What is your "normal" printing routine?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Exeter2010, Aug 18, 2010.

  1. Exeter2010

    Exeter2010 Member

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    Hi all -

    I have been printing in the darkroom for a couple years now, with an earlier stint helping out in a commercial darkroom quite a few years ago. I've been reading the articles about Mitrovic Voja on TOP and I recall in the first article that when Peter Turnley first came to Picto looking for a job, Voja helped him out by printing something like 80 negatives for him in an hour. Now, I don't have any illusions that I'm in this guy's league and I'm not suggesting that those 80 prints were finished, D&B'd exhibition prints either. I am asking myself how could anyone do something like this? I mean, my main thing in the darkroom whilst printing is usually not quantity, but then again, it seems to take me quite awhile just to make a dozen or so 8x10 work prints for evaluation and I wish I could go a little faster with this. It occurs to me that I really have no idea how anyone else manages workflow in the traditional darkroom and I'd be interested to hear what your "normal" is. Here's my routine for a quick run of a dozen or more "workprints", (which I prefer over contact sheets as I feel good about evaluating negs on the lightboard):

    Once I have everything set up, print washer full and running, trays ready (1 dev, 1 stop, 1 fix only)

    1. Turn on lightboard to select negative to print
    2. Using light from lightboard, load neg into carrier and dust off
    3. Load carrier into enlarger, lights out
    4. Focus in the easel on a used piece of paper
    5. Guesstimate exposure from light hitting on paper and adjust as necessary
    6. Enlarger focus off, into papersafe, load paper in easel
    7. Expose paper 10-20 secs
    8. Into to developer for about 35-45 secs
    9. Into stop for about 5-10 secs
    10. Into fix for about 30-45 secs
    11. Quick look under white light for evaluation
    12. White light off, into washer
    13. Repeat for next negative, or for adjustment and reprint (if grossly off)

    I don't use a holding bath for normal runs like this (or ever) as my print washer is right there. This whole process takes probably 3-4 minutes per print if I know all what negs I want to do and have them lined up, if not, add another couple minutes per print. This all works out to about 10-15 prints/hour and I really don't see how I could go much faster than this when I'm just printing for volume. I do recall reading that Voja put the exposed prints into a drawer and developed all at once for his 80 print/hour run in the article, but I still don't see how anyone could go much faster than this for a workprint run.

    If I'm doing "finished" prints, my steps are pretty much the same, but often with a test print and some manipulation at the enlarger and usually several goes with the same negative loaded. Obviously, if it's FB paper than chemical times are quite a bit longer.

    I wish that I could get the chance to work with a "master printer" just for a day or two. Maybe a workshop some time? I can't even imaging what all I'd learn from an experience like that. As it is, I have only my own council to keep and a few books to read to keep me moving forward in my printing progress.

    How do you do it?
     
  2. Paul VanAudenhove

    Paul VanAudenhove Member

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    That's a great article on TOP, and one I'll reread a few times. One of the ways Voja saved time doing that many prints was by doing all his processing at once. He developed all 80 prints in a deep tank. Plus he is brilliant at what he does!

    I've read about photographers doing matched prints that get processed in a batch, but I work pretty much the same way you do - one print at a time. Hopefully one of the more experienced volume printers here will chime in.
     
  3. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Subscriber

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    You would almost have to do your process with multiple prints to even get close to the aforementioned frequency. Maybe 6-8 at a time.
     
  4. Exeter2010

    Exeter2010 Member

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    Chris - I understand and in no way was implying that I might be able to hit the rates Voja could apparently do. I'm just wondering what others are doing and whether there's something in my workflow I might do differently to improve my "throughput" a little, or maybe a better idea for a multiple run of the same finished print. Or something. Just wondering how other people work in the darkroom when printing.
     
  5. Travis Nunn

    Travis Nunn Member

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    It certainly helps if your negatives are similar in density and contrast, makes the guestimation much more accurate.

    When I want multiple prints of the same negative, I just work until I get the final print that I want, then expose the paper for the rest of the prints all at once and run them through the chemistry 2 at a time.
     
  6. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    People making large numbers of prints per hour use roll easels, video analyzers and automatic processors.

    I have occasionally had to make a large numbers of prints, and yes a series of very deep trays (storage bins, actually) and parallel processing was the way to go. I used dilute developer and a 5 minute developing time so that processing could be somewhat even. 45 seconds for shuffling a stack of prints is just too short, IMO.

    I was in Builders' Square (or whatever they call it these days) and noticed they had very heavy duty black plastic deep trays sold for mixing mortar. $5 for a 16x20(ish) size.
     
  7. Exeter2010

    Exeter2010 Member

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    [/QUOTE]I was in Builders' Square (or whatever they call it these days) and noticed they had very heavy duty black plastic deep trays sold for mixing mortar. $5 for a 16x20(ish) size.[/QUOTE]

    I need to check that out - do you think they are actually large enough to soup a 16x20 print in? I've tried several different things to improvise this, but always either way too big or too small. Thanks for the tip!
     
  8. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    Murphy's law is never suspended simply because you want just the right size.
     
  9. ann

    ann Subscriber

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    also when your negatives are consistence it is easier..

    we sometimes expose for hours at a time, putting the prints in a light tight box, and then development later in the afternoon about 8 at a time in a 16x20 tray, with sheets back to back.
     
  10. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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  11. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Back when I was making 16x20 silver gelatin prints from 4x5 negs, a typical darkroom session was 10 to 12 hours long and I would spend the whole session on one negative and go through one pack of Portriga Rapid (10 sheets) -- usually getting three final prints. Most of the time was spent looking at the print just made and planning out the changes in the burning/dodging that I would do on the next print.

    A speed queen I am not...:D
     
  12. Exeter2010

    Exeter2010 Member

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    Ralph - Very nice article and thank you for sharing that! Some of the info in the article is kind of a refinement on what I'm already doing (expose for the highlights, adjust contrast for the shadows), but it definitely takes time and experience to pick out the subtle little tonal variations on the order of fractions of an f/stop. I guess that's one of those things that just has to come with time and experience. That, and the fact that I very much need to establish a better and more systematic way of refining and getting from the work print to the fine tuned finished print and this looks like as good a method as any I've seen.

    More and more, I think there would be some real benefit from making one of those test strip printing frames that gives you the exposure steps for the same portion of the image in the test print vs. the old way of dragging the card across the whole print and "guesstimating" the areas of interest. When I first saw your site and the plans for the printing frame, I thought it was a little overkill - not much, but a little. Now, more and more I think it would make for an invaluable tool for working with those tiny little tonal variations that I have so much trouble with.

    I read somewhere that once past a certain point, improvements in printing skills and print quality come in small increments from different sources, i.e. paper/developer comb, enlarger alignment, etc., and I think working with subtle tones and contrast is definitely one of my areas in need of some "incremental improvement!"

    Thanks again for the advice and info...
     
  13. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    My technique of refinement is much like what Ralph does. But I 'waste' an entire sheet making one print deliberately too dark, and another too light.
    This helps me see some parts of the picture in a different light, and will help me determine how much to dodge and how much to burn.

    Usually my print notes are written down by hand on a pre-printed form that I have, which has details on what paper I used, what lens, if it was a condenser enlarger, chemistry, f/stop, basic exposure, split grade printing, contrast, the negative number, etc, and finally I draw a sketch that illustrates which areas I dodge and burn, and by how much.

    My approach is very much about judging the print from my own artistic viewpoint, and has very little to do with science.

    The notes really help if I have to make another print just like it some day.
     
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  15. henk@apug

    henk@apug Member

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    I follow the routine described in Larry Bartlett's Black & White photographic printing workshop.
    Very good book and I totally agree with the statement that the writer makes in the paragraph "A word about negatives"
    I recently tried the zone system, but for me this gave no improvement.

    Should I ever shoot large format (one day I hope), I would use the zone system I think.
     
  16. Jeff Bannow

    Jeff Bannow Member

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    Where can one find these plans at?
     
  17. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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  18. Exeter2010

    Exeter2010 Member

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    Jeff - You have scroll past the 1st page to get them. Those aren't the plans!:wink:

    (I didn't know printing frames had blond hair and blue eyes at first either!)
     
  19. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Her eyes are green!
     
  20. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

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    Nicholas Lindan, to some extent you are correct when you say people who make large numbers of prints use roll easels, video analysers and automatic processors, but this is generally in the colour world. Apart from a roll easel, none of this equipment was readily available at the time these 80 prints from 80 negatives in an hour were produced. Although I’ll concede that the best equipment money could buy, was more than likely available in that lab.

    In another life I worked in a large B&W and colour lab, we mainly specialised in huge colour enlargements which were then sewn together, or welded together, to make billboard pictures, usually using four single prints to make a billboard colour print. This colour print was then sewn onto a light canvas sheet, which was then stretched with light rope over a billboard. Colour paper is waterproof and in the time frame of usage, colour fade free, so it was quick, cheap (relatively) and worked.

    However there was another aspect, magazine proofing for layouts and/or repro page prints for placing under a camera for four-colour process or with B&W single colour process.

    In a normal workday when in the groove, one can usually whip through a few hundred prints. These prints are done in batches, maybe 25-35 or so 8x10” sheets of paper, then a walk to the paper processor, put the prints in, make a coffee and get the next lot of negs/trannies ready on a light box for sorting. Check the prints, maybe re-do one or three prints in the next session.

    There is one very useful tool for speed printing, a good auto focus enlarger, this is not a must, but by heavens it really helps when cropping to a layout tracing. I would suggest that their lab was equipped with either Leitz Focomat, or AGFA auto focus enlargers and fast 45mm, 65/75mm and 105mm lenses on a turret.

    I have used both of these enlargers and if the cams are set-up correctly you can slide across from a 45mm lens to a 105mm lens, change negative easel inserts to change film size opening from 35mm to a 6x9 opening, place the neg in and be pulling the paper out of the paper safe in about 30 seconds and know that whatever lens is being used, the focus is accurate. One simply adjusts the timer then hits the button.

    Having a fast negative holder system that is accurate and is in the same position each time it goes back into the enlarger also aids speed, like you wouldn’t believe.

    I have seen newspaper darkrooms where people were literally running; the noise from things being slammed, scraped and generally pushed to physical limits was incredible. You really had to see and hear how people worked in those kinds of environments, to understand how it was done.

    By and large though, fast darkroom people that I know and knew, work best with minimal automation. It’s all in the head, honed from years of practice and the very best just have it!

    My method of speed printing, which usually occurs after a family happening, is to have contact sheets, no matter if it’s 35mm or 4x5”. I make a good print from one representative negative, and then use that as a reference print. Then with negatives on the light box, and the contact sheet I start. I often make 4 prints from 4 negatives on a single 8x10” sheet, using my Jobo Varioformat easel.

    Two weeks ago I printed about 40, 35mm negatives this way and sometimes printed a negative as a 4x5” then printed it as a 5x8” on the same sheet using the Varioformat easel, this only requires a height adjustment and an exposure change, or if you are certain your enlargement factor will work correctly, click stop the enlarger lens open or closed by ½ a stop, but a time difference is more accurate, generally.

    In this instance I was in a hurry as the prints were for family heading overseas, so I exposed the whole lot in two halves. I manually developed the prints (Ilford RC paper) and left them in a large tray full of water until I had finished. I then put both lots through my RC paper dryer. I was in the darkroom around 1½ hours, which included starting the darkroom up (chemicals and heater) and closing it down (cleaning). I re-did two prints with a third that should have been re-done.

    One speed trick that is relatively cheap and deadly accurate, is changing your exposure factor with an enlarging meter. The cheapest, and one of the best, is the Ilford EM10.

    You have a perfectly exposed print and wish to enlarge or reduce to another size. Turn the lights off, so it’s dark. Pull the neg carrier half out, place the EM10 meter on the easel; switch the enlarger on, then null the EM10 meter.

    Place the neg carrier back, put the enlarger up or down and compose. Pull the neg carrier half out, place the EM10 under the enlarger, turn the enlarger on, and then alter the lens until the EM10 is nulled.

    Put the neg carrier back, fine focus, compose, and make your exposure using the exact same time as previously. Within reason the print will be identical, just bigger or smaller.

    If you have an enlarging lens that can be opened and closed without click stops, you can use this method. This click less feature was basically brought in vogue when colour printing became widespread. Combined with an enlarging exposure meter, it is priceless.

    I once had an interesting conversation with a good friend; she worked in some London darkrooms in the sixties as a B&W printer. One of her speed tricks was to whack the neg into the carrier, then hold the carrier over a light box that had black paper over it except for the neg size area. A 10 second or so inspection was done, then the carrier was whacked into the enlarger, the base time was altered and with a foot switch, she operated the enlarger. Then after base exposure and using the foot switch, she burnt in using just her hands and to hold faces etcetera, jagged edge paper on thin wire. Her through put was incredible; I know this as I have seen her in action.

    However, for exhibition quality, speed is secondary to technique and accuracy. Mind you professional printers doing exhibition quality, usually work at a pace anyway. Once they get in the groove, they just go. If they are having a bad day, then like anyone else, nothing works, but when it flows. …………………..!

    Mick.

    Edit:- the EM10 meter is placed under the white light, in both instances. You are measuring the direct light intensity without the negative in-between the light source and the lens.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 19, 2010
  21. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i usually do test strips and waste a full sheet of paper to make sure
    the exposure is right. then i fine tune it with burning and dodging
    and often times do 2 test strips, one with a hard filter, one with a soft one
    and combine / split filter the exposure. i get 1 print that looks right, i
    dry it down to make sure ... ( blower dryer ) and i do some more just like it.
    (if all the exposures on the roll are similar every frame gets the same exposure treatment)

    if i have to do multiple prints, i do a whole bunch of exposures hide them in an empty box then back to back them
    between my fingers and put them in the soup together one side then the other until they are all wet.
    back in the day ... 12 sheets at a time if i had to ... and i always make a few extras because of variations, and mr. murphy
    motorized tray rockers that made it easy

    if i have to match a print, i get a clean tray of clean water, and put the print in it and
    do the same process as above but compare wet prints ( printed on the same paper hopefully )
     
  22. PhotoBob

    PhotoBob Subscriber

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    Once everything is set up I like to start with a test strip or two.
    If I can leave the darkroom with 3-5 11x14 prints or 5-10 8x10 prints within a 4 hour time slot, I've had a productive printing session with negatives that didn't require a lot of extra work, i.e., burning & dodging.
    After exposing the paper its into the developer for 1~3 minutes.
    Stop bath for 10~30 seconds
    Water bath briefly
    Fixer for one minute - wash for 5 minutes - washaid for 10 minutes - final wash for 5 minutes.
    For toning prints, I'll usually do this on another darkroom visit.
    I use a large tray with a hose hooked up the the tap on one end and fixed across the tray with holes for water to spray out at the other end.
    Dry on a screen before hanging to dry
    Then pressed for about a day or so. I've found the A. Adams @ 100 Hardcover book in a hardcover case to be good for this process.
    Nothing special here ... always interested to refine and improve my practice.
     
  23. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    What takes twice as long to make a larger print (exposure is similar, processing is the same)?

    This makes it sound like dodging & burning are rescue operations. Far from it, they are creative means to optimize a print and guide the observers view. A straight print is a print waiting to be perfected. The Zone System gives you a 'perfect' negative, so you can 'mold' the print to your heart's content. Don't avoid dodging & burning, use it to explore the creative possibilities of the darkroom. Look at Ansel Adams' prints and their printing maps. No straight print in sight!

    That explains it. You were suppose to read it, not use it as a paper weight!
     
  24. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    I'm a slow printer. Unless I'm making pictures in a controlled environment, such as a studio, I find my negatives vary, even a wee bit, as I usually Am taking pictures with different conditions. Even outdoors, if the clouds vary, the lighting varies not only in quantity as I find the color changes as well. Maybe my style of photography is such that I encounter these varying conditions. If I pluck my tripod mounted camera in one spot and get things set up, then I can sometimes take a roll and find things are pretty consistent. I make many outdoor portraits near the golden hour at sunset and things change fairly quick.

    Thanks Mr. Lambrecht for the pdf.

    Just my take. That's why I have a pretty large garbage can in the darkroom!
     
  25. CGross

    CGross Guest

    There are 3 main things that have helped me tremendously.

    1 - getting a Nova Quad Print Processor - with this I only mix up chemicals once every couple of months, maybe a little sooner depending on quantity of prints. Because the time I have to print is usually a couple hours at night, I am able to get to printing right away and not have to spend time mixing up chems. I want to use the time I have printing and not mixing up and getting chems ready! The only thing I have in trays are water, and toners which I reuse. So tear down is fast too.

    2 - Making the the test strip printer that Ralph has designed and so graciously allowed anyone to access the plans and concept!! This significantly reduces paper waste and allows me to determine my exposure very quickly. I think this is a must have!

    3 - Learning to print with f/stops and not just time. I got a Stop Clock Pro and after many sessions, the concept of f/stop printing has taken its roots.

    Now I can usually bang out a final print - with toning in a couple hours or less. Without these things it would take me 2 to 3 times longer. And as I learn more and get more familiar with my process, I'll probably shave more time off.


    I'll add a fourth....print, print, print and keep printing...often.


    To me it's not about how quickly I can get a final print, it's how quickly can I start printing once I close the darkroom door!!!
     
  26. PhotoBob

    PhotoBob Subscriber

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    I don't have an exact figure ... it was just a best guess on what I've been getting lately.
    Perhaps I should have reflected upon this question a bit more. I would now say that 2~5 prints would be a productive session. Dodging & burning are wonderful procedures and I do often use them, they ARE NOT rescue operations - I made no intention to that effect. I quite concur that they offer a unique level of creativity that enhances my darkroom practice.
    However, I am always striving to improve my practice and become the best printer I can and appreciate constructive ideas.
    I hope this discussion does not get too hung up on semantics.