Printing bad pictures?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Sep 29, 2012.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    While learning the craft, do you think it's necessary to print lesser photographs? That is, negatives you already know aren't successful images?

    I've often made straight prints and then thought the image isn't 'worth' wasting any more paper on. This has nothing to do with how difficult the negative might be to print to completion, but that the image itself simply doesn't work. There have been times when I've printed bad photographs and then kidded myself that, because it's technically competent, it has value. I'm content, for a while, with the fact that I've got a nice looking piece of paper. It's only when I've gone back to the print with objectivity about the actual content that I've done away with it.

    It often feels like I'm waiting for the holy grail of images before I actually enter the darkroom. Is it still important to print the crap stuff in the mean time? And how much can this warp your judgement about the actual content of your photographs? A sort of "but look at the print!" mentality.

    I wouldn't want to see the negative as a mere resource for making prints. For me, it has to have value in its own right. I'd then consider spending a whole weekend printing it.
     
  2. ambaker

    ambaker Subscriber

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    I suspect there is a happy medium someplace between never printing, and printing everything.

    If you print nothing, then the skills in the darkroom get rusty. If you print everything, then I would agree it is a waste. Perhaps a goal of x prints from each shooting day, would be an idea that could work for you.

    -alex
     
  3. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I thinks it helps.

    Back in the late 60's I began printing other peoples negatives,they wanted excellent prints from often very dubious negatives, you learn how to extract the best you can and quickly. I printed for one family for over 40 years and the father never owned a light meter.

    Maybe you might want to pop over some time, you can't be that far awy :smile: (when I'm in the UK).

    Ian
     
  4. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    There are two types of shots I print. Practice shots where I'm trying to learn something specific and important to me shots.

    Either are fun.

    They are both limited in number based on how much film I've shot recently. :wink:
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i have found printing anything and everything i could get my hands on
    bad film, bad negatives, good negatives, even plastic found on the street
    helped + helps me become a better printer.
     
  6. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Years ago I made a pact with myself that every one of my negatives would be followed through to the best gelatin-silver positive I could make; no exceptions.

    A major side effect was a distinct improvement in the quality of my negatives both technically and aesthetically. The key factor was a little question I ask myself before clicking the camera: "Do I really want this exposure badly enough to spend the hours and resources chasing it to the bitter end?" The answer a lot of the time is, quite rightly, no.
     
  7. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Interesting. That's a good way of thinking about the process of photography as a whole, rather than compartmentalising all its components. I've also just watched an interview with Nadav Kander who said he printed every negative he ever made. But... I feel this, rather than being a philosophy, was in the past a necessity. Which is perhaps what you're pertaining to? I make 'digital contact prints' first which I can edit as a form of post-visualisation, before going into the darkroom. It's at this point that I assess whether or not to print negatives. This way I am foremost assessing the content, in full detail, first. In the past of course, this wasn't an option (contact prints aren't a real means of assessing an image in smaller formats) which I'm sure is the reason Kander printed all the negs he made. How else would he know what he had?

    Your post has me thinking however, that what you describe forces you to keep your finger off the trigger, so to speak. What I'm doing with my digital contact images is in many ways no different than shooting a hundred digital images and deleting them all at the computer. It becomes more a process of editing rather than actually thinking on your feet.
     
  8. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    I learn most from difficult negatives - ones that test my imagination and abilities in the darkroom. That being said, I am probably happiest with myself when the pictures just fall out of my camera and land on a piece of paper, so to speak.
     
  9. batwister

    batwister Member

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  10. mjs

    mjs Member

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    If you don't print it, especially when starting out, how will you know what's wrong with it? Reading negatives is a lot harder than reading a print.

    Mike
     
  11. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    When I click my shutter, there is a reason. The reasons often are, either I think it'll make a good photograph or I like the subject enough to take the photograph. Of course, not all of them turn out like I hoped. Quite often, I'm disappointing that image didn't turn out like I hoped. Sometimes, I'm surprised something I took, because I just thought that was interesting worked very well and made good photographs.

    When I commit to printing my image, there is a reason. I either like the image enough to commit it on paper, or I think there's something in it that I think I should try to print it. I do not print every frame. If I see no value in the image, either aesthetically or educationally, I won't print the image.

    Sometimes, I really like the image. I spend hours on end and days on end, sometimes months on end on just that image. I think the longest was 2 months or something. In the end, I'm often pleased with the result but not always. I've given up on many images, too.

    Sometimes, I may not like the image that much but I find something interesting and say, hum... I wonder if I can do THIS and get THAT out of this image... then I try that. One time, I had really thin negative. I didn't think I could print it well. Surprise! It really made nice and contrasty image.

    One time, I had a roll... I saw nothing in it and it was scratched so I filed it away. Month or two passed and reviewed the same roll again. Scratch bothered me so I put it away again. Figured a way to fix the scratch and printed 4 images I really like. Amazing what little cropping can do.... I'm still working on the last one. It's 5 images that I like out of 24 frames.... and I saw nothing in it at first. So you need to give yourself some time too.

    I think you need to remain curious about your images. See your frames. Think what's possible and how you could improve. Evaluate.... if it's a good image, print it. if you think you can or should be able to make a good image, do it. if you think you can learn something from it, try that.

    But if you see nothing in it, go to the next frame.

    That's how I approach mine.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 30, 2012
  12. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Life is too short to print bad negatives. IMHO you'll soon have an epic backlog of great photos that are queued up for enlarger-time so why waste time on the lesser images? Cull mercilessly. Your next print should be the best neg you have that you haven't printed yet.

    We're here to make art, not paper walls.
     
  13. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    When I look at a proof sheet, I try to remember what I saw in the viewfinder, and what attracted me to take the picture in the first place. If I took more than one of that scene I then look for the best one and make a straight print. From there I decide how I want to "tart it up" to reach or exceed the original vision.

    Looking at a boring proof sheet or a straight print is no determining factor in what that picture is capable of becoming.

    Look at Ansel's Moon Over Hernandez. The straight print is dull and boring. The finished print could be called (by some) a masterpiece.

    As with most things you get better if you practice it.
     
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  15. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    If it's a "lesser image", I don't think it's worth printing. Why spend the time on a negative that won't give you a worthy print?

    I do think it's a good exercise to go back to old negatives, from time to time, though. If you've been at this for awhile (in my case about 40 years), you'll definitely discover good images which were difficult to print. As your printing skills improve, those old negatives may yield nice prints which your early skills couldn't coax out of the negative. When I first started, I knew nothing about flashing, split grade, and had rudimentary dodging/burning skills. As I acquired those skills, negatives I had passed on became easily printable.
     
  16. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    "Cull Mercilessly," as Polyglot suggests.

    I like the word "winnow," defined by the Free Dictionary as "separating the wheat from the chaff," and more importantly, "to examine closely in order to separate the good from the bad..."

    I visualize the process that I use to produce a satisfying print as one of winnowing. Since switching to a large format camera I certainly winnow the number of exposures I make down to ones that I think will make good photographs. Most are winnowed out after I see a proof print of the negative. The rest I begin to work on as enlargements, sometimes stopping when I see that my vision at the time of exposure, for whatever reason, will not or can not be realized. Sometimes I see different possibilities for a print and am led in a new direction. Occasionally my original vision is realized.


    In "Art and Fear," Orland and Bayles suggest that the purpose of 90% of our work is to allow the 10% to soar. That sums up my photographic philosophy and work flow pretty well.
     
  17. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    I think a paraphrase of Mae West might be appropriate here:
    [​IMG] [h=1]“When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better. ”[/h]
     
  18. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Like the Mae West quote, if only.

    I've gained some clarity from the posts. When starting these types of threads, I suppose I have it in the back of my mind that there will be some kind of consensus reached, but wouldn't that be boring?
    It's easy to become misguided when working in a vacuum, and the more I post on APUG, the more I realise how important it will be for me to have some real world correspondence - with obsessives like yourselves. Simply poring over books really isn't enough. Taking photography seriously is somewhat odd to those around me and I suppose partly seen as a fantasy. Especially when there's no scholarly basis for what I'm doing. I certainly spend more time thinking than doing and I often beat myself up over the fact that my pictures aren't as good as Callahan's... yet. :laugh: In a few more rolls, right!?

    This is always a great reminder of what's possible. A black sky - who'd have thought?

    Thanks for the offer, Ian. From what I gather, I believe you've met a few of my favourite Brit photographers, so your insight may be invaluable to me.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 2, 2012
  19. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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  20. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I'll take this one step further and state that some of those old negatives can yield a nicer print than you're used to, because what you originally thought was a screw-up is in fact a negative that a more skillful printer thinks is ideal.
    This is why notes is so important, and always pushing the limits; that is, if we're interested in exploring our materials beyond what we think they're capable of.
     
  21. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    Not the same thing, but definitely pushing the limits and exploring the materials...

    One of my friends, while in photography school was asked for his best negative of the day. The teacher took the negative, threw it on the floor, scuffed it with his shoes, handed it back and said, "now make a print".
     
  22. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Sometimes, a "bad" picture is compositionally interesting and worth struggling with. Print them can be an opportunity to expand your printing skills. Also, printing difficult negs can make you more aware of focus and exposure of your shot. I've printed a lot of bad negs in my time and sometimes you'll be rewarded. But you have to know when to give up.
     
  23. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    By this logic, I must be the best printer on earth!


    ..all my negatives are rubbish.
     
  24. LJH

    LJH Member

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    Use ULF film.

    At the cost per sheet, you'll find that you strive just that bit harder to get as much right before you get near the printing stage!
     
  25. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    i don't really think there is any such thing as a bad negative.
    some of what other people have told me are the absolute worst
    negatives have made the best photographs ...

    its all hype to get people to buy more gear, and look for the magic bullet
     
  26. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    John- I think the OP was talking about bad images, not bad negatives. At least that's how I regarded his post. No matter how much technical expertise you throw at a bad image, you'll still end up with a technically perfect lousy image...