Better shadow separation on prints

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Poco, Sep 17, 2004.

  1. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Attaining good shadow separation on the print is a problem that's been driving me nuts forever. In order to get max black on paper I find myself having to print through (and lose) all sorts of detail that's very obviously on the negative. Is there any combination of paper/developer that does a better job of it than the norm? So far I've tried the Ilford flavors of paper along with "long scale" stuff like Fortezo without any luck. Ultimately, the answer is probably to raise my shadow exposure, but that's tough when I'm already dealing with 2 - 3 hr exposures in some instances.

    Things that will not work include selenium intensification of the negative, since that's proportional and contrast is already high in most of my subjects, and moving up to a contact printable format -- I'm already shooting 4x5 with extremely long exposure times.

    The truly revolting thing is that even a straight scan of these negatives on my Epson 3200 gives better shadow separation than I can attain in prints. INTOLERABLE!
     
  2. George Losse

    George Losse Member

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    Poco,

    First we need some information. What grade of paper are you printing on? What developer are you using?

    I have an question with one of the phrases you used in your post "In order to get max black on paper I find myself having to print through (and lose) all sorts of detail that's very obviously on the negative."

    Not every image will give you max black. Enjoy the grays. If you have detail and tones that are on the negative but not in your print. I have found this to mean your contrast (of the paper) is too high and/or you exposure is too long.

    Have you tried doing a step test for exposure on just the black areas of your image? Then you know what exposure the dark areas need, then you can move on and find the exposure that your highlights need.
     
  3. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    The things that George mentioned are all things to be considered. The steps that you have taken and found wanting such as selenium intensification are not surprising to me since selenium intensification is proportional in it's affect. With most of the effect being on negative highlight density.

    Are you printing to maximum black as your first parameter? I print to highlight value as the determiner of my exposure and then adjust paper contrast to affect my shadow values. I find that this works for me.

    If this still does not give you what you want then there are other steps that can be taken. Some of the negative masking techniques work really well in this regard. Typically these amount to a compression of the negative density range through the use of an unsharp mask. This is then followed with a shadow enhancement mask to really punch a limited portion of the shadow pallete downward. These measures typically are not used on every print.
     
  4. geraldatwork

    geraldatwork Member

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    Have you tried dodging and burning selected areas.
     
  5. Joe Symchyshyn

    Joe Symchyshyn Member

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    Have you tried split contrast printing for images that have large areas of shadows??

    If while you're printing in the high contrast mode, you dodge the shadow areas, you effectively bring up all those little bits of information in the shadows. (ie: making your shadows a higher contrast then the rest of the scene).

    You can then print to the deep black you're looking for, but also gather details that were otherwise printed down too much.

    If you're moving up to larger formats to contact print or if you're using alternative process or graded papers, this is not the answer... But if you're enlarging and want to try VC papers, it's worth a go.

    joe :smile:
     
  6. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Where you have a thin underexposed negative you need to use a harder paper grade and be very careful to get the exposure absolutely right, I regularly print to 2/10th of a second and it does make a difference. If the negatives have contrast but thin shadows do as Joe suggested and use split grade printing and when exposing the soft filtration dodge it out in the shadow areas so that they get exposure to only hard filtration. That is one of the great benefits of split grade printing.

    Keep us posted and if you need further help let us know.
     
  7. Shesh

    Shesh Member

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    Split grade printing as Joe suggests or even using a lower grade paper / filters may help. In addition, use a developer which gives you really good blacks (such as ANSCO 130/Formulary 130), maybe you are trying too hard to get max black with a developer thats not really known for giving deep blacks. Off late, I have been able to get shadow details which I had earlier given up on by exposing the negative for barely enough time to get the rich blacks and leaving the print in the developer for a longer time (3+ minutes). BTW, after seeing the results I got with F-130, I have pretty much stopped using Dektol (my previous choice).
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    In addition to the suggestions above, you could try local selenium intensification by brushing straight KRST onto the neg in the shadow areas. If these are small negs, use a magnifier and small retouching brushes. John Sexton mentions using this technique, though as others have said, selenium intensification is generally best for pushing up the highlights.

    When I last compared several premium graded FB papers, one of the things I was looking for was ability to hold difficult shadow detail while maintaining good overall tonality, and I think Cachet/Maco Expo RF graded can do this better than any other paper I tried. Lately I develop it in Michael Smith's amidol formula for enlarging papers, but I did the original tests with Agfa Neutol WA.
     
  9. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Thanks for the input so far.

    To give a bit more info: For the moment, the negs that are driving me crazy are 5x7s of a very dimmly lit scene emerging from blackness -- a good deal of the negative is indeed clear and it's this space which, on the finished print, must at least make a convincing stab at being black. Right now I'm working with contact prints since my enlarger for the format is broken, but the eventual goal is to enlarge. The contact prints do point out the problem at its worst, though, because when I print to hold some of the obvious detail in the negative, the surrounding "black" in the scene is shown to be a muddy grey compared to the absolute black of the edges of the paper that extend beyond the negative. In short, if I expose to cut through the base/fog, a whole lot of shadow detail gets lost as well.

    I've tried Ilford MG RC and fiber and Ilford WT with both grade 2 and 1 1/2 filtration (developed in Dektol) as well as Fortezo grade 2, which in reality is what I'd call grade 1 1/2 at best. I haven't tried Les' suggestion of UPPING the contrast since my fumbling attempts in that direction have always had the opposite effect of quickly expanding the lower zones down to black. Perhaps it's really a matter of 2/10ths of second subtlety to make that work, and I'll give it a try. I also have the makings for ansco 130 so I'll try that as well.

    As it happens, this scene should easily lend itself to selective masking or even selective intensification as David suggested. And I knew some combo of those was going to be my fallback tactic. But before going through all that hassle, I thought I'l look for input from others...

    Thanks again!
     
  10. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    Another thing you could try is selective bleaching in the shadows like Bruce Barnbaum uses. This will open up the shadows with higher contrast then dodging.
     
  11. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Maximum black concerns

    For myself, I am not concerned at all wether or not maximum black is created on the film edge being exposed. I would very much reccomend that you print for no more blackness than is neccessary to produce the print that you find pleasing. In my opinion worrying about maximum black is a very good way to end up with shadow detail not being visible. If you find that the unexposed film ege always is less than maximum it may well mean that you are underexposing your negatives. Lower your meter setting by 1/3 and if inadequate by 1/2 stop and see if you find that a fair percentage of your prints that show an unexposed film edge are now maximum black.
     
  12. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I agree - TOTALLY!!!
     
  13. Christian Olivet

    Christian Olivet Member

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    I don't want to spoil your experience. But why are you trying so hard to make a great print out of an underxposed negative? It just doesn't make sense to me. I only contact print because I love simplicity. If a negative doesn't print great and feel that I would have to work a lot to get a decent print, I throw that lousy negative in the trash bin with absolutely no regrets. If I can shoot it again I will, otherwise I am still happy.
    If you can shoot it again, pick a negative with a straight curve like efke80 and expose heavily fot those shadows to have separation. You can't have lots of clear areas in your negatives and still hope for rich shadows.
     
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  15. wfwhitaker

    wfwhitaker Member

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    What Christian said! Are your negatives adequately exposed? Or are your shadows compressed in the toe area? The first step is to get the information onto the negative.
     
  16. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Christian,

    The negative which prompted my question required a 3 1/2 hour exposure @ f11.5. What would have been sufficient to "juice" the shadows ...6 hrs? ...10 hrs? I needed the fstop for DOF, so opening up wasn't an option.

    The point is, we're a diverse group here with diverse shooting styles and, sometimes, specialized technical needs. Not everyone is out there shooting decently lit landscapes.

    -Michael
     
  17. WarEaglemtn

    WarEaglemtn Member

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    "In order to get max black on paper"

    What idiot told you that you have to get maximum black on your paper? Some joker like those who think you also need maximum paper white?

    Print for a convincing black & the best print possible, not to an engineering scale.
     
  18. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

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    maybe he wants black for the athestics of his picture... although I do agree with what War' wrote in general.

    you could always frame it in pure white matt and it will look 'blacker' :smile:
     
  19. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    This is precisely why I like warmtone papers and lith printing (not necessarily at the same time). The browns of a good warmtone print seems to have more separation than the greys of a neutral print, even if the deltaD is actually lower. Lith print for the same reason - pull the print just before the blacks go black, and you have max separation.
     
  20. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Good god, what a bizarre reaction this question (belatedly) sparked.

    Look folks, I simply wanted suggestions on how to separate areas of thinnest negative density from base fog most effectively on paper. That's all. You guys are spending way too much time answering questions I never asked, i.e, whether I should want to do so, or should have produced a stronger negative to start with.
     
  21. Poco

    Poco Member

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    "The browns of a good warmtone print seems to have more separation than the greys of a neutral print"

    That's my impression as well, Ole. One of my recent frustrations is that I've tried to work with more neutral toned paper and I find "fudged black" to just look thin and dusty on it.
     
  22. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Micheal

    As Joe and others have said, try split contrast printing.

    I would use a middle filter that gives you good highlight detail, As Joe suggests I would dodge during the initial exposure to open up the shawdows, you can dodge with a 5 filter which will help as well.

    When you have the right combination , of highlight and shawdow detail , you may still be lacking the black you are looking for.

    At this point put the 5 filter in the head and give a blast of high grade, dodge at this stage as well. Only the deep blacks will come in without screwing up your highlight detail.
    This may take a few sheets of paper to get what you want, I know what those negatives with long exposures are like but you will be able to pull a print that has believable blacks and good highlight
     
  23. JackRosa

    JackRosa Member

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    Condiering reciprocity?

    Are you taking into account reciprocity failure at such long exposures? If you are not adjusting exposure and development to compensate for reciprocity failure, you are -for sure - under-exposing your negatives and there is little you can do in the darkroom to obtain a print whose shadows have luminosity.
     
  24. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    A couple of suggestions from a novice at low-light photography:
    1) use film that has minimal reciprocity failure ( eg., T-Max 400, Delta 100 or even Efke 25 which seems to do well on long exposures).
    2) Fred Picker said expose for the highlights & the blacks will fall on the straight line thereby giving better separation. Have been reading Fred's newsletters (borrowed from a friend); and they offer some very good but unconventional ideas/techniques.
     
  25. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Bob, Jack, Doug...

    Thanks. The truth is, this is a three month old thread and I've gotten fairly decent results since I first posed the question with careful split grade printing. I don't really know why this thread suddenly sprung back to life.

    I also agree that a film with better reciprocity characteristics would probably be better for my kind of photography. Finding one and learning to use it may be a decent winter project.
     
  26. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Efke 25 does have excellent reciprocity characteristics. I did a dimly lit scene yesterday and used Sandy's Pyrocat-hd for the first time. There is a HUGE difference in shadow values when compared to PMK. It was only a 2 minute 30 second exposure, but it worked out well enough to convince me that PMK isn't as good at shadow rendition. Give this combination a try, it is worth investigating. tim