new darkroom... learning... wasting materials...wasting time... advice?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by angrykitty, Aug 24, 2010.

  1. angrykitty

    angrykitty Member

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    So I've been working in my new darkroom for about 2 months now, and I have about 20 contact sheets to go through yet, most of which have 2 or 3 shots that I'd be willing to put my name on. I apprenticed with someone for 2 months (who had way better equipment then me) and that is the only extent of my experience.

    I am having a few issues I was hoping for advice on:

    1) I am FLYING through chemicals and paper! And wasting it! I like to put in a 12 hour day here and there, and out of all that time and chemistry and paper I'm getting maybe like 10 keepers. 80% of my materials are seriously going in the trash. Is that freakin normal??!!! I'm using ilford multigrade rc 4 paper and d-76 powder developer, un-dilluted. Kodak fixer, which I think is fine, as well as acetic acid stop, which I also think is fine.

    Reasons for this time and material wasting include:

    -The guy who taught me didn't do the whole stripy 8x10 on various exposures test print, just little test prints until one came out about right, and I'm sort of mimicking that system. I want to learn to 'guess' exposures as well as he did. So I'm running many test prints one at a time on little squares of paper. Of course, I'll get that right and all of a sudden the rest of the print looks wrong at that exposure... I have no idea how the hell he did that so well. But what's wierd is when I was around him I could do it too! Right now that's costing me a world of time.

    -I really can't tell from the contact sheet if it's gonna be good or not. I need to look at it big to decide whether or not I like it. So I do a bunch of test prints of something, try it big, and then decide it's not worth it. There went an hour of time...

    -I have a lot of trouble compensating for when my developer starts dying. I end up adding developing time by totally guessing 30 seconds more or a minute more or whatever. This causes really inconsistent prints, which really sucks, because I like to have 2 copies of the same thing (one for me, one for the band). So even if I get one right, I never get the second to be the same, because my developer started dying.

    -condenser. enlargers. suck. and I have one. An omega c700. I hate the stupid filters. I hate how I need to mess with all these magentas and then if I wanna try adding yellow or cyan the whole thing gets mussed up and I have to start all over. They keep getting scratched up or dirty and messing up the prints, and they cost me SO MUCH time. of course I get that part right and my developer dies and I think my exposure was off, and there we go again...

    -I have 2 consistent problems with my prints, causing my developer to die in the mean time because I keep having to re-do:
    1) smeary swirly looking blacks that should be solid.
    2) light fall off on the bottom of all my 8x10s, requiring burning double time on the lower quarter of each sheet. I have to expose the lower quarter of each print double whatever the rest needs in order to compensate for this. It's worse near corners.

    attached is a typical problem print, whats up with the black? you can see some light fall off on the bottom left, I think I tried to burn this one and missed an edge.

    I've already obtained a dichro head, I'm just waiting on a special order adapter piece to come in to attach it with. So I'm not to worried about the lamphouse and callibration because that's about to change anyway.


    So, how can I do the following:

    -avoid that weird cloudy black swirliness

    -save paper. (I'm running about 6 full size sheets per print, + 1 for test printing, and I like to have 2 copies, adding 2 or 3 sheets to that. So for 2 good copies it's costing me 8-9 sheets of paper.

    -save developer. I'm using un-dilluted d-76 powder mix, cuz thats what I started with and I wanted too keep consistency. I need something cheaper and/or more longer lasting? I've got HP5 negatives, shot in the dark with flash, and ilford multi rc paper.

    -save time. 2 hours per negative... that's a lot. Mostly this has to do with the god awful condenser head and it's stupid manual filters and light fall off. Can't wait to get the dichro goin... but general time savers would be very helpful.

    -with the dichro: the guy I worked with had 5 grades of contrast posted on his wall, so filtering was easy. grade 1 had this magenta, that yellow, that cyan, all in proportion. Grade 2 a little heavier on all...but still in proportion, etc... I was stupid enough not to copy them down. No idea how he figured them out. Yes they all had cyan for b&w. How do I create one of these handy little cheat sheets?


    Any and all advice on any of these matters is super deeply appreciated!
     

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  2. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Hey, what you are going through is normal. (either that or both of us are abnormal!)

    When I started this "darkroom thing" about a year+ ago, I did about the same. Keeper rate at about 10% or less, wasted lots of paper and pulled lots of hair out. You are NOT using D76 for paper, right? It is a film developer. DEKTOL would be more suitable choice.

    It took me about a year to be able to guess pretty close from contact sheet to the final print. So take it easy... go slow...(er).

    Print development is done to "completion" (yes, this is technically an incorrect description!). Using Dektol, it takes about 15 seconds for image to appear, 30 seconds to get pretty dark, and from here, up to 2 minutes or so, it doesn't change much. I develop it for 60 seconds - per instructions.

    I blew through something like 6 packs of 40 each during this year period - mostly waste. It takes time to learn this and get good at guessing....
     
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    First, you need to pause and collect your thoughts. Your frustration is getting in the way of what you want to do.

    Second, you are using the wrong developer. D-76 is a film developer. In a pinch you might be able to squeeze out a mediocre print when you use it, but it is extremely unlikely that you will get reasonable quantities of consistently high quality prints from it. The standard print developer is something like Kodak's Dektol. There are Ilford print developers as well. There are also print developers from other sources.

    Third, once you start using the right developer, you need to read the information associated with it. That information will recommend a developing time (usually a range and between 30 seconds and 3 minutes). You need to choose a time in the middle, and stick to it. Something like 2 minutes - every print you develop (including tests) should be developed for that time. Don't be tempted to use a (much) shorter time. You cannot maintain consistency if you do.

    Fourth, if your condenser head is vignetting with 35mm film, something is either installed incorrectly, or the lens is incorrect, or something has been damaged.

    Fifthly, the filtration recommendations are generally packaged with the papers. If not, there is information on the Ilford website (for Ilford papers).

    Best of luck!
     
  4. spolly74

    spolly74 Member

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    Was just going to say that. When i get "light falloff" it's because I've forgotten to put in the supplemental condenser. On the plus side, your photos are unique and well done - a little practice and your prints will be too.
     
  5. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Do you guys see light fall off? I don't. It looks to me, this is a shot of a scene at a bar or night club or something using flash. It looks to me, the flash just didn't reach wide enough and far enough.

    Guy's face at left bottom is fairly well exposed but the background isn't.
     
  6. dehk

    dehk Member

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    D76 indeed is a negative developer, but i did used it before, and without any major problem when i first started (i knew something wasnt right but camera shop dude told me it would work, it did work and looks ok), its just slower. But yes, try Dektol.

    1.) check if you have the correct lens doing 35mm. Usually it will be a 50mm lens and a 75mm for medium format.
    2.) Some enlarger requires a separate piece of glass inside the housing for 35mm. Such as my old Trusty Omega B22.
    3.) Besides using a whole piece of paper to do test prints, you can try cutting your paper, some people like to do that to save money.
    4.) Your light fall off may also have something to do with your agitation, does your developer cover your print "sufficiently"? BTW make sure emulsion side up and agitate it diagonally.

    and personally i have no problem using individual filters. Tried using a color head plenty of times and its even more confusing half the time.

    I know you're frustrated, take a break, be creative at solving your problems, and get back at it. Hope what i said helped somewhat.
     
  7. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I think that the OP is saying that the bottom part/corners are too light, and need to be burned in. I'd agree that I don't really see that in the posted example.
     
  8. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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  9. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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  10. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Subscriber

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    Where are you located? Maybe someone close to you can help in person. Listen to what everyone said about the developer and use print developer, not film. The filters you describe do not make much sense. I don't understand what filters you are using if you need to change to cyan or yellow with a condenser enlarger when printing B&W. If you haven't already, get a set of Kodak or Ilford VC printing filters. It will make everything much easier for controlling contrast and keeping your exposures consistent when you do need to change contrast. Finally, check and make sure the condensers are seated correctly in the enlarger. Sometimes they sit cockeyed and screw up the corners.
     
  11. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    I'm not a great printer, but I do ok, most of the time. The swirly blacks are likely because of the D-76 or because you aren't developing fully. I use Ilford multigrade developer and do RC for 1 minute and fiber for 2 minutes. Always. And I time it with a digital kitchen timer. Doing things for exactly the same amount of time is how you get repeatability. If it's too dark with that time, then close down the aperture or use less exposure time.
    For test strips, I cut a sheet into strips and uncover a little more every 2 seconds (using just one strip). Where you place it in the photo is key. If I have a spot where light meets dark, I'll put the strip along that border as much as possible. It does take experience, but you will learn. Making mistakes (as long as you can figure out you did them) does help in the learning process.
     
  12. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    AngryKitty,

    What are you doing with all those filters? Are you talking about Ilford (usually) B&W multi-grade filters or something else? You have a condenser type enlarger (like most of us) and if it is made for B&W, not color, you'd get multi-grade contrast filters. They are numbered from 00 to 5. 2 is considered normal and most negatives will print just fine. IF you are using these filters, then they are calibrated so from 00 to 3.5, exposure time does not change. From 4 and up, you'll have to multiply the time by 2.

    I think, before you go any further, stop and let's verify what you got and what you are doing. Seems you have your enlarger setup incorrectly, maybe using a wrong filter, and wrong chemical.
     
  13. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    80% in the trash Normal? Definitely not!

    I used to waste much more than that!! Still do, a lot of the time ;-)
    It is normal to get through lots of paper and chemicals getting it togethe. Paper is usually the most expensive bit - so don't risk scrapping paper by letting your developer get exhausted. Tired developers prevent you getting consistent results - it is false economy. Obviously you need to get a proper paper developer. Something cheap that can be regularly discarded and mixed fresh is probably a better idea than something exotic, at this stage.

    Something sounds very screwy about the filters with the condenser head!

    Using filters with a condenser SHOULD be easier than using a colour head - just one filter per grade. Sounds like you are trying to use colour filters... Sure, a colour head will be easier than that - but ideally get some proper Ilford or Kodak multigrade filters. They are arranged to give consistent exposures and equally spaced grades. They will make like much easier...

    It's not easy to judge the exposure necessary for a print. Even after decades of printing - I'm still not very good at guessing (I sometimes rely on my experience of what exposure is typical with a particular paper and enlarger height, but that isn't judging the image, that's remembering what works). I'd give the test strips method a go... Alternatively, consider a simple budget exposure meter.
     
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  15. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    I second the suggestion to get a help session with someone experienced. A lot of what you described can either be avoided, or is normal and you will learn to accept. Are you near any of the above posters? A few hours of help can be really great at the beginning of the learning curve.
     
  16. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Perhaps angrykitty could be a little more patienteasieronselfhappykitty? As the other posters have said, you are learning, wasteful or not - give it some time... a little more time between shorter sessions. Meanwhile, you are the reason I am writing a series of articles on Darkroom Techniques geared for the beginner. Hope this, or this, helps.
     
  17. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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  18. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    Angrykitty, I have four (4) C-700 enlargers, and experience none of the problems you describe that you attribute to the machine. Make sure the condensors are installed properly. You dont say what lens you have on it, plus you are having a problem with filters, that shouldn't be any problem. Check to make sure you have multi-contrast filters, not color printing filters. The black swirls you describe are caused by the use of the wrong developer. You need to switch to a paper developer, and dilute it as per the manufacturers instructions. You should be developing RC paper for 60-90 seconde, and FB paper for approximatly double that. Using so much paper during the learning phase is normal. I suggest you buy some really cheap 5x7 RC paper and practice. I cut my paper into 2" strips to have test strips, it usually takes one sheet cut up to get to get dialed in to make one print. If you have any more problems, PM me, and I'll try to help you through.
     
  19. lns

    lns Member

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    You're getting a lot of good advice. I recommend that you buy or borrow Henry Horenstein's book "Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual," which has very good instructions with explanatory photographs. You can also get great step by step instructions on Ilford's website, with specific chemicals identified, and I am sure on other websites.

    After you read about what chemicals you need, you need to buy the right stuff. You definitely need a paper developer. I don't know where you are, but if you go into a real photo store, someone can help. If that's not possible, I'd call Freestyle and ask to speak to someone in their darkroom sales department who can recommend and sell you what you need.

    It sounds like your enlarger might not be properly set up or aligned. Or perhaps the enlarger head isn't high enough, or you don't have the proper enlarger lens, to expose all of your paper. I'm not sure I totally understand the other issues with your enlarger and filters. The Horenstein book will give you a good idea about how to use the multigrade filters with the enlarger, but generally, you can start with the number 2 filter and adjust as necessary.

    I think it's relatively easy and very valuable to do a test strip. Switching to test strips will save you a lot of paper and probably a lot of frustration.

    As for the contact sheet not giving you enough to evaluate, you can run work prints of the promising shots. When I've done that, I set the enlarger to give a relatively full negative. Then I test a representative frame to get a good enough time with a number 2 filter. It doesn't have to be perfect. Then I run the promising shots on that roll using that time, that filter and that enlarger setting. I find that I can quickly develop a bunch of work prints that give me a better idea of which negatives are best, and of what I want for the final print (for example, burning, dodging, higher contrast, cropping). The work print paper doesn't have to be the same size as your final print, though that might be easier, but it should be the same paper type.

    -Laura
     
  20. Ektagraphic

    Ektagraphic Member

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    For developing paper, Kodak Dektol would do you a lot of good. We all go through the learning process when we begin...
     
  21. CBG

    CBG Member

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    Hi angrykitty,

    I think you may be doing a great deal better than you say. It takes me a lot of paper to get a print I'd like to show anyone most of the time, and I started printing in the late nineteen sixties. Even given a verrrrry long hiatus since back when last I had a darkroom in the mid seventies, I have printed enough that I can't qualify as a newby, but it still takes me time to get tolerable prints, and longer yet to make one that has any poetry to it.

    Materials always get used up in an inefficient looking way. It sucks, but there it is. I go through a lot of materials. If I printed every day, I'd get quicker, but better to use more paper than less at whatever skill level I am at now. I figure it is all about pushing to get the best print I can see any way to get, rather than to let the wastage stop me from that one last improvement I can see the print needs. After a few test strips, it usually takes me a bunch of prints to begin to see what the negative really has to offer. Between adjustments of contrast and extensive burning and dodging, I end up doing around eight generations of refinement before I just can't see any room for improvement.

    This second time around as a darkroom worker, I have a much more critical mindset, and demand more from my prints. The result is that I go through a lot of paper. My take on it is that if I stop before I have made the best print I know how, I have wasted all the time and paper. If I spend ten sheets to get one good print, now I have reduced my waste to just 90%. If I make a couple more good prints, now my wastage is only 75%. Art and good craft don't always look efficient, but I'm trying to do good photography, not good accounting.
     
  22. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    If paper cost bothers you, you *could* cut 8x10 in half and practice your skills on 5x7 size. It's a lot cheaper than buying 5x7 paper to start. I *think* Ilford still has the 15 sheet extra deal going for 8x10. (total of 40 sheet) OR, you could buy store brand paper from places like Adorama. They are pretty cheap. For practice, it got to be good enough.

    One way I reduced waste is, make a print that looks OK. Bring it out of darkroom, dry it, and look at it for few hours to overnight. Then make changes. When I kept chasing a perfect print, I print one after another, only to go back and figure out, I liked the first print better or find glaring mistakes. Giving the print time to dry completely and give myself to calm down and take time to review my own work reduced the waste greatly. When I started doing this and slow myself down, I started really enjoying printing. It's no longer a stressful challenge.

    Anyway, don't give up. You will get it.
     
  23. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I hope you come back soon and give us a feed back on what you think of all the good advise you've gotten so far from all of us who have been there before....
     
  24. climbabout

    climbabout Member

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    Angrykitty - In addition to the already good advice you have recieved, I'll give you 2 more bits -

    #1 - never forget that one of the most valuable pieces of equipment in your darkroom is the trash can - you learn tremedously from your failures.

    #2 - read this article from the Michael and Paula website -
    http://michaelandpaula.com/mp/onprinting.html

    I have been printing for over 35 years and his technique called "outflanking the print" has saved me more paper than I ever could have imagined. I no longer make test strips as this method is super efficient.

    Good luck.
    Tim
     
  25. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Try Dektol. Mix it 1:3 and if you don't do a lot of prints in a session, put it back on a bottle and it can last 2 or 3 short sessions

    Your negatives may be under exposed.

    Use a loupe and just look at the negatives. You won't be able to tell if they are over exposed, but it will be 'clear' if they are underexposed (pun intended :smile: ).

    You should be developing to completion. Develop for some minimum time (2.5 minutes)

    Get a set of Ilford or other brand multigrade printing filters. It will be much easier than using the color CC filters.


    Condensers, negative carrier and lens need to be centered.





    The Magenta/Yellow printing tables are in the box of Ilford paper or on their web site.
     
  26. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Darkroom work will be a lot simpler if you strive for consistency from film exposure to film development to print development.

    First, meter accurately, nothing makes things more complicated than a mix of thin and dense negatives.

    Second, don't try to reuse film developer and try to compensative for usage. In fact, dump the D-76, once used it doesn't remain consistent from day to day. Buy a bottle of HC-110 and use it as a one shot. Take a good look at the Covington website on using HC-110 for accurate development times. Try a dilution of 1:31 or even 1:49 if you want economy. Once you establish a correct development time for yourself do not deviate from it. For 35 mm your negatives should be somewhat thin but still have good shadow detail. This minimizes grain in the final print and keeps print exposure times short.

    Third, 35 mm contact sheets are of little value since each image is so small. They are really only useful for identifying a particular image. Look at each negative to determine print exposure time and contrast. Things will become easier with practice.

    Fourth, do some reading on printing; there is the Ansel Adams book "The Print" and you might also find a copy of Lootens. At the beginning of each print session start with fresh developer and do not exceed it's stated capacity. There are many good print developers available commercially, you are not limited to Dektol. A phenidone based one will have a longer useful life than a traditional one using Metol. If you are doing the first three things correctly most of your negatives should print on grade 2-1/2 to 3 paper and will have similar exposure times. Make either test strips when in doubt or invest in a print meter. Ilford makes one for a reasonable price.