Age and contrast

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Roger Hicks, Nov 5, 2006.

  1. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Over the years I've seen a fair amount of evidence of (and references to) people printing with more and more contrast as they get older: Bill Brandt and Ansel Adams spring immediately to mind, but there are plenty of others and I think I've noticed the same trend in my own preferences (it's hard to tell because my early prints were so incompetent).

    Question: is this a matter of age, or of fashion, or of skill (as you get older, you can control a longer brightness range, better)? Indeed, is it a general rule? Any ideas?

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
  2. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Or is it that with advancing age, poorer eyesight means less ability to see detail, so more emphasis is on contrast?

    I can't tell from my work in my 20s either - my negatives were generally underexposed and overdeveloped.
    juan
     
  3. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    As I get older my vision is getting poorer and I know that I need better light and I see higher contrast images more clearly. Maybe for your examples it's just the eyes not seeing as well as these photographers kept working into middle/old age.

    cheers
     
  4. Jean Noire

    Jean Noire Member

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    Hi Roger,

    I agree, but it seems generally claimed that materials have become more "contrasty" i.e less silver content. So it may be that as we get older we modify our style to accomodate this and the net result is increased contrast. Or, it may be that as our style develops we think that images are more arresting with higher contrast. So, may be a psychological development or adapting to materials. Or, may be as we age our eyesight accomodates a higher brightness range.
    Just a few thoughts :confused: .

    Regards
    John
     
  5. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    My wife, a painter and photographer, usually urges me to print with more contrast. Being the excellent (hehe..) husband that I am, I often listen to her and take her advice. So...my prints are contrastier than they used to be, and I think I like them that way.

    Yesterday (Saturday, November 4th) I attended the PHOTOEXPO in NYC and had a chance to meet John Sexton and see one of his prints on the 'wall' of the Light Impressions booth. It was mounted, I think, on the same LI mat I use, and was the same size as I make my prints. I was startled to note that, at least as far as contrast goes, my prints were rather similar. Perhaps my wife is right......again! :wink:
     
  6. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    Actually, I suspect that there could be several trends at play. Like many others, my eyes are doing strange things as I get older, and I'm anticipating the prospect of cataract surgery next year. So things are generally a bit fuzzy, and added contrast is a big help in clarifying the 'mush'.

    On the other hand, I've been involved in photography for a long time, and one of the things that I've noticed about myself is an affection for skillful printmaking. As a consequence, I want to see every bit of detail possible in the print. That trait has pushed me in the direction of LF for obvious reasons. But in addition, I find myself favoring lower contrast images with rich detail in both the deepest shadows and brightest highlights.

    So the question is which aspect of geezerdom is stronger?
     
  7. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I probably print with less contrast than I did in days gone by. I would guess that my prints are a bit on the flat side since I am so aware of the tendency to use more than the required contrast.

    For myself, others may do as they wish, I feel that if the original scene was rather flat, then that is the way I will generally portray it.

    This I think raises the question for each photographer to solve as they will:
    If the scene is flat should the contrast be boosted to use the full range or a greater portion of the paper's range? If the scene is very contrasty, how far should a photographer go in reducing the range?

    I believe a photographer can have a personal philosophy of how to handle scenes as a genral rule or can expose, develop and print on a case by case basis. Whatever method is chosen it is, I believe, best to make your choice at the time the film is exposed.
     
  8. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Juan,

    This is indeed one of the likeliest hypotheses, but I did not want, as it were, to lead the witnesses.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  9. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear John,

    I agree with everything you say except the point about more contrast as a result of decreased silver content. Yes, Dmax has risen over the years, buit not as as result of reduced silver. Contrast must surely be a function of the range available between paper-base white and maximum black, and once you have enough silver in the emulsion, there's no point in adding more. And you can't get more Dmax from less than you need.

    'Covering power' (grammes per square metre of silver) is a complex subject but I recall that the highest Dmax Ilford ever found was on an Agfa contact paper with under 1 g/sm while one of the Kodak papers was the worst with over 2 g/sm.

    I am of course aware that slow papers with more finely divided silver can give a better Dmax with less silver, but apart from brightness range and curve shape I can't think what else might affect contrast. Perhaps Ryuji or Photo Engineer might chip in here.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Very interesting, John, thanks: I had not thought of comparing my own prints/printing style with that of others.

    Cheers,

    R
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Claire,

    I completely agree with your point that a flat scene should look flat, though to be fair, I seldom find overly 'pumped up' N+ development as unconvincing as overly flattened N- development. I'm talking about excess in both cases, obviously.

    But I'm intrigued by your statement about 'more than the required contrast' as if contrast were a quantifiable absolute rather than a matter of preference.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  12. Robert Hall

    Robert Hall Subscriber

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    As I recall, Don Kirby spoke of how he really got carried away with his contrast masking. He mentioned that he realized that some of his prints got so hard with contrast that he has started to swing the other way on how he printed. I've seen some of his prints and yes, they are quite hard. I would like to see how more recent prints look.

    I think there is subject matter out there, especially black and white photographed subject matter, that really lends itself to a harder contrast, contrast masks and the like, but there are many subjects with which it does not work well.

    The other possiblity is we as photographers love to have more tools hanging from our belts and as we learn new tricks to get that contrast we tend to use them. (sometimes whether it calls for it or not!)

    I have a couple prints in my gallery that have been masked. I kind of like them for what they are. I find that I don't feel I need to do this with every print I have either.
     
  13. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Roger, of course what is the required contrast that is not only determined by the photographer but also by that photographer's state of mind when doing the printing. My comment about more than the required contrast is intended to convey that having brilliant whites and burying your shadow detail in an overly dark rendition. This is obviously a personal choice and is als controllred by the viwing conditions that are extant when looking at the print. If the print will be viewed in very bright light it will, as you know, look markedly different than if viewed under rather dim lighting. People that exhibit their prints or sell them have harder choices to make than do I since I make them for the conditions of viewing them myself in my own residence.
    Therefore the only person that has cause to feel dismay upon looking at them is me.
     
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  15. Ryuji

    Ryuji Member

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    You seem confused between "coating weight" (what you described) and "covering power." The latter is optical density per unit coating weight. The higher the covering power, the higher density you get with the same amount of silver (or any dye or pigment). The term "covering power" is also used to describe nonphotographic materials such as drawing materials and fountain pen ink.
     
  16. Terence

    Terence Member

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    I am in my mid thirties and have been printing for about 10 years. I have always preferred contrasty prints.

    Numerous people on this site and in person have suggested that I'll "grow out of it," and gradually prefer a more mellow look. This is the first time someone has suggested the opposite.

    Maybe it means I'm wise beyond my years, or that I was an old man at 24. My guess is it's just a matter of influence from the photos I've admired over the years. Alas, I showed up to late for Grade 5 papers . . .
     
  17. catem

    catem Member

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    I'm not sure what to think of this one. When I first tried printing (in my twenties) my prints were pretty contrasty. I think people often print like that in the beginning. Then I went through a stage of showing I had full 'control', and bringing out all the detail and tones. Now I've for the most part lost interest in that, and just like to get as much 'life' as I can, which can often mean very contrasty. The difference is I think I know what I'm doing a bit more this time around.

    Cate
     
  18. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Well, not being an old geezer myself (yet, these things are inevitable) I have noticed one thing when I saw Karsh prints from the 50s-60s: they were much more darker and lower in contrast than what you would expect now. It's not that they looked muddy, or that the contrast seemed inappropriate to the subject, but they needed to be seen in relatively intense light. I don't know if that's just the way Karsh printed then, or whether it was the current fashion then, or whether it had something to do with the available materials.

    I would go for fashion: we all remember what a tasteful blessing the fashion of high-contrast photos in the 80s was in contrast to these old dark prints. Especially with color...
     
  19. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Ryuji,

    Of course you're right. Sloppy writing/not re-reading what I'd written/conflating several iterations of a draft. Sheer sloppiness. Sorry.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  20. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Cate,

    I had wondered about that one too; I think that's what happened to me, and no doubt to others. You phrased it more elegantly than my idle thoughts, however.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  21. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I've always printed both color and black and white with contrast because I like more dramatic pictures as a rule.

    Michael
     
  22. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

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    It's not that materials have gotten more contrasty, afte rall we control the contrast, it's that as we get older our eyes require more contrast. I recall a period of time having spent many consequtive days and nights printing for a show. My eyes were tired from all the critical close viewing and the constant change from darkroom lighting to gallery viewing lighting. I took a day off from printing and did not even view the work that had been printed last and still sat on the drying racks. When I did finally view those prints, with rested eyes, I realized that I had turned the contrast way up and that these prints were unuseable. Now I will rarely print two days in a row and will not print 3 days in a row at all. Our eyes are an instrument of our work and ultimately are the most critical.
     
  23. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Maybe not more contrast, but more 'drama' for sure. When I compare a print from my 20's to the same image printed in my 40's, for the most part (especially if it has a stormy sky), the latter packs more emotional 'wallop'.

    Then again, my deep forest images now have far more textural information.

    Murray
     
  24. Jean Noire

    Jean Noire Member

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    Yes I agree but I was also thinking about the consequence of reduced silver content in b/w film. How many of us actually check the density range of our negatives over time? Has the neg density that we would have used for a Print Value 8 fallen gradually without our noticing? Are we simply compensating for this by printing harder? Or am I completely off track?
    (Don't know how I would accomodate chromogenic film in this theory - never tried it)
    Probably you mean that when you compare prints you made some time ago with your recent work then more contrast is evident. Is this so?

    Regards,
    John

    On reflction this seems to undermine the idea that material have become more contrasty. I need to clear my ideas on this so please feel free to point out the failing of my logic.
    J.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 5, 2006
  25. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Apparently a 60 yr old needs about 4 times the light needed by a 20 yr old to recognise the same level of detail. On that basis you'd think that older printers would be inclined to reduce contrast.

    Most of my non photographic friends who fit into the classification of "the general public" seem to prefer my prints less contrasty. They do not seem inclined to want to exchange flatness and detail for "bite" and greater contrast that loses some detail.

    I think it was Roger Hicks who has said in a book/article that most high street/commercial B&W processors produce prints that have a cigarette ash quality.In my experience his observation is spot-on. These were certainly the prints I used to get back in the days before I did any of my own printing.

    This is probably driven by customer satisfaction in that I presume that this gets them less complaints than more contrast at the expense of losing detail.

    Of course few members of the general public now bother to take B&W and have little chance to compare and appreciate a more contrasty print but there does seem to be a difference between what joe public prefers in B&W and what members of a photographic club might judge to be right.

    pentaxuser
     
  26. fschifano

    fschifano Member

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    Agfa Brovira, Grade 6. Now that stuff was HARD!