Need more contrast

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by gbenson, Jan 21, 2012.

  1. gbenson

    gbenson Member

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    Hi all,

    I pretty often run out of contrast when printing underexposed negatives. Obviously the real answer here is I should expose better, but it seems I struggle to get decent blacks when I hit grade 5 on the enlarger. Also, the difference between grades 4 and 5 seems pretty small compared to the differences between other grades. I'm pretty new to all this, so I wanted to check if I'm doing something odd--and find out if there's something easy I can change to get a bit more contrast!

    Ok, here's what I do:

    Film is HP5, 35mm, exposed at 1600ASA and developed in DD-X 1+4 at 20°C for 13 minutes, 4 inversions totalling 10 seconds each minute (basically what the datasheet says). When I expose it right I get lovely negatives that print at 3-3½.

    I use an LPL VC7700 enlarger with a 60mm lens to print on 8x10" Ilford Multigrade RC gloss paper. Usually the exposures (at f8) end up being 12-14 seconds for a nicely exposed negative at 3-3½. I develop with Acugrade 1+9 for 90 seconds (which I do 80 seconds in the tray, and the final 10 seconds held above it to drip off, so the print goes in the stop exactly 90 seconds after it went in the dev). 90 seconds isn't what the datasheet says here--it says 60 seconds, but I would end up having to expose the prints forever (with really muddy results) when I tried that. I mix it at 20°C but I don't have any method of maintaining it's temperature (yet!) so it's generally dropped 2-3°C by the time I'm finished. That doesn't seem to make a lot of difference, I've done comparison prints at the start and end before and they look much the same.

    Does anything look obviously wrong here?

    Thanks,
    Gary
     
  2. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    First try a less diluted paper developer, you will get stronger blacks when printing.

    Depending on your lens, F8 might be closed down a bit too much. 2 full stops down from max is usually the lenses sweet spot but again testing would be recommended.

    If 90seconds isnt cutting, dont pull it then, leave it in a bit longer and see if those blacks get and darker.

    Check your filters as they can degrade over time as well too. And double check that the values are correct amounts from the paper booklet, it lists various enlarger brands when you dial it in.

    Is your film new and paper new? fog affects contrast as well.

    Honestly, a film pushed 2 stops, and then printed at 5 is already ridiculously contrasty. Can you post a scan of what you have, and then a tweaked version of what you want?
     
  3. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    You have already identified the problem.

    Underexposure "naturally" places your subjects darker on the print, don't fight it so much, let it fall darker and contrast will improve.

    Going forward don't be so stingy with exposure, being over a bit doesn't have the same penalty.
     
  4. Jon Shiu

    Jon Shiu Subscriber

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    There is something seriously wrong with your print developer/temperature if you can't get a good black in 60 seconds with Ilford Multigrade RC. If you can find it, get some fresh Ilford Multigrade Developer. Try to keep the temperature above 20C.

    Jon
     
  5. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    If you normally get good prints at grade 3, and you're not getting good prints at grade 3 now, a few things could have changed:
    1. Your safelight isn't 'safe' anymore.
    2. Your multigrade filters might be spent, producing the wrong contrast.
    3. Your paper has aged.
    4. Your paper developer is getting exhausted, or contaminated by stop bath or fixer remnants.
    5. Stray light hitting the paper somehow.

    I'm sure there are more reasons, but try changing one thing at a time, like make a print without your safelight on, or mix fresh chemistry. But change only one thing at a time so that you can isolate what causes the problems.

    Good luck!
     
  6. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I'm with the others, I think you need to do some chemical/safelight test strips to determine if everything is kosher or not.

    It's true in that contrast changes between 4-5 with VC are not as extreme with the equivalent graded paper, but you should definitely be able to hit black with any negative except the most heavily *overexposed* (not underexposed) negatives.

    Usually inability to get a good black isn't nearly as common a problem as inability to have clean whites with proper balance of black.

    However, I'll assume what you're dealing with is that in order to deal with underexposed negatives, you have to both underexpose the paper (compared to your normal negatives) and jack up the contrast so the blacks drop as a result of the paper underexposure.

    I'd do some more testing of the common things: chemicals, safe-light, filters, and paper.
     
  7. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    Besides what Newt has to say, you definitly need to find your personal EI for the film you are using. Printing from thin negatives is a PITA to start off, and salvaging acceptable images is hard work at best. If you believe your exposures are correct in camera, double check your developing time and temp. Make danged sure your thermometer is accurate. I have one set time that I develope prints at, and adjust my exposure at the enlarger to accomodate this.I use Ethol LPD for two minutes at room temp, dilution isn't a factor with LPD except for tonality. If you want great prints, it's best to start with great negatives.
     
  8. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    While what is posted above is probably more to your point, I have found that current # 5 filters give nowhere near as much contrast as old, under the lens, Kodak or Dupont systems with Bakelite holders.
     
  9. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    You can't shine ****.

    Underexposed negatives are basically ruined. The only solution is to re-shoot.

    If you want some nice prints, try shooting at EI 200.

    Good prints start in the camera.
     
  10. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Could it be that the times for HP5+ pushed to 1600 in DDX is another Ilford time that is seriously under? Most agree that D3200 in DDX needs the time for the next speed up so expose at 1600 and develop for the times given for 3200 but I haven't noticed the same being said for HP5+.

    Apart from the case above in respect of D3200 I have found that the Ilford times have always given negs that are fine at grade 3/3.5

    pentaxuser
     
  11. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    At one time I thought that to be true.

    With a fair bit more experience, in metering and printing, I now find that Ilford's numbers work well in most cases.
     
  12. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    Ditto, you have to realize that negative film speeds are really, oftentimes, too optimized, much like miles per gallon hype. - David Lyga
     
  13. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    It's more like the exposure is already below the safety factor. Any sloppiness in exposure will just push the exposure further to the left reducing the negative density range further. And "pushing" film is usually done in the most extreme of situations. The scene luminance range is frequently either very flat or very contrasty. When I worked in a lab, we would see shoots of musicians on stage and the negatives were almost always clear except for the blown out hair light.

    The way pushing for speed is supposed to work is that with under exposure, the shadows shift down into the toe of the film curve. This reduces the film density range. The film is then pushed to increase the film gradient increasing what's left of the density range. The rule of thumb for pushing for speed is that the "film speed" increases 1/3 stop per stop of contrast.

    Sloppy exposure, difficult subject luminance ranges, and willingness to accept loss of image quality are the biggest factors to whether pushing for speed is successful or not.
     
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  15. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    It's probably best to try to solve the problem the OP has asked to solve.

    The problem obviously doesn't come from underexposing film, since prints from similarly underexposed film in the past have been satisfactory.
    The problem is that all of a sudden the prints are no longer good, from the same type of negative the OP has used before.
     
  16. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    How can we be certain they are similarly under exposed? Even th OP says "When I expose it right." I believe the whole errors in exposure and variations in the luminance range can explain his varying results. So, unless he's using old developer or not mixing it correctly, my suggestion is don't over rate the film, and if you do, expect certain percentage of failed negatives.
     
  17. gbenson

    gbenson Member

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    Thomas, Stephen is right in that the negatives I am trying to print from are underexposed. I'll obviously try and expose better in future, but I do like some of the pictures and I'm trying to get what I can from them. I guess in retrospect my problem is that even at grade 5 the midtones are very low when I expose enough to get proper blacks. My instinct was to try split-filter printing, with grade 5 to get the blacks and then burning with grade 0 to put the midtones somewhere nice, but everything's already too dark with just the grade 5 exposure.

    FWIW I mix fresh developer every session, and I use that tetenal stuff to stop the concentrate going off in the interim. I opened the bottle I a month ago max, but the liquid is still the right colour. My paper is fresh too, it's not fogged or anything.
     
  18. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    I have re-read the OP's thread and he seems to say that when he properly exposes he get negs that will print at grades 3/3.5 so I am not sure that his problem is other than underexposed negs on this occasion rather than poor printing and/or faulty chemicals

    However we are doing what we often collectively do - me included - which is to try and solve an OP's problem when we need to find out exactly what he means


    pentaxuser
     
  19. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Sorry, additional posts had arrived before I could post. At least now we know the issue

    pentaxuser
     
  20. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Gbenson,

    One thing you might try is printing for nice blacks then bleaching the areas you want to brighten.

    It is a technique I've seen done well, and played with a bit, but I have not mastered it.
     
  21. Stephen Benskin

    Stephen Benskin Member

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    Intensifying the negatives is another way to go.
     
  22. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Gbenson, one of the most difficult things about printing underexposed shadows is they lack local contrast, which means they need more contrast when printing, but since they are thin, using high contrast filters makes it hard to keep them from going all black. If you reduce the enlarging exposure, or decrease the filter value, you get muddy low values. The solution is to combine multiple filters with careful burning and dodging. Not just split filter printing, but local burning and dodging. This is how you can boost the local contrast in the low values, while avoiding them all going completely black. It might require some work, but most prints do, and you'll have to live with quite a bit of extra work particularly if you are going to underexpose your film.

    As Stephen suggests, intensification can help increase contrast in the negative. Selenium toner works well as a proportional intensifier (ie increases contrast) and has virtually no effect on graininess. You can sometimes get as much as a full "grade" of extra contrast in the negative. However it depends on how much silver is there to begin with. With an underexposed, thin negative the intensification effect would probably be more limited.
     
  23. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Very good Michael-- the dodging and burning with local filters can solve a lot of difficult negatives. Some of the nicest images I have printed this past year would be considered very underexposed with little shadow detail, but with dodging and burning with filters I am very happy with the results.
    Burning in highlights with a grade 5 filter can increase local contrast, dodging initial exposure in the dark areas and carefully burning back with a higher filter is something that years ago with graded paper was not possible.
    Drew Wiley here could probably make a shadow mask that in register with the neg give the same result in local contrast, years ago I would be set up do do this but not today.

    on intensification not to mention most of the intensifying is going to be where there is something to bit onto which in the negative would be the highlights , not the shadows.
     
  24. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Agreed. Also agree masking can help a great deal, but figured I wouldn't go there at this point. Burning and dodging can go nearly as far if done carefully. Some negatives require a hell of a lot of work to print. Nothing wrong with doing all that work.
     
  25. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Thanks for explaining this. I thought, after reading your post, that you routinely shot your film at 1600 and got good results printing them at Grade 3.

    I'm glad that got cleared up. The others have helped enough, and while you can get workable results with pushed film, it is always going to be a compromise, which you are finding out the hard way.
    However, don't let that discourage you, it's good to know how to push process film for those occasions where it's the best choice you have, and figuring out how to eke the most out of your materials under those circumstances. With something like TMax 400 and Xtol 1+1, it's highly surprising the amount of shadow detail one can salvage and bring back into the print.
     
  26. gbenson

    gbenson Member

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    Could you give me a little more detail about this? The only multi-filter technique I've used so far has been to expose at grade 5 just enough to get a black (or a little less), then expose at 0 to get the midtones where I want them (dodging and burning the 0 exposure only). Is what you mean?

    I put one of the pictures at http://inauspicious.org/photos/lm6/038/14/. That's just a straight print at grade 5, with just enough exposure for the blacks to be black. Note that my scanner puts a really odd tiger-stripey pattern in dark areas, that's not on the print. There is actually detail--just--in the woman's clothes and in the shadowed area to the left of her head, but they are probably a bit blocked up. I don't really know a lot about dodging and burning, the only thing I would think to do here is burn the spotty wall to the right at 0 to lower the contrast on it, and maybe burn the buildings and sky to the top left as I think they're distracting. What initially prompted me to post, though, was that the picture was already too dark all over in the grade 5 exposure... usually they end up black and white and nothing inbetween!