Not Happy With Prints - Low Impact/Too "Neutral"(Greyish)/Not Enough Contrast

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by DF, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. DF

    DF Member

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    I've been using Ilford RC Pearl Finish Muti-Grade and i'm not getting a "look" I want. I see so many great prints that are so contrasty - very black blacks white whites, yet my prints have a "flatness" to them. They just seem so "greyish"/boringly dull. Is it the paper? Filter in the enlarger? Do I need to learn a new paper - fiber type, hogh contrast?
     
  2. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Time to do a safelight check?
     
  3. kevs

    kevs Member

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    Hi DF,

    You could be either; a) printing using the incorrect filter or no filter, b) using old, poorly-stored, degraded or lightly-fogged paper, c) using cold, exhausted or partly-exhausted developer, d) 'pulling' prints before they've fully developed, e) using a low-contrast print developer, f) trying to print low-contrast/underexposed negatives. It's possible that g) your camera lens, negative, enlarging lens or enlarger's optical path have accumulated dust/grease/condensation/other and need cleaning, or h) your paper is being fogged by your safelight or other extraneous light source.

    Unless b), you don't need to 'learn' a new paper - MGIV RC will give the contrast you desire when your fault is corrected. If you can post some examples others might be able to offer more concise and pertinent information than me.

    Cheers,
    kevs
     
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  4. anikin

    anikin Subscriber

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    Also, consider toning the prints in selenium toner. That should deepen the blacks. I have some papers that are just
    blah without toner, but change their look drastically after toning.
     
  5. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Member

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    +1 for this recommendation. I recommend 1:9 dilution for 2-4 minutes. It will remove the greenish cast and slightly deepen the blacks. Very nice look.

    Are you sure your developer is fresh? Most likely a filter issue. Are they faded? If it's a dial in enlarger are you sure it's working correctly??
     
  6. kevs

    kevs Member

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    MGIV doesn't change dramatically in selenium, and RC papers rarely do. bt,dt.
     
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  7. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Let's not go overboard with suggestions....

    My first suggestion will be to see and evaluate what your film looks like. Is it properly exposed and developed? If it is reasonably well exposed and developed, there is no reason why decent looking prints can't be made with RC with grade 2 or 3 filter. Once you know the film is ok, then see if you have a problem with your enlarging process. Is your darkroom really light tight? Is your safe light really safe? Your developer is not exhausted? Paper not fogged?

    Unless all these checks out, going to higher grade filter or paper, or going extraordinary effort to dodge and burn every part of image will be wasted.

    Are you able to put your film on a light table or something and take a digital photograph of that? Can you scan or photograph your unsatisfactory print? Let's see what we have here.
     
  8. anikin

    anikin Subscriber

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    As a general rule, you are correct. With most RC papers the effect is barely noticeable. However, the two papers that did show this effect for me were in fact both RC. And I believe one of them was from Ilford. I don't remember which exact type it was, but I'm positive it was not a warm tone paper.
     
  9. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Agree with tkamiya,

    We recently teamed up to answer a very similar question and the consensus there pointed to a simple answer: underexposure.

    So, DF, the more we know of what you did and what it looks like, the sooner we can give you an idea what is wrong. It might be an easy fix.
     
  10. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The Ilford Cooltone RC paper definitely responds to selenium.
     
  11. mr rusty

    mr rusty Subscriber

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    As someone fairly new to darkroom, perhaps I can help. How are you getting your exposure times on the enlarger? test strips? I started doing this and found trying to learn the relationship between exposure time and contrast grade when printing different negatives with different densities a real steep learning curve when you have an inexperienced eye. In fact I decided my eye was so inexperienced that I bought a machine to help - the RH analyser pro. One of the revelations of this is that it allows you to take the "readings" and then adjust contrast and exposure time - seeing how changing one affects the other and the relationship between them is a true education in itself. I have found that with different negs putting highlights where you want them and blacks where you want them is still a skill even with technical assistance - but I'm getting better.

    My guess is wrong contrast and underexposure. Are you re-using paper developer? I do find it lasts a week re-bottled, but fresh is best. Also, I found I was taking prints out too quickly at first.

    I think talk of toning is to some extent "running before you can walk". I haven't started toning yet, as I am still learning the basic processes to get the best image I can from standard tools. FWIW I am all Ilford - HP5/Delta/FP4 into LC29 then multigrade paper dev onto RCIV paper, and I find following the Ilford "cookbooks" precisely works for me.

    BTW, I now find that for most prints, - those that are OK images, but aren't really "special", I get it right first time using the analyser pro - straight to 8x10 which is mostly what I print. I very rarely waste paper these days, and never do test strips except when I have something special I want to refine.
     
  12. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    If your enlarger uses a quartz halogen bulb, replace it with a new one. The working life of these things is often 25-50 hours, after this the "quality" of light gradually changes and you find that the harder grades can't be reached.

    I started out with an LPL C7700 enlarger and was never really happy with the results. Changed the lamp and was stunned at the change in my prints.
     
  13. piu58

    piu58 Member

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    Simple formula:
    - Use test strips for determine the minimum time for maximum black. Then you have a real black in your image. Your highlights may still be muddy.
    - Increase paper contrast until the highlights look fine. The minimum time fpr maximum black remains the same, if you don't change contrast too far. Now you have a real black and white highlights.
    - Make some minor changings in the exposure time, look more at the highligts. You get even better higlights then.
     
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  15. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    I can appreciate the OP's feeling. When I was on a B&W course we used to develop prints in communal trays so everyone else's stuff was in there and without exception all looked more contrasty than mine. The difference was simply that I had chosen Pearl paper and the rest Glossy.

    Try Glossy and see what difference it makes before doing anything else. This may be all that's wrong. Different surfaces suit different tastes and different scenes. Ilford Satin for instance is great paper for some scenes but looks very flat even at the same grade compared to Pearl and will never look as contrasty as Glossy no matter what you do with it.

    pentaxuser
     
  16. ROL

    ROL Member

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    Good light (at exposure) = good contrast.


    You've posted no examples, but I take this opportunity to remind folks that it all begins with a properly exposed negative as visualized for the scene by you. All that subsequent stuff you've enumerated then becomes purely consequential. Read The Negative (Adams).
     
  17. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    when the paper dries ,it often loses some of the sparkle and brilliance it had when wet. you can get some of that back with selenium toning, or by starting out with an extra bit of print contrast. switchingpaperswill not help all papersbehave very similar this way.try any selenium toner for 4-8 minuts,and pull from the tonerwhen it loks ok to you. be aware ,there might be some after toning in the wash. wash prior to tonin as well to avoid toner stains.
     
  18. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I humbly suggest forgetting about toning for now. That is a subtle effect. I suggest the following checklist to rule out darkroom problems assuming the answer isn't as simple as using a higher filter:

    -Old/bad paper?
    -Old/bad chemicals (developer ok? Correct dilution?)
    -Development temperature
    -Do a proper safelight test
    -Check enlarger for light leaks - also check for reflective surfaces around enlarger
    -Check darkroom for light leaks
    -Make sure enlarging lens is clean
    -Are your filters ok? (they can fade with use over time)

    If all this is ok, check your negatives for sufficient exposure and contrast to print "normally".
     
  19. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Switching to a glossy paper will give you more contrast.

    The mistake that many people new to printing make is that they pull the prints from the developer too quickly. Watch the print and not the clock. Continue developing for 30 to 60 seconds after the image has come up to get the best contrast.

    Make sure that your negatives are developed to the correct contrast index CI or β. You shouldn't need to tone your prints just to get more contrast.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 4, 2013
  20. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    Have you printed these negatives before and had satisfactory results? If so, it could be old paper or fog. Otherwise there are a couple of possibilities that haven't been mentioned. The first question would be whether the negative has enough contrast. A surprising number of people underdevelop their negatives. (They also often underexpose them, which creates an impossible situation.) To some extent you can correct this my printing at a high contrast grade, but there are limits. Another possibility is that the print is not being developed sufficiently. Prints need to be developed pretty much to completion - between 90 and 120 seconds for most developers at standard dilution.
     
  21. DF

    DF Member

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    Gerald - I've allways known more development time meant increased contrast, but, you're saying that I can leave the print in the developer for an additional 30-60 seconds longer!? I leave/gently rock it in there for one minute.
    O.K. I'll start "experimenting with longer development times. I think that's where the problem could be.
     
  22. DF

    DF Member

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    Yeh, I think it could be the chemicals - old/bad.
     
  23. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    You want full development. Not sure what developer you are using but normally an Ilford RC paper would require 1-2 minutes at 20C/68F (except Cooltone which takes longer). Check Ilford's instructions for the processing times. Check your temperatures. Continuous agitation is a good idea. Don't just leave the print to sit in the developer during development. Rock the tray (not too gently) or keep flipping the print manually.
     
  24. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Yes, paper development can be considered as development to completion. When the paper is first immersed there is a rapid change in image density but with time a point is reached when there is little change with time. It is at this point where the print should be removed. This is why I tell people to watch the print and not the clock. When there seems to be no change in the image then remove the print.
     
  25. Stoo Batchelor

    Stoo Batchelor Member

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    Dear DF

    I think you missed a very important part of Gerald's post, where he refers to the negative being developed to the correct contrast. 'More development means more contrast' is usually referring to film development. Please slap me down if I am telling you something that you already know, but I am unaware of your knowledge of the darkroom. A fine print starts from a fine negative, which starts from doing some testing to develop a negative to suit the paper that you are using. Very rarely will a negative exposed at box speed, developed in your chosen developer, at the manufacturers recommended time, lead to a fine print with rich deep blacks and crisp clean whites.

    As laborious as testing is, it might be worth going back to the beginning and do the leg work. There are many threads on APUG explaining how, though personally I would look up the posts of Thomas Bertilsson, as he has explained it here beautifully so many times.

    As I say, forgive me if you have already done this, but it is good to put it out there for others.

    Best, and good luck

    Stoo

     
  26. RPC

    RPC Member

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    +1