Controlling mid-tones during printing

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Jonathan R, Apr 12, 2013.

  1. Jonathan R

    Jonathan R Member

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    How can I gain control of the mid-tones when printing? A problem I commonly face is boosting mid-tone contrast without spoiling highlights and shadows separation. I can do it by burning in selected areas of the print with a higher grade filter, but what if the problem is across the whole print? Is there some subtle aspect of multigrade printing I have failed to understand, or can one do this by choice of print developer, or what?

    Thanks in anticipation.
     
  2. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear Jonathan,

    Tough to do (I have similar problems when printing very fair skinned people). Contrast (unsharp) masking can help with the shadows. I suppose a positive version should help with the highlights. Maybe you are having issues with the non linear nature of multigrade paper? Try graded paper for the images in question. I have had good luck more than once going in that direction.

    Neal Wydra
     
  3. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    There are a few things to consider. First is the negative. If this is a consistent problem for you, you might want to change something there.

    When printing through this kind of issue, you might want to try basing your filter grade on the midtone contrast, and then make local adjustments to the shadows and highlights to control them. It seems like you are doing the reverse.

    So for example, you could find a higher grade that gives you the right midtones. To control shadows, you could dodge them, or dodge them more and burn them in at a lower grade. For the highlights you could burn them in at the higher grade or burn them in at a lower grade.
     
  4. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    The most important driver of tonal rendition is the interaction between the characteristic curves of the film and paper. The closer you get with that, the less you need to do labor-intensive local manipulations with each print. So the first thing to do is find a film/paper combination that gets you closest to what you're looking for.

    Read Phil Davis's "Beyond the Zone System" if you would like to understand how this works.
     
  5. Jonathan R

    Jonathan R Member

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    Even if I could change my future negatives, I still have those existing problem negatives to print!

    Actually I am shooting 35mm (diverse subjects on each roll), and I always use the Thornton 2-bath (T2b). I settled on this through about 25 years of frustration, trial and error. I'm very happy with my choice for many reasons and I am not going to change, so please don't suggest it. A real joy of my negatives since settling on T2b is that long 'tails' of shadow and highlight detail are recorded on the negative, contributing to a very rich tonality when everything goes right. The cost is that in a small minority of shots where the the mid-tones matter more it can be hard to inject any sparkle. This is fairly easy to correct digitally using Curves, accepting some compression in highlights or/or shadows, but still retaining the detail at those ends of the scale. What I'm looking for is the analogue equivalent. I thought maybe the answer would be different print developers?
     
  6. baachitraka

    baachitraka Subscriber

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    It depends on film/paper curves. BTZS may be the answer for you.

    Chapter 10 : Image Gradation.
     
  7. Blighty

    Blighty Subscriber

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    I sometimes have this problem when printing negs and it can't always be avoided at the exposure/neg/development stage. If you're mids are a bit muddy you could try dodging the area during the soft exposure; this, in effect, is increasing contrast without increasing exposure and stops that propensity for the dark tones to block up with too much hard exposure
     
  8. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    Split grade printing is how I would handle it. Find the exposure for the shadows first. Then find the highlight exposure for your main highlights and dodge the midtone areas you want more contrast during the highlight exposure.

    OR, you could find the contrast that gives you good midtone separation and then burn your main highlights with g0 or g1. This may be easier. Every negative is different. For a simple landscape on a overcast day, I would find the contrast that gives the foreground good separation (as usually this is pretty flat in the negative), this is usually rather high, like g3 or g4. Then I'll find the exposure for the sky at g00, or if there is some separation in the sky I may choose g2 or g3. This is part of the fun of printing, and especially split grade printing!
     
  9. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    The answer is in the printing technique I gave you in post #3. Base your paper grade on the most important values, and use printing controls to ensure the shadows and highlights are good.

    This is something you'll have to live with when using some two-bath negative developers. Rather than preferentially reducing highlight contrast like "compensating" developers, they sometimes give a more linear - but lower contrast curve (which people who scan seem to like). So midtones are compressed somewhat.

    Printing skill is what is needed. Careful burning and dodging of shadows and highlights with multiple filters so that you can work them around the desired midtone contrast which is determined mostly by the filter grade for the main exposure.
     
  10. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Everything is a compromise, but you can make your work flow less of a compromise by starting in the right place.

    Your choice of negative developer and developing technique has entirely to do with what your paper and paper developer of choice can do. Whether you want to change film developer or not, that is your major control point. If you choose to use a film developer for any other reason than making negatives that fit your paper, then you have to live with the consequences of that compromise. That's the harsh reality. Two bath developers are a good compromise, but if you're not happy with how the negatives print, then honestly your film developing is not ideal for what you're trying to do. So I broke your rule of 'not mentioning it', but I did it on purpose in order to be disruptive on purpose, to get you to think about why you make choices that will not suit what you're trying to accomplish.

    In lieu of accomplishing that MichaelR1974 has explained it perfectly. If you want to continue with what you're doing now at the film stage, you should learn fine printing tools and controls to compensate for what's lacking in your negatives.

    Good luck!
     
  11. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    That's fine, it just means that your film is a given. You still need to decide how to allocate your effort between finding a best paper match, trying to change the paper curve with choice of developer, and doing complex manipulations on each print.

    Assuming that the film choice is already made, the biggest influence by far on curve is the choice of paper. Choice of print developer will generally have a much smaller effect, if any. Local manipulation is needed to fix the problems caused by not having a paper with the curve you need to match the film/developer combination you've settled on.

    There's no guarantee that you can find a paper with a perfect match, because there's a limited set of papers available. If you can't find one that's right, and you don't want to change your film/developer, then you're stuck doing local manipulation.

    What paper are you currently using?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 12, 2013
  12. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    Or, you can view it the other way around: your choice of paper depends entirely on what your film and film developer will do. That's how it works for me: I use Tri-X and HP5 Plus, developed in D-76. I keep a selection of papers on hand, with a variety of characteristic curves, so that I can print the resulting negatives with a minimum of hassle.

    In reality, of course, the choice of film/film developer and paper/paper developer jointly determine the result. "Paper priority" or "film priority" is a restriction that we impose arbitrarily.
     
  13. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    True, but you have far more control over your negatives than you do your paper. A paper does not change in contrast much by developing longer, for example, it just adds density fairly uniformly, while a negative will continue to add contrast as you develop longer, for all practical reasons in perpetuity.
    But whatever floats your boat is fine with me. I kind of like printing everything on one kind of paper. It makes it far more economical by needing less paper stock, and I know exactly what I need to do with my negatives in terms of exposure and development in order to print in the darkroom where most of my negatives are dead easy to print. Rarely do I have to fight a negative to get what I want.
     
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  15. Jonathan R

    Jonathan R Member

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    I'm with both of those statements. I stick with 2 film types and one paper type in 2 sizes, because this gives a consistent look to my 'portfolio' (if that isn't too pretentious). It also gives the opportunity to get really familiar with the materials. Currently I use FP4+ and HP5+, both in BT2b; and Ilford MG IV FB developed in Ilford Print Dev. I like the neutral tones of the MG. And as I've said, this problem of muddy mid-tones is a small minority of my negs. Quite a lot of my negs print absolutely straight on Grade 2, and most of the rest I cope with quite competently. A real gap in my competence is that I have never done split-grade printing: partly because I haven't found a need, and partly because I have no colour head and am picky about using filters under the lens.

    Look, I hate to keep harking back to the same point, but I'm sure that in the days when we all used separate grades of paper, there were ways of obtaining intermediate contrast grades by judicious use of chemicals. I'm certain I once read about it - but because I was already using MG paper I didn't think I'd ever need it, and failed to commit it to memory. I suppose it's likely that developers with different activity would alter image tone, but I'd still like to know what's possible.
     
  16. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Yes there were ways of modifying paper contrast with fixed grades. People would often split paper development between a higher and lower contrast developer to get intermediate grades. Flashing was also a more important tool with graded paper. These techniques wouldn't do much for your midtone issue though. They are mostly aimed at controlling total contrast. Your issue seems to have more to do with local contrast in the midtones. As I said before you pretty much have to get the midtones where you want them with the right paper grade in your case, and then use controls to help you get the shadows and highlights.

    If you're using variable contrast paper like Ilford MG, take advantage of the flexibility!
     
  17. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    What Michael said. The problem you're having is with the shape of the curve - the way tones are distributed between highlights, midtones and shadows - not with the slope or overall contrast. Print developers aren't going to give you much help with the shape. If you're committed to using the same paper for everything, and you don't want to change your film/film developer, then I end up in the same place as Michael - the only thing left is to learn how to balance overall contrast and local manipulation most effectively.
     
  18. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Split grade is definitely the way to proceed - and below lens filters work very well if they are handled carefully.

    There is lots of good advice already in this thread.

    As an experiment I would suggest trying a print where your only attention is to those problematic mid-tones. Get to a print where you are happy with those, and then determine what split grade modifications you need to print the other tones.

    FWIW, this is essentially how I approach all my prints - I focus first on the most important tones - usually, but not always the mid-tones - and then work with the rest.
     
  19. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    +1. It's sound advice.
     
  20. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I generally prefer relatively straight-line films so that I get good value separation even deep down in
    the shadows, but might "plus" develop to expand the midtones and highlights, then burn will in the
    highlights with a deep green filter on a premium VC paper. A more elegant method is unsharp masking.
    Actually, I intend this as a clue - my personal route will vary from image to image. The more tools in
    your kit of strategy, the better.
     
  21. David Allen

    David Allen Member

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    Dear Jonathan,

    My first question is what times are you using with what film in BTTB developer? - This is important in giving you meaningful advice.

    Secondly, negatives developed with BTTB developer should print fine on normal grades but what are you looking for?

    If you look at the images on my website, please let me know how they relate to the type of images YOU want to produce and then I can advise further.

    Bests,

    David
    www.dsallen.de
     
  22. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    It may not be the most straight forward mask to make. A typical unsharp mask would decrease local contrast requiring an increase in paper/filter grade, not to mention how it can change the "look" of the print in addition to altering contrast. Other types of masks are possible, of course.

    Although masking is a whole topic on its own and probably not necessary here, I think Drew's point about having more tools in the proverbial kit is a good one. Some negatives print relatively easy, and some require every tool in the kit, and there is a continuum in between. Often you don't need anything fancier than burning and dodging, but you might have to do a lot of it, carefully. Nothing wrong with that. While I'd always suggest keeping things as simple as possible, when you have a difficult negative it is nice to know you can pull out more skills, techniques and/or plain hard work in order to make the print happen. In the end nobody cares how you did it, as long as you did it.
     
  23. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    I found mask making necessary for Cibachrome images, we would make all kinds of masks, would increase or decrease contrast for slides , we would hold highlight detail without dulling overall the highlights by using a pre mask when making the contrast reducing mask .
    This is something I cut my teeth on, for years I was a photo comp specialist in a major lab, and I think I have basically burned out my eyeballs by looking intently into light boxes.

    Drew is correct, for major work where you are making masks day in day out a registration system along with vacumn is really required. I swore I would never get back into this world but it seems Ultra Stable registration printing is pulling me back and I am very happy to have had the experience.

    I just picked up a small strosser punch systemto go with my larger one over the weekend and soon will be back making all kinds of separation negatives and carmalizing what is left of my eyes.
     
  24. NedL

    NedL Subscriber

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    I'm sure Thomas Bertilsson and Michael1974* are giving the best advice here. It must be amazing how much printing experience they have between the two of them! I'm only going to say that I've been surprised at the amount of midtone contrast control that is possible by dodging the soft exposure, just as Blighty said. One thing I sometimes do is make a test strip just to determine that dodging ( or sometimes more than a "strip" if I want to vary the dodging in several places on the print). Usually not much dodging is needed at all, but the amount of control is great, and sometimes a print will just suddenly look great when the midtone contrast is at a certain point. Please note that I'm a beginner so I like test strips. :smile:


    Edit: *and Bob Carnie and everyone else! I meant as opposed to me!
     
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  25. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Michael - with a "typical" neg (whatever that is), the whole point of a generic unsharp mask is to reduce contrast overall yet use a much harder paper grade than you usually would, hence increasing
    microcontrast and visible textural detial the entire range - toe, midtones, and highlights. But there are
    all kinds of variation on the theme; in black and white printing there can sometimes be too much of an
    allegedly good thing. It's an esthetic decision, one which I generally defer to split printing. Back when
    graded papers were dominant, I masked more often. Nowadays I use such tricks mainly for color printing, but find the option itself to be quite valuable at times. Maybe one eats antelope on a routine
    basis, but every once in awhile you get a negative like a charging rhino and need a more substantial
    kind of weapon.
     
  26. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I don't disagree. In B&W I find various masks can occasionally be useful, but I would say I really only use them to burn and dodge when it would otherwise be impossible, rather than to enhance edge effects etc. In fact they are not really unsharp masks. They're more similar to CRMs, but not exactly the same. There are people who use unsharp masks regularly, to "enhance" micro contrast. I just don't like that look (although occasionally a more subtle effect can be nice).