IN CONQUEST OF CONTRAST

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by David Lyga, Nov 28, 2011.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,793
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Ever since I developed my first roll of film, (size 127) when I was 14 (1964), I have pondered, with little lasting success, about 'determining to finality' the correct amount of contrast that a negative should hold. Roll film obviates the luxury that Ansel Adams had, namely being able to effectively gain the proper contrast on a subject by subject basis. Literature at the time spoke of an ideal gamma (ie, like contrast index) of about .7 or .8. I wondered, and still wonder, why 'proper' gamma cannot be 1, the same tonal displacement/rendition as seen by the naked eye.

    I have toyed with 'liking' more contrasty negatives and then have reverted to more subdued indices but have never actually reached a conclusion. There is 'something' uplifting about a 'gutsy' negative that is a little underexposed. But there is also 'something' about a negative that 'gets it all' (shadow detail in abundance with highlights that do not appear opaque) and carries with it the 'safety' of being able to render the final image with more flexibility. But, with this flat abundance of full detail, the mid tones do suffer from lack of differentiation. I have wondered if a more contrasty negative, with gorgeous mid tone separation, is really the 'ideal' and its semi-lack of shadow detail (to prevent the highlights from burning in too much) might provide the truest aesthetic rendition (ie, 'less is more'). By allowing deepest shadows to appear nonexistent perhaps we now are allowed to 'read into' the morass of darkness and come up with a more 'poetic' rendition. I really do not know but it would be interesting to hear what the intelligentsia amongst us would impart about this dilemma of sorts. - David Lyga
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 28, 2011
  2. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,042
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Your paper and paper developer have characteristics that you should match with your negatives to eke the maximum out of your materials.
    It's possible that a negative with a contrast index of 1 is completely beyond the range of your paper.
    But art is subjective, so you judge for yourself what's best for your pictures. You might find something interesting at a high gamma. Nobody else can tell you what to like.
     
  3. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,859
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Thomas is right, it is the paper that dictates a slightly lower contrast index than 1.

    In Post 38 of Zone Placement, Stephen Benskin gave us a chart that pairs Subject Brightness Range and Paper Log Exposure Range. http://www.apug.org/forums/viewpost.php?p=1233813

    ---

    This will tell you what your Contrast Index should be. Used as a point of departure, you will be able to hone in on what you are looking for.
     
  4. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,181
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2005
    Location:
    Los Alamos,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Most manufacturers recommend developing film to a gamma of about 0.65 to 0.7, which matches most papers on the market. The recommended development times are geared to this contrast, but different agitation routines can shift it a quite a bit.
     
  5. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,401
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David, most of what your talking about in your second paragraph has to do with subjective, aesthetic preferences. Exposure and development of the negative should be tailored to the original scene and how you visualize the final print.

    However since you are using 35mm it is worthwhile to keep a few other image characteristic factors in mind, in addition to overall contrast and paper curves. For one thing, targetting a contrast index of 1 will result in significantly more grain in the negative. Along with this goes reduced sharpness. It will also raise micro contrast. These are relatively minor concerns with large format, but are material considerations when enlarging small negatives. Although again, in the end it depends on what you want things to look like, as Thomas points out. I'm just trying to put all the variables on the table.
     
  6. Nicole

    Nicole Member

    Messages:
    2,548
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David, I agree with Thomas... art is subjective. I try not to get caught up in technical correctness and instead use a poetic approach, allowing each negative to determine it's own most suitable level of contrast, best judged by vision and emotion.
     
  7. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If I shoot a whole roll under a certain lighting condition, I will write that on the roll and choose a developer suited to the results I want. If it's a roll of mixed images, I will use a normal-to-me developer. I want a neutral/average contrast on the negative, and have the flexibility to print it with more or less contrast. I have PMK and caffenol-c for normal and reduced negative contrast, pyrocat-HD and xtol for normal contrast, and hc110 or pushing one of the other developers for increased contrast.
     
  8. George Collier

    George Collier Member

    Messages:
    1,066
    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2005
    Location:
    Richmond, VA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As Bill and Thomas say, the paper's range has long been known to be the limitation of the process. But I have spent considerable time (and still do) thinking about the question raised here - how much range should be in the neg and how the selection of the paper grade (or filter used) influences the intermediate value separation after the opposite ends of the tonal range is achieved in the print.
    Fred Picker once said that for 35mm, a slightly flat neg was good, the print benefiting in "look" from a slightly higher contrast in the printing.
    Many years ago, when I was teaching photography at a university, some students and I tried producing a set of negs with different contrast ranges of the same subject (4x5, tripod, etc) and printed them all on different contrast grades of the same paper to achieve the same end values. The negs that had the most range, printing on grade 1 paper had a boring flatness to them, although the highlights and shadow values were good. In fact, both the shadows and highlights had little local separation. This was in the 70's, at a time when VC papers were considered inferior, so split contrast printing was not an option.
    I still try varying the contrast of negs, using split printing to control contrast, and am still not finding what I would call a perfect neg range, except that something that prints well on grade 2 is probably a good default (now there's a surprise), allowing for artistic interpretation in different directions.
    I think it also depends on the film and developer characteristics - I just tried a roll of HP5, (most of this testing lately has been 120 roll film) with a test development with HC110, which came out a bit flat (I'd say -1). It included some sky areas, with clouds, shot with a yellow filter. When split printing, I found the base highlight exposure using Ilford filters, MGIV, and an Aristo V54 with #0 (#00 is too flat for the sky and cloud separation). Finding the low end with #5 locked in blacks, but didn't lower the lower midtones enough for the interpretation I was after, so I started working my way through the contrast range for the second (high contrast) exposure, settling on #4. But it occurred to me that I was moving values that are also influenced by the mid tone separation in the negative. The print looks great, and I wondered if I'm worrying too much about the neg, beyond just being sure everything is there, with reasonable contrast.
    I'm not comfortable with this thinking, as my entire experience has been driven by achieving the fullest range negs I can. Since discovering APUG, I have tried many things I had not considered before, and am now trying to settle on a couple of films to use going forward, which might be Delta 400 and FP4. I'm trying HP5 since I got some free rolls with paper (and, unfortunately, Delta 400 doesn't come in 4x5). So, this is on my mind lately - sorry for the long winded post.
     
  9. georg16nik

    georg16nik Member

    Messages:
    1,043
    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David, when in doubt., do contact prints.
    Many answers are hidden in there.
    Back in the days we've had those small Photax contact printers, with lamp and safe light stuffed in it..
    For roll film its a blast.
     
  10. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,400
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Multigrade paper brought that back.

    Back on the days of Jones' experiments, many of the films were developed to high gammas. However, I'd say these are the
    reasons why you'd want your rollfilm negative to have less contrast than the scene

    1) Less development = less grain
    2) Less contrast in the negative = less flare during enlargements
    3) ("chicken and the egg argument") current enlarging papers are centered around a negative contrast 0.8 to 0.6

    Personally I'd not fry any negatives in the developer, and I'd use hight contrast paper or paper developer to get the effects you want in the prints. That way, one can still print a less-contrasty tonal scale in the future.
     
  11. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,191
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I aim for a contrast range close to 3, as that matches the material I use to make prints (carbon). It is a bit of a dance to get one's negatives to match one's vision and material.

    Vaughn
     
  12. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,793
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Excellent, well thought out answers...but I'm still confused!

    First, Michael R 1974 and others: the increase in grain is handily reversed with the lower contrast grade of paper needed. (Honest, that is more than a mere truism.) You will end up with the same 'net' grain. And, I declaim the claim that lower sharpness will result with the highter EI and increase in development. Actually, the opposite is at least theoretically likely to be true because the basic density imparted though the reduced exposure is less likely to involve halation and irradiation factors.

    In retrospect, I should have posted this on a less technical side of APUG, like one branching towards aethetics. Actually, the responses expressed here veer towards that but the readership might have been yet more profound and focused. I think that the real answer is to make both kinds of prints and see which one imparts more of the thought you wished to express. That is one reason why I do not like 'titles' on prints (other than solely for descriptive purposes). The salon era (1940s and 1950s) used titles and I feel that that restriction limits my being able to come up with my own interpretive value.

    Life is best when forcing oneself to at least understand others' interpretations and points of view. - David Lyga.
     
  13. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,793
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    When I first started printing color (1978) I did an experiement: I greatly underexposed a color swash by three stops on 5247 and gave triple the development. I will NEVER forget the purity and beauty of those hues (at the expense of much, much, much shadow detail). There is a need for exploring these alternative methods. - David Lyga.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,005
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    IMO, everything starts with your printing paper and procesess (developer, toning, and what have you). You must calibrate to that to get control, not to a pre-published ideal for a piece of film alone.

    In general, I like my negatives to have more punch than the average. But that is just because I would tend to print a textbook "normal" negative on a 3 or 3-1/2 filter.

    However, for the most versatility, I'd aim for negatives that printed well on a grade 2, or maybe even a bit lower. It's much easier to add contrast when printing than it is to take it away. The "better safe than sorry" approach would be to make softer negs rather than harder ones.

    That being said, I don't often find myself wanting to take away contrast from a shot that I deliberately made to be contrasty. I don't find myself often changing my mind in the darkroom from when I was shooting.
     
  16. dpgoldenberg

    dpgoldenberg Member

    Messages:
    50
    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2009
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I think that this probably represents a misconception. There is nothing magical about a gamma of 1. Gamma is the slope of the linear region of the characteristic curve when the exposure is plotted on a log base 2 scale versus density, which is a log base 10 scale of the fraction of light transmitted. The numerical value of the slope depends on the bases of the two logarithmic scales, which are arbitrary: 2 because we like to think in terms of doublings and 10 because that's how many fingers most of us have.

    The miraculous thing about the eye (and brain) is that they are able to perceive an incredibly wide range of light intensities (though not all at the same time), well beyond most physical/chemical sensors. This ability depends on all kinds of non-linearities in the retina and brain that I don't think are fully understood yet. A large part of the challenge in photography is to create an image using a much more limited range of light intensities (reflected off a print or emitted from a screen) that captures the sensation of seeing the original scene.

    So, if a negative with gamma=1 creates the aesthetic that you are looking for, that's what you should use. But, I don't think that you can claim that it has any special meaning with respect to natural vision.

    David
     
  17. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    19,650
    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2003
    Location:
    local
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    hi david

    i am kind of a slacker and never really pay much attention to exposure
    regarding contrast. i tend to use a masking / staining developer ( caffenol )
    so even if my film is over processed, it prints without much trouble .
    i don't use densitometers or anything to measure gamma &c ...

    one thing that helped me a great deal, aside from printing random " stuff "
    ( plastic, wax slides, ink, &c ) to interpret the negative was using more than
    one vc filter when making a print. i happened upon it when i had things that didn't look "right"
    so i made a few different exposures some with no flter, some with a low filter ( 1 or 0 ) and some
    with a high filter ( 4 or 5+ ) and all the tones fell into place, and the contrast was perfect ...
    les mclean has a great article about this on his website ( and probably in his book )
    http://www.lesmcleanphotography.com/articles.php?page=full&article=21

    good luck !
    john
     
  18. keithwms

    keithwms Member

    Messages:
    6,075
    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2006
    Location:
    Charlottesvi
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Well, I certainly don't think there is any 'ideal' anything in photography- there are so many different ways to perceive and interpret. We simply make executive decisions based on what we think makes the most effective image. I could argue that John's approach is the most artistically liberating! Or I could argue that BTZS makes the fullest use of the tone curves of the media and is therefore the best. So many different ideas, and all of them suited to different purposes....

    Personally, I think you might be on to something with the "less is more" idea. What I often find lacking in recent photography is a sense of mystery, a sense that the image invites imaginative interpretation, or that there is always more than you can see. When I look back through the old images of Steichen and others, I get a real sense of sadness about where photography stands today. Too academized perhaps- somebody persuaded everyone that you must have crisp, clean detail from one end of the tone scale to the other or you just don't know your stuff.
     
  19. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,191
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    One of the fun, but often a bit frustrating aspects of alt processes is that I am often "experimenting" with both the negative and with the carbon process itself at the same time...while photographing in the changing light under the redwoods. Sort of like juggling except that I take notes.

    The desire to photograph in a high contrast environment is what drew me to carbon printing. The redwoods with sunlight hitting the trunks and forest floor, dark shadows of burnt and hollowed redwoods. It can be a quite a range...say from 2 on my Pentax Digital Spot in the shadows where I want detail and 9 or 10 in the highlights were I want detail. Expose at 4 (perhaps extra stop or two or three for reciprocity failure) and give the neg a little bit of extra development to bring up the contrast a bit -- lots of extra development if the the highlights were only 7 or 8 on the spot meter.

    If the scene only went up to 6 in the highlights (still 2 in the shadows) I might compose the image for platinum/palladium printing , try to use the film's reciprocity failure to give me a little boost in contrast and give the film perhaps 50% more development. There would not be enough contrast to make a carbon print the way I like to make them.

    The images of my carbon prints are reversed, so I compose on the GG with that in mind. Sometimes I come across an image that works both ways -- and sometimes by exposing more than one negative, I can develop them differently and print the image in more than one process. And I have lucked out a few times; a few 8x10 negs have turned out to have too much contrast for pt/pd, have been redirected and printed perfectly as a carbon print.

    So yes, contrast and contrast control are important parts of both my vision and my process...but I do tend to treat it more as a dance than a lab experiment.

    Vaughn
     
  20. tomalophicon

    tomalophicon Member

    Messages:
    1,564
    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2010
    Location:
    Canberra, AC
    Shooter:
    Sub 35mm
    Well-said. On the level with my thinking about things.

    I would prefer to focus on the toes, shoulders and curves of models rather than the film or paper (I always skip those parts in the books).
     
  21. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,859
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    How did the negs look for Grade 2?

    My concern with this specific test is that by allowing the darkroom worker to make the best print possible from the neg, the best print overall might not be the easiest to execute print.

    Say, technically, the thin flat neg printed on contrasty paper is best - especially for miniature formats. But the negs are hard to print! By judging the results disregarding the intense effort it takes in the darkroom - you doomed amateur photographers to a life among difficult to print negatives.

    Yay Ansel Adams had it right by me. When he said make the negs fit Grade 2 paper, he knew he was talking about making negatives that are easier to print!

    I'm a printer, so I made my primary goal to wind up with negatives that are easy to print. I stock Grade 2 and Grade 3 paper and I use that chart to aim right in the middle of those two papers. I assume I will be off my mark one way or the other -- but it will still fit one of those papers. And if I hit my mark, then it will fit either depending on my mood at the time.

    Again, this is my goal. Yours may be more graphically motivated. Wouldn't it be cool to have a neg that printed like lith on Grade 3? To get there you can develop the neg to Gamma 1 if you want.

    Then if you want to see it look natural, check with Vaughn - the neg will probably be good for carbon
     
  22. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,401
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have done extensive testing on this, particularly the grain issue, and my findings do not match yours. Even mild expansions have significant effects on grain which are not compensated for by the lower grade of paper. This is especially true in the paper grades below ~4. For example, the visual granularity will be lower in a grade 3 print of a N-1 negative versus a grade 2 print of a N negative, and markedly lower than a grade 1 print of a N+1 negative. This is why with small format negatives if I want a mild expansion such as N+1 I prefer selenium toning a N negative. However grain is only one characteristic of a negative/print. I don't mean to imply this should be the primary concern. Just wanted to raise it as a potential consideration for small format negatives.
     
  23. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,793
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Location:
    Philadelphia
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Ahh, but, dear Bill Burk, the grade two is subjective!! I remember grade two Kodabromide being actually closer to grade one Oriental. And the old Agfa grades? They were way off. Again, what is 'grade two'?

    Perhaps, today, there is more standardization, but in Ansel's time? His 'advice' applied only to certain papers. I think that that is a fair assessment. Grade two is not, I believe, derived from a strictly quantitative formula but represents 'an opinion' on the part of the manufacturer. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Michael R 1974: I really differ with you on this: countless times I have overdeveloped TRI-X (as a good example) and have attained the same overall contrast by printing with a lower contrast filtration and am convinced that the grain was attenuated as a result (resulting in neither a 'net' gain nor loss in grain characteristics). In summation, grain seems, to me, to be a 'cost' of attaining contrast. Maybe others can either confirm or refute that. I am going solely by experimentation, not by strict, quantitative lab standards here. - David Lyga
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 29, 2011
  24. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    15,042
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Which is why, if you are interested in very high technical quality in your prints, it's best to target the characteristics of your chosen paper and paper developer combination when you process film.

    But once again, technical quality might be desirable, or it may not. It is a matter of taste and approach.

    Personally, I used to be very anal about print quality, but have relaxed it a lot lately in favor of (what I hope are) just good pictures. I crop negatives wildly, explore extreme contrast, coarse grain, shadows so dark you can't tell detail in them, and all the other things that some people frown upon and others seek out.
    It's a switch from things that could be explained in technical terms, to something hopefully more soulful and something that couldn't possibly be explained in technical terms, simply because I was tired of it. It always felt like an uphill struggle, so I just let it go instead. I can tell you this much, I'm having a lot more fun. :smile:

    So, I encourage you to explore your own preferences. Pick a single paper to work with, and a single developer, and then start to tweak your negatives to see what you like. Possibly shoot the same scene a few times over, but wildly alter how you process your negatives. Not much to lose, and everything to gain.
     
  25. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,401
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Ideally, yes. But if you read Ansel's books carefully one of the interesting things that jumps out at you is the fact most of his classic images don't print on grade 2, and require significant manipulation. He's got everything from grade 1 to Brovira 5.
     
  26. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,401
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David, I'm referring to fine grained films such as TMX, Delta, Acros, Pan F etc. They are what I like to call "precariously fine grained", ie they are highly sensitive to changes in development time, and the effects of paper grade are insufficient to cancel them out. The same goes for fine grain developers. I have not done an evaluation of Tri-X, so I'll have to defer to your judgement on that one. I suspect the difference is that Tri-X has prominent grain to begin with, and also that the somewhat less tabular nature of the grain makes it less sensitive to development changes from the perspective of visual graininess.