The Zen of Expressive Print Making

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by photomc, Mar 13, 2004.

  1. photomc

    photomc Member

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    I have only been a member on this site since July of 2003, and found it to be THE BEST site for my own needs. Having been away from serious B&W photography for almost 25 years I needed something to get me going - some things had changed and so had I.

    At this time I feel that my work is almost average, but improving - improving because of this site. Wanting to take it to the next level I have looked at film, paper, developer, etc.

    The questions I have ask and those of others wishing to improve our prints is constant, and I thought I would share my thoughts on HOW, those of us that wish to improve our work could.

    Below is a list of what I feel will allow me to move from average work, to work that is worthy of hanging on the walls of my home and hopefully the walls of others...

    Become consistent. Do not add to many variables. This means find one film, one format (35, 120, 4x5) and determine a personal EI for that film. That means learning how to use the light meter and not think in terms of film speed.

    Use one developer, my choice is Rodinal, though I really want to try Pryocat..it can wait. At this point I feel that I should stick to just one dilution, cut the variables.

    Work with one paper and developer - this means finding and sticking to what seems to be working for me. There are so many choices, and reading what different folks on this site doing makes you want to try what they are doing. This is especially true when you see work in the gallery or the web site of members that just "Rocks". Again, at this point I feel the need to stick with just one size paper (8x10 in my case) - cut the variables.

    Now, once I have been able to shoot, process the film and print what I consider an above average print, and do so more often than not, then I will allow myself to add a Single variable and determine if it for me and then see if I can master it. Baby steps - yes, slow - probably, frustrating - probably at times.

    Looking at the work posted by many on this site makes me (and I feel sure others) want to immulate what they have done in order to have our own work look as good. The lessons I have learned on this site are many - there are NO magic bullets. The search for an expressive print that we can be proud of depends on knowing the tools we use and how to use them.

    In some ways the journey to an expressive print is just starting, in other ways, I feel that I am more than half-way there. For those that are searching for a way to improve your work I offer these final thoughts..

    Stick to the thoughts above, one step at a time.

    Use APUG as a reference, along with others you know.

    Go out and take photographs, bring them back, process and print.

    Sorry for the long ramble, but you folks are the best and I wanted to try to help the next person that wants to take their work to the next level.

    Thanks Everyone....
     
  2. BobF

    BobF Member

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    Love the long ramble but probably because you fairly well mirrored my current photography story. After a long time away I am back to photography and for the past few years have been bouncing around trying this and that. Cameras and formats, films processing etc.

    But I too have finally limited the variables to black and white old standards Hp5 - Fp4 , D-76, HC110, Multigrade fiber and RC. I rarely shoot color anymore as I find it "confuses" me to switch back and forth.

    It all seems so dull when reading others on this board that seem to try and expiriment with everything. Some day I may get there and maybe not but I am enjoying the journey as it is.
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Mike,

    I think another thing that would be useful is to take notes of what you do.

    That way you keep track of everything and can refer back. I'm talking mostly of in the darkroom but it could also be out in the field.

    With careful notes of your preceedures you can try new things and still go back to you tried and true. Also with notes you can delve into areas that you don't feel confortable with and experiment and later ask questions about where you may have gone wrong, without trying to remember each step you took.

    Your advice is great and it sort of mirrors my own experience.



    Michael McBlane
     
  4. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Mike,

    BRAVO! That is exactly the way I feel about what I am trying to do. I have been back into photography for about a year after a twenty year abscence (old news). Only in the last two months have I been able to print at home using my kitchen at night when all are asleep (when I should be sleeping!). I find your comments very inspiring and insightful and I will remember them. I strictly use HC-110 (varying only the dilutions and agitation); I strictly use PolymaxII neutral black (F) in 8x10. I'm much more familiar with Tri-X of the old days (for me that is), but feel comfortable with T-Max 400/100. I'll say though, I still love Tri-X with the right subject when I have really filled the frame!

    One thing that I have not ventured into is the personal film speed test. I want to get a complete grasp of how I can use the manufacturer's speed before I start attempting to change it or the subsequent processing of the film. I'm adhereing to Ansel Adams' theory in "The Negative", page 243, 6th paragraph down, he states: "If the higher speed rating is used, the effective threshold is raised to about Zone II." I must say, in my own use of this procedure, I have not been displeased (this does not imply that I have settled with that, more importantly, it means that I understand the meaning of that statement).

    Finally, before I stop rambling, I'm adhereing to Fred Picker's statement (Zone VI Workshop pg. 12 last para) that: "Variable development is a refinement (of the Zone System); the placement of values on the exposure scale is the basis (of the Zone System), and the principles involved come into play whenever a negative is exposed". When I read Adam's book(The Negative) a year ago and Picker's book, it *absolutely* opened doors for me. I am much more in control of my camera now than I was twenty years ago and much more consistant in my thought processes.

    Again, I really liked your thoughts above.

    Chuck
     
  5. Dave Miller

    Dave Miller Member

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    Mike, whilst I agree that your philosophy is sensible, I think that there is a danger that one can get too hung up on the technicalities, the important target is to produce pictures that satisfy yourself, if they also please others, then maybe that should be considered a bonus, nothing more. I don’t think pleasing others should necessarily be a prime objective for amateurs, that way leads to mediocrity. I see the images of too many people who are apparently hooked on the technicalities of photographic production, those who seem to have forgotten that the our prime objective is to produce an enjoyable picture. As you say altering only one variable at a time is a sensible, and, I think, scientific way to proceed, but it may be a bit dull!
     
  6. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Mike,

    Excellent thread. It seems like a fair number of us have been away from photography at some point. I know that this was true for me as well. I think that you made some excellent points. I like what Blansky said too. Good luck.
     
  7. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Having read and understood your statements, I disagree. People approach their understanding and growth in an endeavor in different ways. The old saying that good prints come from good negatives is so very true So, I strive to keep my "technical" ducks in a row. And yes, sometimes it can get in the way of imagintaion, but I think that is part of the challenge. I would much rather be firm in my technical understanding of exposure, processing, and printing because that is the barebones, bottomline, straight poop on photographic production. :smile: Someone is lacking in producing an enjoyable picture, may very well need to improve upon the technicalities of the process. Then, perhaps, their composition, subject matter, treatment of the subject, etc.. may begin shine through to themselves and others. :smile:
     
  8. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I'll never manage that - I'm too fond of experimenting. But on the other hand that gives me something to write about on APUG, so I'm slowly adding to the APUG reference collection :wink:
     
  9. lee

    lee Member

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    Technique needs to be learned to the point that you can forget about it. I contend that those that cannot make pretty prints are the same ones that say that pretty prints get in the way of the message.

    lee\c
     
  10. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Lee,
    You have summed up what I really feel in much less space, by working through the process I detailed earlier, my intent is to let the technique become second nature, then I can enjoy photography even more (which would not seem possible to the folks that really know me). Thanks!!!

    Michael,
    Knew I had forgotten something from the post, You found it :tongue: , but you are correct. Without good notes the best efforts may not be as easy to reproduce.

    Dave,
    I understand what you are saying, and I agree to the point that the technical should never become the 'focus' of making an image (no pun intended). For myself, though, it is needed - there are some who are gifted and grasp the concepts and process with little effort (or so it seems), but for me..well I need the process outlined to keep me on track. Like I said to Lee...at least until it is 2nd nature.

    Thanks for the comments.
     
  11. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    Here are a few things I've learned that have made a big difference in my printing:

    For some reason, if I asked myself the question "Do I need more contrast", I used to always answer "Yes." Maybe it's an American thing, or a male thing: more has to be better than less, right? A few months back, while struggling to print a particular negative, I pulled out my never-used #1 filter. I was shocked! Suddenly I had this delicate highlight detail, and to my wife's eye (my best critic) it still had plenty of contrast. We all chase the elusive "luminostiy." I think one of the best places to find it is in well rendered highlights. These days, the #1 gets much more use.

    As a corollary to the above: fiber paper (at least the Ilford that I use) takes 2-3 days to fully dry. I print so that, at the time of development, there is no detail in the brightest highlights. A couple of days later, voila.

    Technical competence is crucial. But, in many of the prints that I look at, I see the same thing: they were made in unfavorable light. My best prints, almost without fail, are from negatives that were shot in beautiful light. Without good light, it's an uphill struggle.

    Strangely enough, I posted this same opinion about light on a forum on ph*t*.net. It turned into a huge thread, and a huge fight, with many posters having the opinion that "there is no such thing as bad light."
     
  12. Deckled Edge

    Deckled Edge Member

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    I would add the importance of surrounding yourself with images by others. Especially images that you respond to. Go to galleries, go to the library, browse magazines. There are elements of "good" images that are common to many and crucial to most. As your level of seeing improves, the images you pass up will increase, and the ones you go after (possessing the tools to do so) will start to approach your ideals.
    The only thing you can take a picture of is light. Make sure it's good light!

    "Omnia lvmen divisvm in partes decem est"
     
  13. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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    - - -
     
  14. Dean Williams

    Dean Williams Member

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    Well put Mike. I feel that knowing your materials and procedures as best you can is the foundation of one's craft. I don't mean that's what makes a good photo. Not at all! Thats up to our mind's eye. But even the most beautiful concept is usless if it doesn't end up on a well done print. Don't be averse to experimentation now and then, tho'. It can be fun to wring out a new film or paper occasionally. You often learn something new. I try out something new every once in a while, usually when I feel I am stuck in a rut. I always end up coming back to my old favorites, which I've used for a long time, (but even Tri-x can't do everything). And after my little experiment I'll have a new film, paper or developer in my repertoire that just might me what I need sometime.
    Keep on! I always like hearing that others do things the way I do! ;^)

    Dean
     
  15. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    I totally agree. I have begun to collect other photographers prints and hang them on the walls of my house.

    In fact I just finished framing and hanging two prints a few minutes ago.

    I also feel that this is where the "Print Exchange" is a valuable tool. It allows you to swap prints with other photographers and receive/give valuable feedback.

    Jim
     
  16. ChuckP

    ChuckP Subscriber

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    And don't forget that printing is a highly subjective thing. Light or dark. Hard or soft. Is there really a "right" way? Because of preconceived bias sometimes I find myself thinking about how an image should be printed rather then trying to understand what the photographer is telling me with his printing style. I guess all those choices are what makes printing not as easy as it seems.
     
  17. jobel60

    jobel60 Member

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    my tuppence worth: make yourself some forms/ have a note book and try to remember to write in it if you are trying to take a decent pic; something like: film/f stop/speed etc but dont worry about it too much if you are taking general snaps.
    Use a simiular type of form in the darkroom, stating film/developer/temp etc and relax and make it part of your routine so you don't have to think about it too much.
    Stick to a combination of film/developer you are happy with but once in a while go and buy something different and experiment. Write it down and play.
    If you have a film to process look at your old negs, find a good set, look up your notes and use that as a starting point.
    Don't get too hung up on things like the Zone System, film density, f stop printing; they will come in time but do rate your camera.