Advice regarding improving my contact print quality

Discussion in 'Contact Printing' started by Craig Griffiths, Jun 6, 2010.

  1. Craig Griffiths

    Craig Griffiths Member

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    For some time now I have been contact printing 8x10 and 8x20 negatives with some degree of success, however I know that they could be better. I have not had any darkroom training and have simply tried things and read books. Initially I was scanning and printing so I was able to produce prints as needed. A traditional contact print is my desired output, scanning and printing was done due to time constraints and is not my preferred method of producing a print

    Finding the time to spend in the darkroom has been a challenge due to family circumstances, but I now find myself with 2 weeks where I can spend all day printing and hopefully improving my output. I hope to learn more during that time and take a step up in terms of quality.

    The advice I am looking for, is what is the best path to follow to improve. I understand that I need to get to know both paper and chemicals, but is there any other area that you would suggest I work on. While most of my output will be contact prints from 8x10, is there some benefit in doing some enlargements from 6x7 as well and learning other techniques.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Krzys

    Krzys Member

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    I've also dropped scanning to dedicate myself to printing in the darkroom. If you perhaps want to meet up some time to discuss techniques and progress that would be great. I am shooting 35mm currently however I have some 4x5 negatives that I have always wanted to contact print.
     
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

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    Looking at excellent contact prints would be a good place to start -- though I do not what resources you have in Queensland. It is hard to hit a target one can not see (but certainly not impossible).

    I believe there is a significant amount of difference between contact printing and enlarging --so one might run the risk of spreading oneself too thin by trying to perfect both in a limited amount of time.

    Good luck in your journey!

    Vaughn
     
  4. Dan Dozer

    Dan Dozer Subscriber

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    Hi Craig,

    I had all but given up on Silver printing and was concentrating on Platinum/Palladium and Cyanotype. I was never really satisfied in the results I was getting from my silver prints. "Why did everyone elses turn out better than mine?" That was what I was always asking myself. However, I took a 2 day one on one printing workshop from Per Volquartz here in California and it really opened my eyes to silver printing. Seeing how a master printer approaches his printing is an terrific learning experience. I suggest that there isn't anything wrong with your contact printing process (I too work in 8 x 10 and 8 x 20), the problem is that you might need to learn more about printing.

    What I learned from Per is that just about all of my images needed some dodging/burning and sometimes some bleaching to give them that "real look" that I wanted. With PT/PD and Cyanotype, I wasn't really needing to dodge and burn much because the process and materials was completely different from silver.

    Now I'm back to silver printing and loving it. I'm taking the lessons I learned from Per and using them in my contact printing, and my contact prints are much better. You should think of contact prints as more than just a quick shot at getting something that you can see what is in the negative. Try to make your contact prints with the same thinking as making final prints - that you really want them to look good.

    Now, California is obviously way to far away from Brisbane to consider working with Per, and the upcoming 2 weeks is not enough time to get into a workshop. However, I would still suggest that you check around your area and see if any "expert" printers either teach workshops or would consider working with you one on one in the darkroom.

    Assuming that you use variable contrast paper, I would also work at learning what the different filters can do for you. Do some research on split filter printing with two filters (one for shadows and one for highlights). Working with the different contrast filters has also helped me a lot in getting better prints.

    Hope this helps and good luck.

    Dan
     
  5. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

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    Hello again.

    Dan's post got me to thinking. I can remember making 16x20 work prints (straight prints very close to the final exposure and contrast levels) from 4x5 negs and often being a bit disappointed in the images. But I would persist and by the end of 6 to 10 hours, end up with a print I loved (if I was lucky). It just took time, a lot of work and a lot of thought to bring the image I remember experiencing onto the paper. So in that sense, Dan is right -- it might be "just" a matter of more work and knowledge of the material and methods to bring out the best from your negatives.

    That said, I now contact print (8x10) with very little, usually none, dodging, burning or cropping. My interest is in seeing as intensely as possible to find and capture on film the light I see and experience...paying close attention to the edges of the image as they define what is happening in the center, composing the existing light to create a sense of dynamic balance -- that sort of thing. So I guess what I am trying to say is that one "area" that one can always work on is the image itself -- both the image one sees and the one that gets captured on to the film.

    It must be getting late -- I don't know if I am making much sense. So instead of going on, and being too full of myself to delete what I have written, I will stop here.

    And as I always say...have fun!

    Vaughn
     
  6. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Using silver chloride contact printing paper will greatly improve the quality of any contact print.

    See www.michaelandpaula.com under "Azo" for all details and under "Writings" for my writing on the subject.

    One should be able to make 5 excellent contact prints in one hour if one knows what one is doing.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  7. mcfactor

    mcfactor Member

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    I know what you mean, Craig. I too recently moved from enlarging 6x7 and 4x5 to contact printing 8x10's. I have found (surprisingly, to me), that the two actions are very different. I cant say exactly how, but there is a different working process for contact prints than for enlarged ones. After many hours in the darkroom I am starting to get the hang of it. One thing I have noticed is that (this is my theory) the tonal range is much longer than I could get with enlargements, so it can accomidate higher contrast ranges. This means that i can print at a higher contrast than I would normally.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 24, 2010
  8. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I'm not at all sure that using a Chloride papers is really going to greatly increase quality.

    The quality is dependant on the negative itself no paper can alter that, and for contact printing in particular the type of developer and how it's used can make the greatest difference, but then it also helps to match developing parameters to suit the paper you're going to use.

    The past 20 years have brought about a big revival of staining developers and these are ideal for Contact printing, the parallel tanning effects help enormously with edge sharpness, but new ways of using them - far more dilute than a century ago also means they are excellent for enlarging as well.

    Ian
     
  9. Craig Griffiths

    Craig Griffiths Member

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    thanks all for your feedback. I have been spending the last couple of weeks improving the prints I have been making and have found someone locally (at least in the same country) who is prepared to help out.

    Now all that remains is to shoot more and print more. Hardly seems a chore does it.
     
  10. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    That is what I try to do with negatives which will be enlarged. I will dodge, burn etc. if needed but I get a better sense of satisfaction if I have managed to produce a good image from a straight print from the negative (more repeatable too!).


    Steve.
     
  11. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    To a large extent it depends on what you plan on doing with your prints. If you hope to market them with multiple copies nearly identical, then it would be important to ensure a good negative that's repeatable. If, however, you view them as fine art prints with each print having some individuality, then its important to get a negative that has all the information you need to work with. Then your darkroom skills and post-visualization will come into play. Personally, I like the challenge of a high contrast negative, for example. There are so many ways to interpret it.
     
  12. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Contrary to what Ian Grant wrote, negatives printed as contact prints on silver chloride paper will always yield a finer print than the same negative printed on enlarging paper. If anyone seriously doubts that, send me a negative to print. I will print it on silver chloride paper. Then, send me your best print of that negative and we will compare prints. After I look at yours, I will send you my print.

    Cannot do this immediately as am in Iceland photographing, but think autumn. But if anyone is interested, let me know ASAP.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I took a one day printing course with Per. It was the best money I ever spent.

    Steve
     
  14. ghostcount

    ghostcount Member

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    +1 - he's very easy to talk to and imparts a lot of knowledge.
     
  15. Wyno

    Wyno Member

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    I started using split grade printing this year and I agree with Dan. It has improved my printing tremendously. I now start off with a base exposure and selectively burn in areas that need more. I do very little dodging anymore. I haven't tried bleaching yet, but that will probably come later this year. Like you, I'm also using 8x10, but I hope to go up to 11x14 when I can afford it. Contacts from those would be amazing.
    Mike
     
  16. Mahler_one

    Mahler_one Member

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    I have taken Micheal's and Paula's workshop, and am now contact printing my 8x10 negatives exclusively on the new Lodima paper using Amidol developer. I would agree with Michael's statement; however, be aware that although the learning curve with Lodima and Amidol is relatively short, to expect to produce perfect prints in one hour might appear to be just a bit too optimistic! Good prints yes, but of course there is room for improvement that only time and "filling up the waste-basket" will provide. If you desire, please feel free to PM me for more information.
     
  17. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    The whole point of his 'outflanking' method of printing is to zero in on the optimal print for the negative you're working with without 'filling up the wastebasket'. If I can't get the best possible print (which is, after all, the only acceptable print) in about 6 sheets I'm not really following the method. Perhaps I can't really decide what I want. In any case I'll put that negative aside and print it some other day.

    It took me a while to learn to force myself to overshoot every time I make an adjustment in exposure time. But as Michael says, even though you're making a whole series of wrong prints, you'll use less paper in the long run compared to any other method.
     
  18. JamesMorris

    JamesMorris Member

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    I was thinking today about the outflanking method & realized it was similar to binary searching, an efficient computing algorithm. I then wondered if Michael came to this intuitively or had some kind of math background :smile:
     
  19. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    He was a pre-law major in college who got sidetracked by photography. Hence he never went to law school. Thank God.

    It took me about a year after the workshop to teach myself how to print well. Just buying the paper and some amidol clearly is not going to cut it if you want to make fine prints. I believe you need to be shown. Even then the best that a teacher can hope for is to impart whatever is necessary for the protégé to teach himself.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2010