How to choose the best negatives to print

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Nicole, Jun 9, 2005.

  1. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This relates to 35mm, MF and LF, although those using LF of course have a distinct advantage.

    I was wondering if you have any specific techniques you use to find the best negatives for printing. (without scanning negs)

    What is it in a negative that you look for to make it worth printing?

    Please share the specifics and any tips.

    Which Loupe do you recommend using?

    Thank you again for your valuable input everyone.
    Kind regards, Nicole
     
  2. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

    Messages:
    1,376
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2005
    Location:
    Oshawa, Onta
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Nicole,

    I don't thikn this will be very much help, as it is very "un-scientific" - but I wonder how many out there share my approach:

    I look at the negs in terms of pictures - do I like it? Is it a good, or special image - composition wise, what it show, etc.

    Then I try to print it come hell or high water until I either get a desired result, or of course as is sometimes the case, fail miserably trying.

    I don't own a loupe, nor a scanner... mainly because I know that for me, they would be a waste of money since I am silly enough to try anyway...

    All the best,

    Peter.
     
  3. Leon

    Leon Member

    Messages:
    2,075
    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2003
    Location:
    Kent, Englan
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I gave up using contact sheets and loupes a while back now .... I now scan all my negs at the highest res I can, then look at them carefully to choose which ones I want to take into the darkroom. I play a bit in photoshop to test out some burning/dodging plans and toning, then do it anolgue-style - probably not in the spirit of APUG, but that is what I do :smile:
     
  4. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,952
    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2004
    Location:
    fairfield co
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    best negative

    Nicole-proof your negatives-all your negatives on the paper you are going to be printing on. Make sure you have some sort of marking system so you can differentiate them. For a loupe I use a 50mm lens from a 35mm camera/works just fine. If you have several exposures of the same photo there is usually one that will stand out above the rest. Sometimes you need to just sit back and wait/relook at the proofs to decide which negative you want to use. If I'm a little unsure I'll take 2 into the darkroom and work with the first one that I think will go. Take the time to study the proof sheet. If you are doing it right it will tell you all you need to know. IMPORTANT-I now proof with a number one filter. It lets you see further into the negative and will render more information. I used to do it all with a number two paper before the availability of VC papers. Try it and you will understand what I'm saying.(credit to Bruce Barnbaum for this)It will immediately let you see at what contrast to print;i.e. saving time and paper!!
    A proper proof is the key!!
    Regards, Peter
     
  5. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Leon I have been doing the same as you, but the scanning and hours on the pc are driving me nuts!!! I was hoping there'd be a just as effective but quicker way of chosing negs to print by hand in the wet darkroom.
     
  6. alien

    alien Member

    Messages:
    226
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2005
    Location:
    England
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    that is a great tip, the pone with the 50 mm lens - will try it myslelf later!

    Can't contribute much to this thread, but I am glad that Nicole brought it up, it helps me, too!

    Greetings to all!
     
  7. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Peter, that's a great tip! Thanks and thanks to Bruce Barnbaum.
     
  8. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I suppose it is enticing to use PS to see how much detail is in a negative. But often my pro photolab I use just can't produce the detail I can get on the computer through scanning. But that's a whole new thread! Don't go there! I wish I had my own wet darkroom.
     
  9. Steve Roberts

    Steve Roberts Member

    Messages:
    1,118
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2004
    Location:
    Near Tavisto
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hi Nicole,
    That's an interesting question that for me begins, as others have said, with making a decent contact sheet. I don't have any graphics facilities on my eight year old 486 computer beyond a simple scanner and some crude (but pleasingly simple) Agfa software, so the dreaded "d" word doesn't come into the equation.
    The main point for me, though, is that what makes a neg worth printing varies according to what the finished product is going to be used for and that it's sometimes too easy to rely on "old faithfulls" rather than experiment with previously unprinted material. Time is also a useful leveller, and coming back to a contact sheet after a couple of weeks can help to sort the wheat from the chaff.
    Best wishes,
    Steve
     
  10. Bob F.

    Bob F. Member

    Messages:
    3,984
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2004
    Location:
    London
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I always print a set of contacts at grade 2. The Paterson contact frame makes life a little easier there than faffing about with sheets of glass. This has two advantages: I can see what the negative looks like as an image (I still can't "see" a negative in reversed tones like some can) and also tells me if I made a mistake with exposure and/or development by always printing at the min-time-for-max-black for that paper/film combination (idea courtesy of the late Barry Thornton's writings).

    If I see something that looks promising I'll put the neg on the lightbox and check for shadow and highlight detail. I use a 6x Silvestri loupe for this. Ah, I should point out that this is mainly MF and occasional LF: I rarely use 35mm these days for anything "serious".... Once I have determined that it will print OK, I make a work print with or without basic dodge & burn and leave it overnight or longer. Although this delay is a good thing to do, I must confess the delay in my case usually has more of a practical cause due to time constraints than being a carefully considered tactic to distance myself from my initial decision. Very often, I end up putting the print away for a later date as whatever feelings I had for it the day before evaporate...

    Bob.
     
  11. rogueish

    rogueish Member

    Messages:
    877
    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2004
    Location:
    3rd Rock
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I rarely do proof sheets myself as time in the darkroom is at a premium. I'm not saying don't do them, as they are a great tool and can really help.
    If I don't have a proof sheet, usually I'll hold the neg sheets against the window, or a lamp shade (with the light on of course). Study them close and pick the ones that look good subject wise. Then break out the loupe or lens (great tip that) and look at those ones. No point in louping at the ones your unlikely to print anyway.
    Look for the usual suspects. Sharpness, detail in shadow/highlights, distracting objects in fore/background, motion/coffee shakes blur. But of course you already know all that.My favourite is the branches growing out of peoples heads :tongue:
    Once you narrow it down, do a couple of quick and dirty prints (from each neg picked) that you can assess and mark up with a grease pencil.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 9, 2005
  12. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

    Messages:
    2,027
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2003
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I dont do proofs often as I used to do mainly LF. Now I still do LF, but much more 120 and 35mm and will do contaccts sheets again at a low grade when I have big batches to do and the faff is worth it.

    However, The fastest way is to have a decent light box and loupe. You can lay out the negs in their sleeves, find the best compositions (as you would on a contact sheet, onlt negative and backlit!), then check for exposure....is there shadow detail where I want it....how are the highlights? It does not take long to get instinctive with the exposure/contrast assessment bit. That said, if the best image has technical issues, I just bloody mindedly make sure I print it well, assuming the gain is worth the pain! VC materials leave us with few excuses tho it is sometimes a battle! I dont have volume to worry about tho, so of course if you do, pre-flashing etc may not be viable.....

    Tom
     
  13. shyguy

    shyguy Member

    Messages:
    128
    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2005
    Location:
    North East U
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I’ll start by saying that I shoot strictly 4 x 5 landscapes. The process is a bit less cluttered than 35mm simply because there are fewer choices. Anyway, the process begins with the taking of the picture. I take 2 of every shot. That is, if I select a given f and speed I shoot 2, if I then make a change in the settings, I take 2. During development I separate negs into A and B piles by shoot. Develop the A’s and look at them wet. Do I have the contrast I want, is the density there, detail in the highlights. I make any necessary adjustments to development for group B and proceed.

    I organize my work by shot. That is to say all negatives of a given shoot (subject) are filed together. I place those negs in sheets that hold 4 per page.

    The sheet of negs go directly on a light table where with a 3x loop I inspect them for focus and movement issues. I am looking for crisp clean subject matter. Then I am looking for detail in the highlights and shadows.

    If I find one I like it is separated from the pack and placed in its own holder. This neg is then printed as if to make an 8 x 10, but I use 5 x 7 paper of the type the final print would be made on. This print is made with parameters that allow detail in the shadows and highlights that I believe to be important. The 5 x 7 is positioned to capture the main area of interest. If obvious changes need to be made to this print I make them right then. The prints are finished for each subject I shot that day and allowed to dry over night.

    I will also ad that very detailed information has been recorded for each neg exposed, and each print made, it’s all filed with the negs and prints of a given subject.

    The next morning I examine the “test” prints. Is there a worthy image there, could manipulation help the print, etc. I make notes on the results, and move on.

    When I am ready I can go into the lab, pull a file on a subject, see the test image and the settings required to make it, setup and go.

    This method allows me to review at my leisure the images I have created, show others, get their input, and determine the worthiness of a given image before going in to make any kind of final print.

    As for a final print, I can go in set up as mentioned and start right off. The image I create is always hung on the wall for a week for mine and other family members review. Comments noted, and a reprint created from that critique. Similar to proof reading a paper you might write.

    This process works very well for me.

    S.
     
  14. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,562
    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2004
    Location:
    Chicago, Wes
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Dear Nicole,

    A very good topic. I've enjoyed reading the responses.

    Fortunately(???) for me, I am quite nearsighted so I first scan the roll with my glasses off. After that, I put them back on and use an inexpensive loupe (8x, I think). In terms of which ones I choose, the ones that interest me most in terms of subject and composition (assuming they aren't out of focus<g>). Unfortunately for the terms of your question, I do often scan multiples of bracketed exposures or varying DOF.

    Neal Wydra
     
  15. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

    Messages:
    2,027
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2003
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Oh, yeah and if you wanna look like a real pro, you will use bold sweeps of your chinagraph pencil to mark your contact sheets and or neg files. You cant be neat. Amateurs are neat. Pros dont have time to be neat and are too confident to bother:wink:
     
  16. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    lol Tom, you should see the state of my contact sheets and neg sleeves I hand into the pro labs! Also with a long list of instructions. :D
     
  17. photobackpacker

    photobackpacker Advertiser

    Messages:
    430
    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2005
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I have discovered that experience is a necessary ingredient for judging negatives. I have shot several thousand sheets of 4x5 since I switched to that format in 87. The overly dense negative is still more appealing to my eye when pulled from the rinse and held up to the light. Experience has taught me that those negatives are disappointing in the enlarger.

    Sharpness issues are likewise hard for me to judge on the light table. I am, much to my frustration, frequently disappointed by negatives that look great on the light table - even with a casual investigation with an 8x loupe. Negatives with small areas of unsharp focus or general softness owing to camera movement account for the greatest number of "throwaways". I am learning that if it looks even the least bit soft on the hard edges with an 8x loupe - I might as well save the printing paper. With experience, recognizing this borderline softness has improved.

    I contact proof every negative at a grade 0 setting on my enlarger. I check the highlights with a densitometer to ensure they are within limits. I carefully examine each negative and contact print with an 8x loupe for sharpness. I then examine the negative and proof under a magnifying flourescent lamp looking for any disqualifying defects in the negative (a macro examination.) If it survives all of this, I print it.
     
  18. Bighead

    Bighead Member

    Messages:
    471
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2005
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I use the contact sheets to check composition and facial expressions (if people) but generally, I make my final decisions based on the shadow area details... If someone is wearing a black jacket, I grab the neg that is the darkest but has details... Using a loupe, you can see the fibers in the material or whatever.... Anything other than perfect white on the negative.

    That's assuming a three(or 4 or 5) shot bracket, where you have several of the same thing to choose from. If not, Well, just pick what you like... If it looks decent on the contact, I can print it and make something decent... But, I like wasting paper too.....
     
  19. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

    Messages:
    3,242
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Milwaukee, W
    Shooter:
    35mm
    My work these days is almost all 35mm and the great majority of it is cityscape/landscape and nature. For a loupe I have several choices: My 50mm 1.4 Planar, a 50mm 2.8 enlarging lens and an inexpensive 10x jeweler's loupe. For a light box I use a Aristo coldlight head made to fit a Durst 138/ S-45 turned on its back with the light facing upward....very bright. I use glass carriers. Since I am dealing with subjects that stay put my evaluation of the negative is mainly concerned that any dust motes etc are removed from the negative. I also check for imperfections. I generally take six shots of the same scence from a single tripod location. If I see any defects in the negative I choose a different one. I also closely check the fine detail to make certain that the negative is satisfactory in sharpness and depth of field in case my old tired eyes served me poorly. I tend to work as close to f4 thru f8 with prime lenses. Most commonly f5.6. I am only using prime lenses as I own no zooms.

    If the negative passes these inspections then and only then is it printed. A 50mm 1.4 held with the front element facing the eye makes for a very fine loupe and is certainly bright and the magnifiction is sufficient for negative examination.

    So for me the important ingredients are a lightbox and a loupe. I make no contact prints and I own no equipment to scan. If I were to have a scanner for 35mm I think than I guess would use a flat bed and scan a whole roll at a time and examine the negatives on the screen. However, I am trying to do my utmost to remain digitally ignorant. It seems to work fine as I have a talent for ignorance.
     
  20. wclavey

    wclavey Member

    Messages:
    253
    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2005
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I am exactly the same way... I see the nicely dense negatives while they are drying and then they look so bland when printed... hence my compunction about contact printing. Once printed, I find that my pictures "speak" to me - - I can't say why I select the ones I do... they just jump out at me. Perhaps because my usual habit is to bracket in 2-stop increments s - - so the right exposure just stands out? If I bracketed in 1-stop increments, then I might have more trouble selecting the right exposure? I don't know.

    Now that school is over for my son, I have lost my access to contact prints... he took my negatives to school and did them for me at lunch... and we don't have a darkroom at home. Someone suggested inverting my lightbox on my flatbed scanner and making contact prints digitally... hmmmm...

    Westley
     
  21. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

    Messages:
    1,325
    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2004
    Location:
    Louisiana, U
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    First of all, it should be clear by now that everyone has their own way of doing it and each of those ways works pretty well for everyone.

    Like most things, it gets easier with experience. I don't make contact sheets at all. The main reason is that I can judge a negative better than a 35mm, 645 or 6x6 size print (which is often of less than optimum print quality). If I took the time to make a perfect contact sheet of every roll of film I shot, I wouldn't have enough time to make enlargements.

    I use a cheap Canon loupe (had a couple of expensive loupes--they don't bounce very well when they are dropped, believe me :mad: ). My negatives go into a Print File page after they are dry and I judge them through the plastic. I have a portable light box I bought so long ago the brand is worn off.

    What do I look for? Flaws, screw-ups and eyes that are closed, among other things. I try to find something wrong with every negative that interests me. When I find the least offensive negative, I use a Sanford Sharpie to mark it on the plastic page. I take the page to the darkroom and then I judge the negative projected on the easel. Many times, a negative that looks okay through the loupe simply looks like crap in the darkroom. A lot of times, what looked pretty good on the easel looks like crap when it comes up in the developer.

    It's not a perfect method. It's subjective and trial-and-error a lot of the time.
     
  22. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

    Messages:
    2,442
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2004
    Location:
    Phoeinx Ariz
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I gang print the roll or a batch of 4X5 sheets on 5X7 RC to get a working print. I print 8 or 9 at at time then develop them all at once, fix in rapid fixer, wash so in just a 1/2 hour or so I have a better idea of what I want to work on. If the negative looks thin or dense I may use a print analyzer to get a working exposure.
     
  23. Maine-iac

    Maine-iac Member

    Messages:
    465
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2004
    Location:
    Island Heigh
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I agree with the "proper proof" contact sheet method that various have suggested.

    Years ago, when I still worked in 35mm, if I had a roll that I really wanted to look at bigger than the tiny contacts, I made "giant contacts." I put three strips of three negs in a 4X5 negative carrier and printed them on an 8X10 sheet of paper. This gave me nine negs per sheet, and of course, weren't strictly "contacts" at all. But they were proofs, in a size I could see. I have become a convert lately to printing my MF and LF contact sheets slightly under "normal" contrast to see the full information on the neg.

    Larry

    Larry
     
  24. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,247
    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2003
    Location:
    Port Hueneme
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    When I have a batch of negs that I shot for myself - I go through and disqualify as many as I can - i only want to spend darkroom time with ones that will go in my portfolio.

    Sharpness - I use the loupe I used on the groundglass when I shot the neg and I have a small battery 4x5" lightbox that works great. If my main idea is at all soft - I ditch that one.

    Contrast - I look for contrast range that will sparkle on a print. An SBR of 1 will print well on grade 3, an SBR of 1.25 will print well on grade 2. If it is too far out of either of those ranges, I will not be able to put it on the paper I like. It is sad to have a great image that will only print on RC VC with a 5 or 0 filter when all I really wanted was a great fiber grade 2


    Boring - If it is not interesting after all - If it looks like someone else's work (unoriginal) or if it is not as good as something I have already done that is similar - I don't spend much time with it.

    Out of 30 sheets I came home with on my last outing - I spent most of my time with 2 of them - many of them I made one print just to evaluate it. - To me an evaluation print is an 8x10 on fiber paper. If it is really great- it gets burned and dodged and messed with and I will make prints up to 11x14 or 16x20 ---- and of course more 8x10 sheets. I use a lot of materials I guess - but the experience keeps improving my skills. By making my evaluation prints as 8x10, I can see if things are really sharp or if they are being overstated by a 5x7 rendition.