How do you determine the base exposure of a print? In other words, how do you go about choosing which element or elements of the print to base your exposure on? How do you distinguish between a high value that should be the basis of the base exposure, and a high value that needs to be burned in? If the "high value" is not the basis for the primary print exposure, then what is? I was reading "The Art of Photography", by Bruce Barnbaum, and it was like the blinders had been lifted from my eyes. I've never really enjoyed printing, mostly because, well, I'm not very good at it. Many of my prints are too dark, muddy and lifeless, and now I think I know why. I've been basing my print exposure on values that need to be burned in! Barnbaum gives the example of a landscape that has two dominant areas. One is a washed-out sky, and the other is a foreground of land that is deep in shadow. If you base your exposure on the proper aperture/time for the sky, then adjust the contrast of the paper to retain detail in the foreground, you wind up with a perfectly balanced, perfectly muddy, perfectly awful print! You got off on the wrong foot, and nothing you do from that point on is going to rescue the print from being awful. What you needed to do was recognize that the print has two parts, both of which are low in contrast. If you try to solve the problem of the great disparity in range of tone between the sky and the foreground by using a low-contrast paper, it exacerbates the problem of the already-low contrast in each of the two parts of your print. What you need to do is treat the photograph as having two separate parts: the bright sky, and the dark land. Instead of switching to a low-contrast paper, you might actually use a higher-than-normal-contrast paper, to separate the tones in each part, then burn in the sky and dodge the land. I used this thinking process today in printing a scene with a bright beech tree, surrounded by leaves that are of various tones between Zone IV and Zone VI. The difference in tone between the lightest and darkest leaf is already small. If I base the exposure on that necessary to print tone in the bright tree trunk, I'll have to use a #1 or #0 filter, which will further compress the tonal range in the leaves, and I'll wind up with my usual muddy, lousy print. So instead, I based the exposure on the lightest of the leaves, and burned in the tree trunk. Eureka! <sigh> Thoughts?