Quality in master's prints - what am I seeing?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by tkamiya, Dec 16, 2010.

  1. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I don't know if there is a good way to ask this question. It is so subjective. It is one of those things when everything is right - it looks right, and when not - well... not!

    Here's my best attempt to verbalize this, so if someone can chime in, I'd be grateful.

    When looking at some masterful B&W printing done by darkroom masters, their prints just seems to glow. Not that it's bright, it has sort of a metallic sheen - almost as if they were back-lit (but they aren't), contrasty but not harsh. Sometimes the image almost looks 3 dimensional. This is true for overall light print, dark print, middle of the ground print, soft image, sharp image, etc, etc, etc. It's not any of these one element but overall, it looks nearly animated and large prints seems to wrap around me - the viewer.

    I guess some of the examples may be Clyde Butcher's prints. Florida's swamp is nothing glamorous. Yet, he turns it into all of above.

    When I print, the print looks dark, light, dull, contrasty, soft, sharp, and just-right - but master's print seems to be all of above.

    What am I seeing? What are the qualities and properties that makes these prints so engaging? Granted, everything starts at shooting but seems work in darkroom has a lot to do with turning scenes from mundane to work of art.
     
  2. Dinesh

    Dinesh Subscriber

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    Cadmium!
     
  3. Doc W

    Doc W Subscriber

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    I wish I had the answer. It is, of course, the subtle combination of many things, beginning with visualizataion and exposure. When I was learning guitar, I tried to hang around with players better than I to pick up as much as I could. I love having good photographers come to my darkroom for a few hours while we print and talk. I learn a lot that way (much better than books) and over the past few years have picked up this technique and that, all of which improve my final prints. I look back at prints of mine I thought were great two years ago and the ones I make now are much better.

    If I had to single out a few things that made my prints better, they would be:
    - getting a better grip on exposure of the negative through modest (not obsessive) testing
    - f-stop printing
    - printing highlights first and then adjusting contrast to get the darks right
    - edge burning (yah, I know it's simple and obvious. Everything is once you know how).

    Mind you, I am still not at the place you long for, as do I. Practise, practise, practise.
     
  4. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    Record what you do then compare those that don't meet what you are trying to achieve to those that are "just right" and do that over and over. It starts with pre-visualization of what you want in the final print then properly exposing, processing and finally printing. There is a small viewing filter-like gaget that is amber/brown that you can view your subject through that makes it appear monochrome and will help you visualize the tonal range of the scene and can help in determining if a filter will be helpful. I believe B&H carries them but I can't think of the exact name -- perhaps a monochrome viewer.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  5. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I find the secret to a glowing print is glowing subject matter.

    Of course there are things you can do to make the subject glow - but they aren't in the printing or in some magic developer but in lighting, selection of time of day, shutter speeds and motion, filtration and a host of other tricks that need to be addressed before the exposure is made.

    Clyde Butcher's swamps glow because he pays careful attention to the reflections in the water, uses long exposure times to make the water appear silvery and shoots in soft light.

    Try taking pictures of polished silverware with a LF camera and see how easy it is to get glowing prints.
     
  6. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Let me ask THIS question -

    What are my eyes perceiving as "Glowing"?? B&W prints can only show shades of gray (and of course black and white). Looking at plain white paper, I don't perceive that as glowing. I am looking at a print (of my own) that has open windows in the scene. Rest of the scenes are pretty dark. I don't perceive this as "glowing" windows. There has to be something more than less exposure that will make the glowing quality possible.
     
  7. paulie

    paulie Member

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    a bottle of ink and some gelatin and pot dichromate.

    about 2 years of practice
     
  8. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    I love reading about papers that make "deep rich blacks and brilliant whites" when as you say, the white is already there (well, not quite in warm tone paper). Still, the white in a print is made to glow because you reproduce the specular highlights in the scene, using black to mask out the rest. It is an illusion in a way but the surrounding black makes the white look whiter.
     
  9. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    yeah, similar to how old CRT type TV looks gray when off, but we clearly see "black" when it's on.....
     
  10. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Us who are not masters can always cheat by mounting prints on a slightly off-white mat. That makes the whites of the print brighter in comparison.
     
  11. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    I'm afraid, that's an excuse not an answer.
     
  12. Vlad Soare

    Vlad Soare Member

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    I think the 3D effect is about the relationships between adjoining tones, and the glow is about making whites seem stronger by surrounding them with deep blacks. You cannot make the whites brighter, but you can makes the blacks blacker, and thus make the whites seem whiter by comparison.
    The problem is that papers usually have a shoulder, and if you try to make blacks really black, you sometimes risk losing the details in the "almost-black" areas. And if you try to preserve those details, then you can't make the blacks deep enough. You can sometimes get around this by burning the blacks, but that's not always effective enough, or even possible.
    That's why the long straight line that Azo/Lodima - and probably many older, now discontinued, papers - can give in amidol is such an advantage. With Azo/Lodima and amidol you can get deep blacks without losing shadow detail. That's why people mourn the discontinuance of Azo, and why they put up with the quirks and high price of amidol. :smile:
    It took me some time to understand this, and I couldn't have understood it if I hadn't seen some great Azo prints with my own eyes.
    That's not to say that anything printed on Azo will look much better than on other papers, or that Azo/Lodima/cadmium/whatever will make a great image all by themselves. The effect is subtle, and only visible with certain subjects. It's still the photographer's eye that counts the most. The biggest part of the effect lies in the subject itself and in the lighting.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2010
  13. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    What about the effects of weak developers, slow longer developing times? Underexposing and developing longer vs. overexposing a bit and developing shorter? I experiment with this often in trying to push or pull the curves a bit. Water baths? Two bath devs? So many things to experiment with...
     
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  15. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    I think, it's a combination of that and what Nicholas said earlier.
    The 'glow' comes from subject matter and carefully crafted print contrast:

    Image Quality

    1. Create Impact
    The combination of basic design principles must create sufficient impact to catch the observer’s attention and get him or her to take a closer look.
    2. Provide Interest
    Once the observer starts to look, the image must provide attractive and exciting elements to keep him interested in exploring the image further.
    3. Get the Observer Involved
    A quality image involves the observer and supports his image exploration through guided eye movement and intentional hindrances, inspiring the senses and confirming experiences.

    Print Quality

    4. Create Brilliant Highlights
    Specular highlights have no density and are reproduced as pure paper-white, adding brilliance. Diffuse highlights are bright and have a delicate gradation with clear tonal separation, without looking dull or dirty.
    5. Optimize Midtone Contrast
    There is good separation, due to high local contrast, throughout the midtones, clearly separating them from highlights and shadows.
    6. Protect Detailed Shadows
    Shadow tones are subtle in contrast and detail, but without getting too dark under the intended lighting conditions. The image includes small areas of deepest paper-black without visible detail, providing a tonal foundation.

    The importance of contrast cannot be overemphasized. You need overall contrast, strong midtone contrast, micro contrast, the right mount to make sure the contrast is not ruined. Some of this comes from the right choice of subject matter, some of it comes from printing expertise and complementary print presentation, including mount, frame and exhibition lighting.
     
  16. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Ralph, will you explain what you mean by "micro" contrast?
     
  17. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    Only if you believe in ferry dust. I'm convinced, it has litte to do with equipment and materials. Of course, you need the right tools, good film and paper and the proper processing materials, but that combined with solid technique, a controlled workflow and lots of experience, makes high print quality a likely possibility.
     
  18. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    I should have listed: overall contrast, local contrast and micro contrast.

    1. overall contrast (Dmin, Dmax)
    2. local contrast (highlights right next to shadows if subject matter allows)
    3. micro contrast (also called sharpness)
     
  19. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    So you think straight development techniques are all that's needed? That's good.
     
  20. Dinesh

    Dinesh Subscriber

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    Perhaps.
     
  21. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    OK, I just received Ralph's new book, "Way beyond Monochrome ed2." Now, I'm an expert!! :blink::blink::laugh::laugh: Right??
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2010
  22. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    It's taking the time to look and see the light and its effect on what you see. You must master the materials you have to the fullest extent possible. That's seeing and technique. Lots of "looking" does not equate to "seeing". Looking is pedestrian, seeing is perception.

    How do the masters do what they do? How do they choose what they photography and how do they do it? Two masters standing side by side photograph differently so it's an individual way of seeing. There isn't a school of duplicate seeing, sure you can take a course with a master but you will never be that person.

    If you want to be a better photographer then travel and study. Do other things like drawing, painting, writing, listening to different types of music.

    Curt
     
  23. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Member

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    Curt

    Very well said!

    Who is this quote by?
     
  24. Dave Martiny

    Dave Martiny Member

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    I agree with Ralph.

    There's nothing wrong with wanting the best tools and techniques that we can find for creating our photographs -- cameras, lenses, films, developers, papers, etc. There is no denying that each of these components to the process can contribute to the quality of the final result.

    But with all the attention that we pay to those technical components, we sometimes forget that photography is really about light. I'm convinced that you can make more progress towards making an excellent photograph by thinking about subject lighting than you can by tinkering with all those other post-exposure components combined.

    If you really want a glowing photograph, you have to figure out how to place your subject in a glowing light.

    Regards,

    Dave
     
  25. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Dave has hit on part of what I think contributes to a glowing photograph.
    Light is the key as well as the amount of light on lays down on the print

    but I do think it all revolves around the whole motion of making an image , start to finish.

    I was always taught about the circle of photography, starting with an idea, the exposing film in the right light, placing a good development for that light and film and subject matter, then with good contacts finding the range of the negative, from there a proof or working print to see the image, and try it with different papers or process, then making a full print that conveys ones idea of how that image is to look, Using darkroom methods like dodge and burn, split filter contrast control, then good toning to bring out subtle nuances , proper presentation in a matt , then a complimentary frame for the image, and finally hanging it in good light.

    If you follow all these steps and done each stage to your best ability, I think all your prints will glow.
    it is a recipe of many , many steps from beginning to end that matters, and not one single element. By understanding each step**which may take thousand's of prints by the way** you build upon your last step.
    All the small details are just steps one does to convey the image the way they want.
    As a professional printer I can say the worst prints I make are the ones that I do not know the photographers project , and not completely and fully understand what type of prints they are looking for. As well their film could be store bought
    process which does not consider the lighting conditions rather volume process in one fits all dev and lets see what happens.
    When I work with a person over many years, we tend to get prints that glow, because all of the above details are discussed and looked for before we go to final exhibition print.

     
  26. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    Just to interject another thought. "Glowing" is one style of photographic prints which I generally try to achieve but I have seen many spectacular prints by masters such as Paul Strand, Irving Penn and Edward Weston when done with platinum that did not "glow". So I would not say that to be masterful print it would have to glow. There are many ways of expression with each one being pleasing to some.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com