Enlargements from 4x5

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by David Ruby, Dec 22, 2004.

  1. David Ruby

    David Ruby Member

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    Have any of you ever thought that for certain large format negatives (4x5 here), there is simply too much information in them for a small (8x10 ish) print?

    I seem to recall Ansel mentioning something about this in his book The Print. I think he was discussing the optimum print size, relative to the viewing distance, relative to the actual distance between lens and negative. I'm not sure I fully understood what he was saying.

    I recently printed a 4x5 negative of a landscape. It was a shot from the top of a small mountain overlooking a mountain lake, with distant mountains, i.e. quite a bit of information. The forground was very dark and rocky, the middle ground had pine trees etc. then the lake, the hills in the background were very light due to haze etc.

    Looking at the 8x10 print, it almost seems that there is simply too much going on to comprehend at this small scale (relative to the real scene). There is a ton of detail in there, but something is odd when looking at it. I'm not sure if I'm taking what Ansel said and inventing an excuse, or if my brain is really trying to tell me something. Anyone have any experience like this?
     
  2. jss

    jss Member

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    im just starting to print from 4x5 negs. i find it silly to do anything less than 11x14. i find i most often print 16x20 and want to printer larger. for me personally, its a matter of having so much clarity that doing "small" prints don't do the negative justice.
     
  3. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    I prefer small prints with lots of detail. I like to hold a print close & examine it. This is the main reason that I choose to contact print only.
     
  4. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I think you're really talking about two different things, David.

    There are some subjects that are so full of detail, they "demand" to be printed large. I've seen extreme cases where large, panoramic prints have been mounted on curved panels, creating a walk-in print to achieve the desired level of "immersion".

    Separately, there is the issue of the relationship of the print size to the typical viewing distance. Absent physical barriers, the smaller the print, the closer people will tend to get, while larger prints are usually viewed from a greater distance. There's probably some statistical average, but individual viewing preferences also play a role. There's always someone who will walk up to a 30x40" print with a magnifying glass. :wink:
     
  5. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It also depends on the image. I have 35mm and MF negatives that beg for mural size, and 5x7" ones that are perfect as contact prints. I'm working on a theory on the relationship between size of image vs. size of "significant detail" - if I ever think up something really wise, it will be in the "articles" here.
     
  6. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    I love making 11x14 prints from 45 or 57, but it gets to be too much to store. Now I'm making 8x10 prints from 8x10, 57, and 45 negs, and 57s from 35mm. 6x7 goes either way. If I mount them, I put them on 2 ply. Otherwise the volume is huge. I'd have to add onto the house and this takes time away from photography. I don't really care what AA said. Little prints are fun and personal. No matter how big you make a print, it seems like people view it under a magnifier anyway.
     
  7. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I don't print anything smaller than 11x14. I like big prints.
     
  8. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Throw in one other factor: Whether or not it "works", and this defines a problem I have given up trying to resolve a LONG time ago.

    Some things "work" as small prints and fail as large ones; some are far better large: case in point might be Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers. Why? - I have *no* idea.

    I think, Ole, that if you come up with a solid, cookie cutter formula - or even one somehow vaguely effective - we should build temples and dedicate them to you.
     
  9. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    the only thing I would add is that smaller prints printed from Modern tabular films of slow speed look more 'frustrated' at small sizes than, say, a 5x4 HP5 neg. As the fine grained films lack edge, the detail (resolution) is there, but it is not casually apparrent due to low acutance, you are therefore forced to look too close. This is why you probably wont find many contact printers using fine grain solvent devs like perceptol along with fuji acros for their contact prints - ABC pyro or pyrocat HD perhaps! Yes, subject matter makes a huge difference, but I have yet to find the 'rule' either. I simply live with a test print for a few days to years and then get a feel for what i 'needs'. I go with that, having no real idea why I have come to the conlcusions I have. I rarely feel like I have made a mistake, printing 5x4 from 8x10 to 20x24 (at a push).

    For 8x10 prints, 5x4 has little to offer over 6x7, which will still give great tonality IMHO and that bit more 'edge' due to the grain starting to come into play, tho perhaps not get obviously visible.. This is a subject the late Barry Thornton wrote about a great deal in 'Edge of Darkness' - a great semi-technical book.

    Tom
     
  10. photoguy

    photoguy Member

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    I also read the same thoughts somewhere...perhaps it was A.A.; smaller subject matter (close up of a rose for example) look better printed smaller, because of their actual size- whereas a large mountain range and clouds might be better suited as a 30x40 print. It sorta makes sense to me (can't imagine a large scenic printed at 4x5, or a rose printed at 30x40).
     
  11. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    An interesting discussion. My own experience suggests that the two variables that matter are viewing distance and detail. An 8x10 viewed up close works as well as a much larger print viewed from a distance. BUT... the more 'graphic' the image, i.e. the better it scans from a distance, the more likely it is to work even if it's small. An image of mine that's currently in the critique gallery (Snow behind our house) fails utterly if viewed from too far away, so I've printed it larger to scan better without having to move close to it.
     
  12. NikoSperi

    NikoSperi Member

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    I have "felt" what you are saying, and favor printing out large but... surely Edward Weston's contact prints would refute that discussion, no? Without going into reductions, the least enlargement is the contact, and landscape or still life, does not seem awkward or too detailed to me.
     
  13. WarEaglemtn

    WarEaglemtn Member

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    Take a look at the work of those who contact print & see if you would rather have the images larger. One way is to use a larger camera. 11x14, 8x20, 12x20 and larger still. This gives the finest image possible and is shot in the size you prefer at the outset. No loss of sharpness & no loss of tone.

    Michael Kenna shoots with a square 2 1/4 format & prints about 8x8 inches for everything.
    Michael A. Smith shoots with some 8x10, some 18x22 and mainly 8x20 and contact prints only.
    Look at the work of both & see if you think it needs enlarging. I think both have chosen what works for their vision & then spend the rest of the time perfecting their interpretation of the world around them.

    If you are enlarging, some images seem to cry out for a certain size print while others seem to say nothing other than "I am here" no matter what. Before deciding on what to print to final size I find it helps me to have a set of matboards cut out & print to a few sizes & look at the image in various size mats to see how they look. Then I can figure what print size will work. In the past few years I have pretty much standardized on a few sizes & cut down on a lot of wasted effort... that I hope I now put into the creative activity of photographing.
     
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  15. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Another potentially interesting factor to include in the print-size consideration. Some years back, a then-famous wedding photographer commissioned a study of preferred print size among various economic strata. His conclusion was that less well-off people tended to prefer larger (16x20 or larger) prints for individual framing, while "up-scale" clients often preferred 5x7s for individual framing and considered 8x10s as "huge". While I'm not sure the same criteria would apply to "fine art" images - those intended for display as art - I found the comparison interesting.
     
  16. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Much of my thoughts on this subject evolved from one single image - this one: http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=1749&password=&sort=1&cat=500&page=1

    In a small print it's a picture of a building with some people. As the size increases the emphasis shifts toward the central group of people, then toward the central figure in white.

    Since the largest print I have made of it is 30x40cm (12x16"), I have it displayed in the corner of the stairs. That makes it impossible to step away from it, giving the perspective I prefer.

    When you look at the 12x16" print from 12" away, it's a completely different picture from what you would see looking at an 8x10" at arm's length. I may have to print it at 40x50" to show what I saw when I took the picture!
     
  17. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    I’m just moving up from 4x5 to 8x10 to contact print in platinum. I am grateful for the opportunity we have for different choices.

    John Powers
     
  18. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    It all depends on what we wish to convey. I print on average (if one can say that) at about 17-18" on the long axis, but that is for landscapes which I often feel have some sort of epic something to convey. I feel it helps if size adds impact (assuming quality is not compromised). For portraits and nudes, I rarely go above 14". I am in the process of printing some scenic documentary type images of parts of Spain, which are perfect at 8x10 max. At the end of the day, the choice you make defines you as a photographer, just like any decision, plenty will disagree. However, if you are not faithful to your own creative ideas most of the time (taking comment from others but not being afraind to completely ignore it), what sort of photographer are you? - certainly not one whose work is his own, rather an calculated amalgam of others' ideas...playing it safe. I may not feel that others make the choice that I would feel to be 'right', however, if they chaged it becasue of what someone else thought, that final image loses a lot, no longer being the final output of the photographers vision. Not wishing to sound very pretentions, but images are a window into the photographer. As often as I see another image that 'I would do differently', I see another that challenges my preconceptions.

    Tom
     
  19. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I ran across this theory and phenomenon when I had my full service portrait studio back in the 1980s.

    The theory was that old money bought small photographs because they sat them on the piano etc, and hung "art" on the walls. (paintings).

    New money bought large wall portraits because they liked them and could show them off. They had no real education and no appreciation of "art".

    People with little money, would buy more photographs than people with a lot of money because "family" was more important to them.

    This is obviously a huge generalization but it did hold true in a lot of cases.

    The new money/old money argument was also that old money bought silver/gray Mercedes and new money bought red Ferrari's (sp?). Old money was conservative and new money was flamboyant. New money earned it, and old money inherited it and were deathly afraid of losing it, they also kept a low profile.

    Michael
     
  20. AlanC

    AlanC Member

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    Has anyone noticed how "size" is relative? A 10 x 8 print from the darkroom can look quite small. But a 10 x 8 reproduction in a book or magazine looks big. In a coffee table book, images about 12 inches wide look enormous. Is this only because you are viewing these images from close up?

    Alan Clark
     
  21. BBarlow690

    BBarlow690 Member

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    I'm making portraits right now, and 8x10 from 4x5 feels too big. So I'll try 6x8 or so. They'll be in a book, and it feels to me that at book-viewing distance a head shot practically comes off the page at you. Way too much for the feeling I want to convey.

    On the other hand, western landscapes need to be big, IMHO, and that's where we can be happy that paper manufacturers make big sizes. It's all in the image and the feeling the photographer wants us to experience.
     
  22. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    I have always felt that portrait head shots look spooky above 10x8 too.......
     
  23. stevewillard

    stevewillard Member

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    I have been try to understand what "bigness" means to a composition. The nature of the composition seems to change from small to big. I am not quite sure what it is, but it is definitely noticeable. I am hoping to be able to characterize in some definitive manner so that I can do a better job of visualizing the results in the field.

    Many prints just look marginal when printed small, but some how come a live when made big. There may be something said about big objects need to be printed big, and small objects tend to produce better smaller prints. Hoewever, I have many compositions that look good both big a small independent of the subject size. I recently made a 30x40 of a 3x macro of Alpine Prime Rose shot with my 5x7. Holy cow. Its like I can just walk into the world of the minute.

    In general, I would say all prints look better big. The reason I believe this is because you view big prints more like you view the real world. When are standing in front of a mountain range your eyes scan the range. It is not psossible to see everything at once. Big prints are like this too. Big prints more closely approximate the scanning experience, and thus, make you feel like you are really there.

    Here are a few rules I have used, but please note I still do not understand "bigness". If you have a composition that prints well small, then it will most likely print well big. If you have print that is a good composition, but is marginal when printed small, then you may be able to fit it by printing it big. Of course, if you have junk, then no matter what you do big or small, it will still be junk.
     
  24. Scott Edwards

    Scott Edwards Member

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    I am finding more and more what is meant by "optimum enlargement". I believe that this phrase has to do with enlargement size versus grain size. I regularly use Efke R25 roll film in medium format, and I used to think that my 11x11 enlargements were looking real good. It wasn't until I printed them at 16x16 that I understood that this is a better print size for the fine grain. The image had more sparkle and noticeably better textural representation. I then printed the same image at 14x14, and it looked even better! So this, then is the optimum print size for this Efke R25 in medium format.

    The HP5 in medium format does best at 10x10, the Fortepan 400 in 4x5 does best at 16x20, PanF in medium format does best at 16x16, etc. I think you'll find the old guys used Super XX, which is heavy grained, for a reason. It looks great in 8x10 contact printing.

    The size of the image as far as an overall good look is concerned, is indeed up to the individual artist. Some people buy big because it fits a particular wall space, or just because they want to make a big statement about themselves (big art=big money, whatever). I believe that the real test (as stated earlier) is how does it look printed small? If the composition is correct, it will look good no matter the size. If the composition is boring, then the image will be a major eyesore made large. I like my images to be of a size that will present itself in its entirety when viewed from a distance of a few feet. If one needs to back up, say 10 feet, then the experience is no longer an intimate one, and all the work the artist spent on printing a sharp image will go unnoticed at that distance. I also like images that present themselves well at arm's length. Then the viewing experience is truly intimate, because I have the view all to myself, and feel more inclined to become overwhelmed by it.
     
  25. KenS

    KenS Member

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    <I like my images to be of a size that will present itself in its entirety when viewed from a distance of a few feet.>

    Having been behind the groundglass for over 50 years, and have always thoroughly enjoyed the "beauty" of the contact print, I have seen too many over-enlarged prints... especially from 35mm format. I myself, tend to print most of my 4x5 negatives at 8.5 x 6.5 inches with a few on 11x14 paper with at least a 1" margin.

    To retain the visual perspective in a photograph is somewhat different that that of a painting. I was taught that the proper viewing distance for a photographic print is a function of linear magnification of the enlargement from the negative, multiplied by the focal length of the lens through which the negative was exposed.

    Ken
     
  26. BarrieB

    BarrieB Member

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    A very interesting thread: However one item not mentioned is the 'Angle of view' or Lens focal length used for the original negative. If we were comparing 'Normal' negatives to say 'Extreme W/angle ' the the W/A lens will have much more subject matter at Infinity than say a 150mm. What do others think ?
    I usually go to no more than 12" x 16" with minimal cropping for most of my 4 X 5 B&W negs, usually landscapes. Cheers Barrie