Unsharp Masking of Negatives?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by CPorter, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I recently signed up for John Sexton's newsletter mailing list and yesterday I recieved the 2007/2008 Workshop Schedule (would love to go to one someday). Any way, in the description for the "Fine Tuning The Expressive Print" workshop, there is mention of a technique for "simplified procedures that will demystify unsharp masking of negatives for local contrast control and sharpness control".

    Does anyone know what this means? I always thought "unsharp masking" was a digital manipulation. What does it mean to film/enlarging?

    Thanks
    Chuck
     
  2. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The term "unsharp mask" involving digital is yet another hammy grab of traditional photographic language.

    In a nutshell, he unsharp mask process involves making a positive copy of the negative through the back of the negative, registering them together, and then printing through both negative and positive on to paper. The paper needs to be exposed at or be of of higher contrast than it normally would. The effect greatly enhances the apparent acuteness of the resulting print.
     
  3. Jerry Basierbe

    Jerry Basierbe Member

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    I believe the original intent of masking was for reducing contrast on Cibachrome prints. The process works very well for monochrome as well. It is used on negatives that are very contrasty that would require alot of dodging and burning. You print at a higher contrat level, but the dodging and burning should be much easier to do if needed.

    Jerry
     
  4. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Masking can be used for a number of different purposes--contrast control is one, although that can be done with a sharp mask, positive to reduce negative contrast or increase positive contrast, negative to increase negative contrast or reduce positive contrast.

    Unsharp masking improves edge contrast by superimposing an unsharp faint positive image over the negative. The unsharpness of the mask is controlled by putting layers of mylar or acetate between the original neg and the film for the mask, and the exposure when making the mask controls the contrast of the combined neg/mask sandwich. I don't have it handy at the moment, but there is a good description of unsharp masking in a special issue of _PhotoTechniques_ called something like "Mastering the Fine Black and White Print," if I remember correctly.
     
  5. Jerry Basierbe

    Jerry Basierbe Member

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    Howard Bond did a couple articles in Photo Techniques on Unsharp masking. I don't know which issues.

    Jerry
     
  6. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It may be that they were just reprinted for the "Mastering Black and White" issue.
     
  7. Frank R

    Frank R Subscriber

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    Robert Zeichner showed me some nice before-and-after prints where he used traditional unsharp masking techniques; it makes a noticeable difference. Look up Bob over on the Large Format Photography Forum if you have any questions.
     
  8. RobC

    RobC Member

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    I have a copy of a 3 part article by Mark Jilg and Dennis McNutt on masking and how to make masks.

    If you would like a copy then send an email with just "masking" in the subject line and nothing else in message. Send request to:

    masking (at) visualperception (dot) net

    I'm only going to send this once in a day or two.
     
  9. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    There are unsharp masks, contrast masks, highlight masks and color masks. All are covered in several Kodak "How To" books in the venerable series by that name. Some serve dual purposes but depending on the exact image manipulation you can zero in on just one function.

    PE
     
  10. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    Not as tough as it sounds.

    I do have the benefit of a Colorstar analyser, which can do a reasonable job of acting as a trasnmission densitometer, so my life is a bit easier, but I also have done this before I had the gadget. It is a lot easier to do on 120 than 35mm , but both work; I imagine 4x5 would be a breeze.

    To make the mask, use the enlarger as a light source is a good start. Place the film to form the mask on the bottom, emulsion down. Place the negative to be masked on top, emulsion side up. Cover with glass to keep in contact, and register - thumb tacks into the alignment foam core or wood channel, etc. Cover the whole works with a diffuser- I use a sheet of diffusion, but a kleenex will work.

    My mask film is usually ortho - either Kodak 'fine grain positive release' (35mm), or cut down lith film (any size), so I can work by safelight. I don't usually fret about unsharp on colur prints - the colour itself usually dominates the impression of a print.

    I develop to a low contrast index ( say .3 of so), usually by inspection in a low contrast developer (very low contrast if I start with lith). Once dry, sandwich with the original in register in the enlarger, adjust paper contrast to suit, and print away.

    Howard Bond I believe did a very detailed article in late 2005 in 2 subsequent issues of Photo Techniques that puts all the math into this rather vague description, and describes how to do it with pan films - tmax 100 I believe.
     
  11. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    All the replies have been interesting and informative but in what instances is it necessary or preferrable to use the masking process? I'm particularly interested in the masking for sharpness control. For example, the masking to improve sharpness is in what sense of the word? Can out of focus issues from loss of DoF be made more sharp or is to enhance the sense of accutance in the negative? When exactly would this type of masking be necessary to perform?

    Thanks
     
  12. gordrob

    gordrob Subscriber

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    Masking has been around long before Cibachrome and was an important part of the Dye Transfer Process. Kodak has detailed information in a number of their guides from the 50 and 60s as well as their E80 publication. The Photo Lab Index by Morgan also has information on how to make masks for contrast reduction.

    Gord
     
  13. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Chuck,

    The Sexton workshop is about the technique for contrast and sharpness. I imagine John has his own dealio worked out, and I would love to see it. The unsharp mask cant give back what you dont have (DOF), what is enhanced is the apparent sharpness of the print.
     
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  15. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Have a search of APUG threads. A lot has been written on unsharp masking and I have seen at least one article showing what it can do compared to straight printing.

    An APUGer called Donald Miller has, if I recall, posted an article on how it's done. Additionally have a look at Lyn(n) Radeka's site. I can't be sure my spelling is completely correct but his site shows what's possible at a cost of time and money. It is amazing

    This will probably tell you more or show you more than ten thousand words from 50 APUGers. Lyn is an extremely accommodating guy who will reply to any query you make. Like a lot of others in the analogue game he is firstly an advocate of what can be done and only secondly a businessman trying to sell you something because he needs to eat.

    pentaxuser
     
  16. Jerry Basierbe

    Jerry Basierbe Member

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    I've taken John's "Fuine Tuning" workshop. His procedure is fairly simple and can be as inexpesive or as expensive as you want it to be depending on how much of the equipment you want.

    Jerry
     
  17. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Thanks all for your info and I look forward to learning more on my own about this process.

    Chuck
     
  18. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The Vestal Weber workshop at the Photographers Formulary covers this subject and much more. It is a treat to learn from these two old timers.

    PE
     
  19. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I just finished checking out Lynn Radeka's site and, well, wow! Do most fine art B&W photographers like Sexton and others always use such various masking processes in their finished work? Seeing that site and seeing the results of how that process works just totally emphasizes how important proper exposure and development is to the fine print. I know well executed photography can result in awesome prints without the masking process, but what another tool to be able to have at your disposal. When I can afford it, I want to learn how to do that.

    Chuck
     
  20. Jerry Basierbe

    Jerry Basierbe Member

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    No. Only when they feel it to be necessary to get the print to look the way they envisioned when other methods such as dodging and burning won't help.

    Jerry
     
  21. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There's also a discussion of masking techniques in Ctein's book, _Post-Exposure_.

    One attraction of POP processes like Centennial (silver gelatin) POP, albumen, and Ziatype, is that they are self-masking. As you increase exposure time development slows down in the shadows and continues at the same rate in the highlights, so if you have a landscape negative of the proper scale for the process, with good detail from shadows to highlights, you can just continue exposing as the highlights come in, and you won't lose the shadows--no registration pins required.
     
  22. wildbill

    wildbill Member

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    I received John Sexton's latest book "Recollections" for Christmas. The images, for the most part are very sharp. I don't know how much he uses usm but the images in the book appear a fair amount sharper than most of my 4x5 enlargements.

    vinny
     
  23. mmcclellan

    mmcclellan Subscriber

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    Here is a link to Radek Photography that has a lot of info, including masking kits you can purchase. I first heard of Lynn Radek from Bruce Barnbaum's book, "The Art of Photography," in which Barnbaum goes into this technique in some detail and recommends the Radek masking kit. Anyway, surf his website and you can see examples of how the technique affects prints, workshops, etc.

    http://www.radekaphotography.com/maskingkits.htm
     
  24. Loren Sattler

    Loren Sattler Subscriber

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    Howard Bond

    Anyone that has taken a workshop from Howard Bond on printing has learned a little something about the value of unsharp masking for enhancing apparent print sharpness. Howard is a master photographer and printer. He taught workshops for the zone system, large format photography, basic and advanced printing and unsharp masking for many years. Recently he claims to have given his last workshop.

    When taking a printing workshop much time is spent looking at fine prints as a learning tool. In these studies Howard shows you prints developed years ago conventionally next to more recent prints using unsharp masks. There is a noticeable improvement in sharpness. These are all prints from large format negatives, many of them 4 x 5's.

    For many years Howard has published technical articles in Photo Techniques magazine. As an enhancement to his teaching, he would provide a copy of these articles to his workshop students. The package I have goes back to about 1985. There were two articles dealing with unsharp masks with references to the technique in a number of his articles.

    One is titled Making Unsharp Masks for B&W Negative dated Jan/Feb 1996. The other is Unsharp Masking Update dated Sept/Oct 1997. I could scan these for anyone interested. Send me an email with your address.
     
  25. MarkL

    MarkL Subscriber

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    I would recommend Lynn Radeka's negative carrier/mask aligner and his workshop. Trying to visually align a negative and mask with tape or pins is not easy, not to mention you have to realign if you want to make a new mask or store the negative separately. His anti newton class carrier is also the mask contact printing frame and you can slap a mask onto the carrier with the neg in an instant!
     
  26. Byron Worthen

    Byron Worthen Member

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    Wildbill,

    I have seen quite a few of John Sexton's originals and own a few, including one that is in his latest book. Not all of his photographs use unsharp masking. The sharpness in his photographs is mostly a result of his careful attention to details, calibration of all of his equipment, and his skill. The books do have to be printed with some sort of masking (I don't know a lot about book printing), but the original silver prints are extremely sharp. But do not fear, not one of my own photos is as sharp as any of his. When visitors see his "Corn Lilies, Dusk" on my wall, they have a hard time believing that it is a photograph since it is sharper than any photograph they have ever seen.

    I guess it helps when you don't just buy a lens of a particular focal length, but pick the most optically accurate from a set of identical lenses, and things like that. Take his expressive print class and you will see that he is meticulous in every aspect of photography.