localized test strips in contact printing

Discussion in 'Contact Printing' started by mcilroy, Sep 25, 2011.

  1. mcilroy

    mcilroy Member

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    I have just started contact printing my 8x10" negs.

    When enlarging, I'm doing what Ralph Lambrecht in Way Beyond Monochrome calls "localized test strips", which means every strip is made from the same portion of the image. I'm trying to adapt this method to contact printig, bit I'm having a hard time figuring out a convenient way of doing so.

    For enlargements, I'm using the DIY test strip printer from the book: http://www.waybeyondmonochrome.com/WBM2/TOC_files/TestStripPrinterEd2.pdf

    This obviously doesn't work so well with contact printing. Has anyone here found a good method for doing localized test strips in contact printing?
     
  2. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    Not sure if this helps, but I cut up roughtly 2" strips to use for contacts for enlarging. I don't see why it wouldn't work for contact printing.
     
  3. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Test strips are unnecessary. You might want to read my article:
    ON PRINTING
    And why there in no such thing as a difficult negative to print

    It can be found on my web site here:http://www.michaelandpaula.com/mp/onprinting.html

    Below is the part about not needing test strips.

    Outflanking the print:

    I never make a test strip and I strongly advise others never to make one. I think that making test strips is simply a waste of time since they do not provide enough information. If one is making contact prints or enlargements that are of a constant size or a couple of constant sizes, one quickly learns the approximate amount of light needed. If one makes test strips, one learns at best, more or less what the correct exposure is, but one doesn’t learn how much dodging and burning-in might be necessary. Usually, one goes through more paper figuring that out than if one took the approach I call "outflanking."

    To use outflanking: Look at a negative, and based on experience take a guess at the proper printing exposure. Try to guess it exactly, but hope you are wrong—at least by a little. I have used far more paper when I have guessed the exposure seemingly correctly than when I was off, whether by a little or by a lot. Why this is so I will get to later. If you are wrong in your guess and the print is either too light or too dark, you are off to a good start. Now make a second print so that you are exactly the same distance on the other side of what you think the correct exposure will be. After this, the correct exposure will usually become immediately evident. Ideally, it will fall somewhere near the middle of the two previous exposures.

    Here’s how this works in practice: Let’s say you look at a negative and estimate that it needs a twelve second exposure. You expose it for twelve seconds, but it is too light and you now think the proper exposure should be fifteen seconds. Do not make the next exposure for fifteen seconds; make it for eighteen seconds—outflanking the print. Now you will have one print that is too light and, hopefully, one print that is too dark. Next, step back and evaluate the two prints. Based on your evaluation of the light and dark prints, make what you think is the proper exposure. At this point do not dodge and burn, even if you know you will need to. (The only exception to this is when in the lighter print there are still some areas that are too dark, and in the darker print there are still some areas that are too light.) Let us say you expose this third print for fifteen seconds. Now evaluate this newest print. Because now you also have a lighter and a darker print as well as one that is at least very close to properly exposed, you should be able to easily see if the overall print is a little too light or a little too dark. Perhaps the exposure should have been fifteen and a half, or sixteen seconds, or perhaps it should have been fourteen or fourteen and a half seconds. If the exposure should have been sixteen seconds, make another print for that amount of time, again without dodging or burning-in. By working in this way you can readily come to the exact basic exposure.

    It is the lighter and darker prints that give you the understanding of exactly how much dodging and burning-in will probably be needed, and it is with the print following the one that has the correct basic exposure, usually the fourth or fifth print, that you begin to dodge and burn-in. By referring back to the light print and to the dark print you can now see exactly where and how much to dodge and burn-in. Had dodging and burning-in been done sooner, it would have been impossible to tell exactly what results were due to the dodging and burning-in and what results were due to the basic exposure—so make sure not to dodge or burn-in until the correct basic exposure has been determined. Working in this manner, ultimately you will save time and paper. Often you will have a finished print by the fourth or fifth sheet of paper—the first one that was dodged and burned-in.

    If on the first print you guessed what appears to be the correct basic exposure, almost invariably you are in for trouble. First of all, you get no information as to exactly how much dodging and burning-in may be necessary, and then, you have what you think is the right exposure, but there is often the nagging suspicion that maybe it needs an additional second or a half second, or on occasion, an additional quarter second (easy to time with a metronome). And so you make another print, let’s say for a second more. And lo, it is better, a bit richer perhaps. Now, what would happen if yet another half second were added? If you try that, you may end up thinking that an additional second is what it really needed, not an additional half second. And conversely, if you add an additional second, sure enough you will think it only needed an additional half second after all. Had you outflanked the print in the first place, usually you will not have to go through all of that, and ultimately you will use less paper rather than more.

    Since using a metronome and the outflanking method, I have come to the conclusion that there are no difficult negatives to print. Sure, some prints do need more dodging and burning-in than others, but by timing them with a metronome, that part is always easy. It is rare indeed that I cannot make five prints from a new negative within an hour, and usually it takes less time than that. And it is not because my negatives are always perfectly exposed and developed.

    As part of the occasional workshops I teach, I ask the participants to bring their most difficult negatives from which they eventually were able to make a decent print, the ones that took many hours or even days to print. I then print the negative using the methods described above. Even among these negatives from other photographers I have yet to find a truly difficult negative to print—one that has taken longer than an hour to get right.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  4. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Interesting technique, Michael...and I can see how well it can work. I still do a test strip as it seems to do the same as your "out-flanking". A large test strip (using your example) that included significant areas of the print at 12, 15 and 18 seconds tells me the same thing as doing individual prints at each time. I pick a time from the test strip and make a work print (no dodging or burning). Comparing the test strip to the work print gives me all the info I need for burning and dodging the entire print.

    What ever works...

    Vaughn
     
  5. mcilroy

    mcilroy Member

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    Thanks Michael, I may try that anytime soon.

    But my main reason for using test strips is in the first place to save on paper. Yes, I know I shouldn't be cheap when working analog and wanting good results, but I'm a student and 8x10" film is expensive enough. I just can't justify making a bunch of full test prints to obtain proper exposure and contrast.
     
  6. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    Michael's way uses far less paper and far less time to arrive at an optimal contact print than any other method. And when I say "optimal" I mean the absolute best print that can be obtained from any given negative. For me this has become the only acceptable print. I rarely use more than 6 or 7 sheets to arrive at my final print. I assure you that if you make test strips you will use a lot more paper and a lot more time to arrive at even a good print, much less the best one.

    Another advantage to outflanking: once you find the base time, dodging and burning times which will produce the best print, you can crank out 4 or 5 more in quick succession and they will be absolutely identical. No perceptible difference whatsoever.
     
  7. mcilroy

    mcilroy Member

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    I know that working with test strips is not everyones cup of tea, but I'm used to it and normally don't need more than 2-3 5x7" sheets to get the optimum exposure and contrast for my taste (i don't think theres an optimum that works for everyone). I'm using a contact printer for 8x10" and can't dodge or burn anyway.
     
  8. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    I have been using the outflanking method since the early 70's and highly endorse Micheal's description.


    I would add that after time the ability to SEE the negative on lightbox, then easel makes your first decision on contrast and density much easier.
    Also I encourage all printers to pay attention to the image emerging in the developer as dodge and burns become very evident and a lot of time wastage is avoided by visually SEEING the image before you even put on the room lights.
     
  9. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    When I say "best" or "optimum", I mean "the print that you want". The best print is the one that expresses your artistic intention. It will be different for every person.

    Bob's post reminded me that you can use outflanking for enlargements as well. It zeroes in on the print you want, no matter what other techniques you may be using. Bob does a lot of split grade printing and still arrives at his optimal print with just a few sheets of paper.

    Using a contact printer severely limits your ability to get a fine print. I have only one negative that prints straight, without any dodging or burning. I recommend you use a high wattage R40 bare bulb and a contact printing frame.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 27, 2011
  10. mcilroy

    mcilroy Member

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    That's totally true, and that'S what I would recommend myself if one uses contact printing more or less in the same manner as enlarging.

    When I'm conact printing 8x10", I rather want kind of a "polaroid" (sorry I can't explain it any better in english). I want to get a positive, that shows the negative as unchanged as possible, overall exposure and contrast being the only varables to get the whole tonal range on the paper.
     
  11. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    This is great advice that I hadn't always considered.
    Thanks Bob.

    I was always paranoid of marginally unsafe safelight so mostly inserted the print emulsion side down until fixed.

    False economy rears its head once again.
     
  12. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    Not dodging or burning where it is necessary is an artificial, conceptual, limitation. Sometimes the best prints are straight prints. But if a straight print does not give the best balance of tones, then one should (must, really) dodge and/or burn to get the best print. If, you don't care about making the best print you can, then sure, just make straight prints.

    I ell about printing that I have one goal: to make the best print I can. Given the negative I have, that print may be in accord with what I intended when I exposed the negative or it may not. It does not matter. The goal is simply to make the best print I can.

    Michael A. Smith
     
  13. mcilroy

    mcilroy Member

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    I don't disagree with that. It really is (and is intended to be) a conceptual limitation in this case. When I want the best print I can get, I do enlargements to have the best and widest control.