Next Step

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by jmal, Dec 18, 2006.

  1. jmal

    jmal Member

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    Hello,

    I have been developing and printing at home for a few months now and have been getting good, consistent results. I'm shooting 35mm B&W with no filters on the camera or the enlarger (though I'm not opposed to them). My prints have a good range of tones and show detail in both the shadows and the highlights. Here's my problem. For my tastes, the prints all look very literal, for lack of a better description. Comparing my prints to those of the pros, they lack a certain dramatic quality. For example, Salgado's work has an almost surreal look to it. What should my next step be in trying to achieve a less literal, more dramatic look? I'm not interested in anything gimmicky, just some solid technique for improving my printing skills. Thanks.

    Jmal
     
  2. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    Burning, dodging and cropping the image are the first tricks that come to mind.

    Hans
     
  3. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Take workshops! They're out there and they can be transforming.

    Find books and periodicals that explain the way prints evolve from literal to expressive. Several examples come to mind. First, in the UK Black and White Photography magazine, there is a recurring article on printing someone's negative that often shows considerable differences in interpretation. In Phototechniques Magazine there are recurring printing articles by Bruce Barnbaum and ...darn...I can't think of the other at the moment. In at least two books by John Sexton he explains and illustrates how particular prints came to look the way they do. Les MacLean's excellent book discusses such progressions extensively. And there are lots of others.

    Use your imagination, and consider ways in which you'd like to make your prints look different than they do. All the technique in the world won't help you if you don't think to try another approach.

    Make lots and lots of prints. Experience can't come from any other source than the actual doing.
     
  4. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Study photographs, study photographs, study photographs....
     
  5. reellis67

    reellis67 Subscriber

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    I'm with Donald on this one. There is nothing that can replace looking at the real thing in person - nothing. Online versions are simply shadows of reality when it comes to masterwork prints. Go to a museum and look at the work presented and see the difference.

    I just got back from looking at some great Impressionist paintings that I've never before seen in person and they were breathtaking - I though I liked them from what I'd seen in books, but the real paintings were just stunning. Photographs are just the same. Once you see one, live and in person, what can be done, you'll wonder why you ever bothered to look a reproduction.

    - Randy
     
  6. matti

    matti Member

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    I bought one of Donald Millers reference prints (thanks Donald it is great!) and I can really say it is interesting to put it up beside my own! A print I thought was sharp and had black dark tones was actually not at all sharp and quite muddy compared to Donalds.

    Also, I try to convince myself to waste paper to find the limits of what is good. If I for example burn the edges of the print and like it, I do one more that I burn a bit more to see if I like that even more or if I reached the limit.

    /matti
     
  7. jmal

    jmal Member

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    Thanks for the advice. As far as looking at photographs, in person, I have seen and continue to view plenty. I live just outside of D.C., so I have world class museums at my disposal. My problem is not that I don't see a difference in master prints and my own, but that I don't know by looking at them what the printer did to achieve particular effects.

    Jmal
     
  8. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    Just remember that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Not that I'm saying your negatives are no good, but if you start with a quality negative then you're well on your way.
     
  9. jmal

    jmal Member

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    Kevin,

    I believe my negatives are pretty good. I get nice prints in the first 2-3 tries, sometimes first try. Contrast is good, tonal range is good, etc. They just lack that otherworldly oompf that master printers get. I don't know if it is a mater of extensive burning/dodging or what. I don't mean in the sense of correcting an improperly exposed negative, but more like what one sees in "War Photographer" or the Cartier-Bresson documetary, where the printer keeps working the same photo, making subtle refinements. I would be nice to see a progression from a raw negative to the final, display quality print, along with explanations on the process. I'll have to check out some of the resources posted earlier for this.

    Jmal
     
  10. Dave Miller

    Dave Miller Member

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    One book that I found very useful early on is Larry Bartlett's Black & White. Each photograph is shown in it's raw state together with a detailed printing map, and of course the finished print. Well worth buying, I think it could be just what you need.
     
  11. Terence

    Terence Member

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    I'd consider myself an professional amateur. I use everything from 35mm to 8"x20", but I'm too lazy to do a million tests and more tend to take a concept I've learned and just play with it until it suits what I want a photo to look like. To me it's a hobby, and not another job.

    Based on advice here, I picked up a couple of Tim Rudman's books and have learned quite a bit beyond what I got out of a basic printing class several years ago. As mentioned above, it's amazing what you can do with just dodging and burning. Add in split printing using two different contrast filters/settings during the print exposure and my mind often hurts just thinking of the endless options. "Burn in at grade 1 here, dodge at grade 3 here . . . "

    For what it's worth, aside from indoor shots where I controlled the lighting, I've rarely been happy with my B&W negs without using at least a yellow filter to get things closer to what I "see". Normally I'm using an orange or red for for landscapes and have just started exploring green filters to lighten foliage.
     
  12. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I too purchased one of Donald's reference prints - it really helps, because it is really visibly different from a mediocre print.

    The only problem with it, is that there is a great temptation to frame it and put it in my living room, rather than have it close by my kitchen/processing room. :D

    Oh, the other problem was that Canada Customs didn't want to believe me when I told them what I paid for it - they thought I was trying to undervalue the work.

    Thanks Donald - it has been a great help, and you are very generous.

    Now to work on my own prints, in the hope that someday I can extend the same sort of generosity to others.

    Matt
     
  13. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    This is an excellant book. Though I don't have one I was able to study it when a friend let me borrow it for a while----got to get me one.

    Something sticks out in my mind that he approached his printing style different by basing his "basic print exposure" on the showdows rather than the highlights. I may be totally off base on that but I just remember those printing maps showing basic exposures for a shadowed side of a face or some object.

    Anyway, it's a great book.
     
  14. matti

    matti Member

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    Dito. But if I did't really put down both my print and Donalds beside each other, I would think that my print was quite ok :D

    /matti
     
  15. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Buy a subscription to "Black&White Photography", AKA "Ailsa's Rag".

    There's a monthly column called "The Printer's Art", showing two printers printing the same negative, including most of the failures and intermediate steps as well as dodge&burn diagrams.

    The subscription would be worth it for that alone, even if I often don't agree with either of the printers!
     
  16. paul.s

    paul.s Member

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    hi

    try grade 2 or grade 3 graded paper not multi grade, ilford or kenthene, more silver is good.
    paul
    merry xmas
     
  17. jmal

    jmal Member

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    Thanks again for all the advice. I took the advice of a couple posters and ordered a copy of Larry Bartlett's book. Also, I visited Les McLean's website and looked at his article on the fine print. Wow. This is just the kind of information I was looking for. Now, I "just" have to learn how to go about all the really fine-tuned burning and dodging. Judging by his test strips, I think my negatives are plenty good to get a great print. Thanks to his mapping of the process I now see how much can be done--and is often done--to reach the final print.

    On a side note, my photographic interests began with street photography/documentary photography. As I progress, albeit a short progression so far, I am really beginning to love some of the other genres. The vast landscapes can be really incredible when done well.

    Jmal