innovation is and that can vary from country to country depending on the decade.
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It is all a matter of how the negative prints, and the arbiter of that is YOU - the person who prints it. When you get a print in the darkroom that you like, based on experimenting with negative exposure and development, then you have the perfect contrast.

    More technically, your paper and paper developer have a curve, and the film is malleable too. Ideally the negative should fit the paper, so my philosophy isn't to worry about the negative until I know what my paper needs. That is why I always use the same photo paper (although Ilford shoved a new paper down my throat when they reformulated the Multigrade paper) - to know how I must shoot and process my film to eke the maximum performance out of it.
    I even go so far to say that it isn't until you take this dynamic relationship between paper, film, lighting, technique, and chemistry into consideration, and view it as one big system that you are even able to get the maximum performance out of your materials.
    But in here lies the difference to the approach of the authors - they give a general view of what is best, but they can't take into account personal taste. We, as printers, decide what our prints need to look like, not somebody else (unless they employ us print a certain way, of course).

    The extreme example of this is potentially Ralph Gibson. He shot his Tri-X at something like EI 100, exposed for the highlights, and developed the hell out of the film for a very dense negative, and then printed on Grade 5 Brovira. That was photography as he saw it, but you won't find that in any text books - because he figured that out for himself. And that is what we should all aspire to do.
     
  6. momus

    momus Member

    Messages:
    2,713
    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Location:
    Lower Earth
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Well, there is no ideal of course. Everyone has different likes and dislikes, different preferences, different ways of seeing, and none of them are ideal, right, or wrong. I too like more contrasty stuff, others like less. A neg developed in Diafine will need different printing (to me) than one developed in Acufine, Rodinal, D76, etc. Since it's a visual thing we're involved in there is a lot of room for individual interpretation. Otherwise everyone would have the same stuff. Sort of like today's newspapers. You've seen one, you've seen them all, because they are all giving the same company line.

    I wasn't aware of Ralph Gibson's methodology, so thanks for that Thomas. I shoot it at 100 often too (but expose for the middle value), and develop it normally and give it more contrast in the printing. I'd thought of giving it more development, but Tri-X is just such a great film, you can do all sorts of things w/ it and still get good negs.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2014
  7. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,539
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Your statement concerning soft contrast papers is not necessarily correct.

    There is not necessarily an "ideal" contrast index for a negative. There are far too many variables involved. We also have better materials and variable contrast papers.

    And as I have said before many times, the notion Adams is telling you to always develop the negative to "fit" a normal grade of paper for the ideal print is incorrect. It is a fundamental misreading of Adams and the purpose of the "Zone System" (in the case of Adams at least).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2014
  8. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,118
    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2008
    Location:
    Hamburg, DE
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    For me the worst think is thin negative. They say "when in doubt overexpose", I would say when in doubt overexpose and overdevelop :smile:. Better expose print in darkroom for 20 minutes than have a thin, empty negative. But usually I always develop for grade 2 papers, because for years (until downfall of Fotokemika) I was using Emaks grade 2 double weight paper for 95% of my work.
     
  9. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

    Messages:
    2,144
    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2005
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    The "Ideal" negative is dependent on how the final print is to be made. Even your preferred grade of silver gelatin paper. While most people view Grade 2 as the ideal paper upon which to print, some very good printers aim for Grade 3. The print developer used also enters into the picture, no pun intended.
    Those of us experienced in so-called alternative printing processes know that each of the processes requires a different "ideal' negative. A negative which produces a beautiful kallitype print, will not do so in making a salted paper print.
    So the answer to the original question has to be, it depends on what you want to do with the negative.
     
  10. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

    Messages:
    2,674
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2004
    Location:
    Phoeinx Ariz
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The advice is "develop for contrast (relative high gamma) and print on relative soft contrast paper, contributes to the sparkle of the print and thus gives it a more pleasing appearance.”

    Objectivley I dont know that relative high gamma is, I dont know what a relative soft contast paper was in 1963, we had grade 1, so is grade 2 relative soft, without examples I dont know what sparkle is, or what a pleasing apperance was to the writter, seems to be subjective to me.

    An ideal negative is a negative that has printable shadow details and texture in the highlights, then it is up the printer to fine tune the print to express his/her experaince.
     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    An alternative approach is to completely abolish these known 'standards' and go out on a limb, push the boundaries, and try something different.

    I have tried the Ralph Gibson approach I mentioned above, and of course my prints aren't going to look like his, because he's a much better photographer than I am. But it was an interesting exercise to print negatives that I otherwise might have considered unprintable, and to see that something really cool could come out on the other end.

    Today I make negatives with highlight densities that most people would probably shy away from (for silver printing and scanning anyway), because after I work hard to print those highlights down, I find that I end up liking the results better. A straight print at any grade would render no highlight detail at all and the shadows have way too much information in them.

    I guess it's all about intent, as mentioned by several here. You have to push boundaries and go beyond what you think is possible to see what's there, and sometimes you make interesting discoveries. Like thinking outside the box, but perhaps even disregard the box all together.
     
  12. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

    Messages:
    780
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2009
    Location:
    NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I read lots about the "tailor negative to paper" thing, but I basically just split-grade 99% of the time and, provided the silver is in the negative, arrive at the print I want without too much labor. I also do a lot of dodging and burning.

    Maybe I accommodated my papers by accident, but I like making photographs a whole lot more than practicing my sensitometry.
     
  13. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

    Messages:
    2,674
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2004
    Location:
    Phoeinx Ariz
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have tried the Ralph Gibson approach I mentioned above, and of course my prints aren't going to look like his, because he's a much better photographer than I am. But it was an interesting exercise to print negatives that I otherwise might have considered unprintable, and to see that something really cool could come out on the other end.

    I agree, as a former PJ I dont consider any negative with any infomration to be unprintable, if a story is on the line you had better get a pirnt one way or the other, and unintended results can be exciting.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    :smile: What's a sensitometer?

    I like printing too, and while I've been able to markedly improve my print quality, I've at the same time managed to reduce my darkroom waste to about half.
     
  16. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

    Messages:
    780
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2009
    Location:
    NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The curves I spend most time with certainly aren't ones on technical publications or graph paper :wink:
     
  17. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,206
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    :smile: I would hope not! There are curves much more interesting than that, for sure.
     
  18. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,714
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    David as I am a Brit may I give you my take on this. As the density and contrast are effected by an enormous number of permutations from exposure to print, not least a subjective and personal preference element, together with what the picture is/context/mood/etc., an ideal negative can’t really be defined. Having said that, for me and I should imagine for most people (but perhaps not all those on APUG), an ideal negative is one that is easy to print with little or no intervention. So with a consistent processing procedure and printing usually on a condenser enlarger, I find a negative slightly on the thin side is usually ideal.
     
  19. snapguy

    snapguy Member

    Messages:
    1,297
    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2014
    Location:
    California d
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Negs

    And just where would one obtain a newspaper these days? Maybe you can get an app for that.
    Back in the 1960s and 1970s I attended an official Leica-sponsored Leica Flying Short Course a couple of times. Leica techs/True Believers would fly around the county and give talks to pro photographers. One tech would literally stand on a Leica M rangefinder camera body to demonstrate how the camera backs were super-rigid vs those sissy Nikon and Canon camera bodies with their flimsy removable backs.
    The techs also preached that you should expose and develop your negs so they needed to be printed with a single grade # 4 printing paper.
    I loved my M2R Leica but thought the "experts" were slinging baloney. Still do. What is important is what works for you.
     
  20. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Messages:
    16,823
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The "newspaper text" test is a really good one - for novices.

    It also serves as a check on process for those who are more experienced.

    If someone who is relatively new to this gives the film enough exposure to have detail in the shadows, and then develops it enough to be able to read newspaper text through the highlights, they will be able to get a decent, pleasing print out of the result. That is a great place to be, and to progress from.
     
  21. Maris

    Maris Member

    Messages:
    882
    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2006
    Location:
    Noosa, Australia
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Chris has it right. In these days of high quality variable contrast paper the concept of laying a particular negative gamma on a particular paper grade is obsolescent. Different parts of the final image can be assigned different contrasts by burning and dodging during split grade enlarging.
     
  22. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,714
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    If you are split grade printing 99% of the time and do a lot of dodging and burning, how does this constitute without too much labour?
     
  23. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

    Messages:
    780
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2009
    Location:
    NY
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Clive, as we discussed in Stone's thread a while ago, the dodging and burning is for expressive characteristics, not corrective ones. I find split-grade printing to be very fast, and very intuitive, and I prefer that approach over using single grades because I like to dodge and burn at different contrasts to mold the print to my preference. It's not very labor intensive at all...I make one or two test squares with an extra stop of over/under exposure after identifying where I want my values to fall, so that I can see how much leeway I have with dodging and burning, and then I go for it...rarely does it take more than 2 or 3 full sheets to get it right when it's not an overly complex composition. If it is, then I may be balancing a lot of different areas, exposure-wise, just to get the dynamic range I want with the midtone contrast I like.

    I like a lot of snap to my mids, and bone-dry highs, very rich blacks. I'm not a big fan of middle grey. If I had to describe the way I like to print much of the time, it's with the dynamic range of a 2 or 3 and the snap and bite of a 5.
     
  24. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,714
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Thanks Chris, but in order to understand this better, I would be interested to view one of your prints as a straight print and after expressive characteristic correction of split grade and dodging.
     
  25. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,473
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The slope of the curve of most modern printing papers grade 2 is greater than 1 and the negatives for these papers will have an overall contrast (ie highest to lowest value) of less than one.

    Most importantly, however, is the observation that 'best prints' match the negative contrast to the paper contrast. This was shown by the following graph published by Jones. He looked back at the "best prints" and measured the contrast of the negative and paper. As you can see most of the "best prints" were printed on a paper grade that perfectly matched the negative (as indicated by the straight line). Again, another reason I use multigrade paper; to get those subtle in-between grades.

    negandprintcontrast.jpg

    Journal of the
    OPTICAL SOCIETY of America
    VOLUME 38, NUMBER 11
    NOVEMBER, 1948
    Control of Photographic Printing: Improvement in Terminologyand Further Analysis o fResults*
    LOYD A. JONES AND C. N. NELSON
    Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester 4, New York




    Check out Todd and Zakia http://www.amazon.com/Photographic-...=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394151242&sr=1-3 and the Kodak workbook for sensitometery http://motion.kodak.com/motion/uplo...en_motion_education_sensitometry_workbook.pdf for more information on the subject.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 6, 2014
  26. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,518
    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
    Location:
    Beaverton, OR
    Shooter:
    Multi Format