What's wrong with higher grades?

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by David Hall, Feb 23, 2003.

  1. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    I may be VERY naive here, but here goes...

    I just finished a printing session contacting some 5x7 portraits using Azo and Amidol. The portraits were originally developed in Xtol and are pretty thin by both contact printing and Azo standards. I found that they all printed perfectly on grade 3 with little or no water bath.

    So here's the thing. I always hear that the goal is to produce a negative that prints well at normal contrast on VC paper or grade 2 on graded paper. Does it have to be that way? What do I lose if a negative's "normal" paper is of a higher contrast grade? Mid tones? Overall tonality and smoothness? The prints I made tonight look pretty smoothly toned, and they have MUCH more tonal range than when I enlarged them previously.

    Thanks for whatever insight you can offer.

    dgh
     
  2. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  3. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    David,

    In theory, you can print a negative with a density range of 1.4logD on a grade 0 and a negative with a density range of 0.4logD on a grade 5 and get the same results. However, theory and practice do not always coincide, especially when the theory is a simplification. There are several side effects to take into account:
    · Paper grades below “2” have usually a lower Dmax.
    · Grain is a more or less sharp light-dark-transition which leads to a discrete rendering on higher grades (i.e. grain becomes more apparent)
    · Film is a continuous tone recorder only at a certain macroscopic level and within certain limits.

    The latter two do not apply to contact printing. You may actually get the same results between grades 2 and 5 and may not detect any difference between a grade 2 and 3. Remember, that this applies only to the straight part of the density curve! Any development method that changes the effective shape of the curve (e.g. tanning developers) will also influence the look on different paper grades.
     
  4. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  5. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    Aggie,

    That “damn densiwhatsit” allow you to predict roughly how a print will look like. If you examine that technique, you can actually say good-bye to the test strip and you will need significantly less trial-and-error attempts. Learn to print and save a tree.

    However, this is just a technique or “an abstract tool”. You still have to have an idea of what your print *should* look like. It is not a substitute for any creative action. It is just a more systematic method of working.

    Experience might of course be an alternative. However, it will take you much longer to get there. Knowing the basic principles behind Photographic Techniques will allow you to draw much more conclusions than just knowing how to select the right paper grade for a negative.

    There is an explanation for every photographic effect, even the apparently mystical ones. I have to accept that not all people like such demystifications, especially in the context of the arts. I, however, always wanted to know why something is the way it is.
     
  6. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    There is nothing wrong with higher grade papers at all. The whole idea behind trying for a negative that prints on grade 2 comes from a time when there were no (or very few) multicontrast papers, and settling on grade 2 was just a goal to make things more convenient. Grade 1 is a low contrast paper, grade 3 and up are higher contrast, and grade 2 is "normal". I regularly print on grade 2 and then decide grade 3 would look better. The grade of paper or contrast filter depends on what looks good to you. Trying for a negative that prints well on grade 2 gives a "middle of the road" starting point. Then you pick a grade that looks good overall. A lot of times, the lighting conditions at the time of exposure will have a big effect in the grade you finally use. You can use Zone methods, but you will later still make a choice as to the paper. "Zoning" will keep the negative from being blown out or blocked up, and later will just make it easier to print without needing extreme grades. To me, Zones are mostly about getting all the "data" you can get onto the film, and then getting that "data" onto the paper. What you then do with it is your choice.
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Actually, there used to be many more paper grades available for graded paper, sometimes 0 through 5. Trying for grade 2 or 3 gives you a full-range negative that you can manipulate in any way you want using a variety of techniques, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use grade 4 when you need it.
     
  8. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    The late Fred Picker actually recommended that all 35 mm film should be targeted to print on Grade 3 paper. His reasoning, which seems valid to me, was that this would involve less development time for the 35 mm negative. He felt that this would lead to a somewhat less grainy negative and that the 35 mm negative needed all of the help it could get. While it has been a number of years since I shot any 35 mm film, I wonder if my medium format would not benefit from the same reasoning. I have not shot any medium format for a long time. I think that if and when I pick that format up again that I will develop my film accordingly.
     
  9. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    I had never heard of Fred until just recently, but we arrived at the same conclusions about developing for a paper grade of 3. I use that for both 35mm and MF. Works for the style of photography I do.
     
  10. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Thanks for what you have offered so far.

    My brain may have been too soaked in fumes last night. To make sure I am asking the correct question:

    Is there a loss of anything by printing a thinner negative on a higher grade of paper, as a rule? Is there a gain of anything unsightly, as a rule?

    OK, that's two questions. And I REALLY appreciate your insight.

    dgh
     
  11. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    The only two positive aspects that come to mind in printing a thinner negative are printing times and the grain considerations of smaller film formats which has already been mentioned by Eric and myself. These are both valid considerations.

    The possible negative aspects are concerned with the characteristic curve of the paper which is exactly opposite of film. If the contrast grade of the negative were too narrow. One would seemingly lump a greater portion of the shoulder and toe film values onto the corresponding opposites of the paper. So, taking this to a ridiculous example for illustration purposes, if one had a three zone contrast range and attempted to spread it onto a six zone paper range the film values would be spread to some degree, but the values would not be the same as if one had developed the film to the six zone contrast range. The tonal range would not be as smoothly represented on the print.

    Ideally, in a perfect world...we would take the time to determine the characteristic curve of the film that we were using and in exposure and development decisions we would have the greatest portion of the scene luminescence placed on the straight line portion of the film. We would also determine the characteristic curve of our paper to the extent that we placed the camera negative values on the straighline portion of the papers characteristic curve. When we are successful at accomplishing this, the print will have reached a much greater portion of it's true potential in tonal representation.
     
  12. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    Off the top of my pointy head, the risk in a thin (underexposed or underdeveloped) negative would be the loss of details in the shadows. I think most people here prefer a "fat" or dense negative for that reason. Trying to keep my thoughts straight, a thin negative might normally print flat, so you would want to go for a higher contrast paper.
     
  13. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (SteveGangi @ Feb 23 2003, 07:47 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>I think most people here prefer a "fat" or dense negative for that reason.&nbsp; Trying to keep my thoughts straight, a thin negative might normally print flat, so you would want to go for a higher contrast paper.</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Thin vs. fat is not the same thing as contrasty vs. soft. The first one is about shifting the caracteristics curve, the second one is about changing it's slope. Although higher densities are usually linked to more contrast, this is not necessarily the case. Fogging, e.g., increases the density while longer development times usually increase contrast, too. A fat negative may print onto the same paper grade as a thin one but requires more exposure time.
     
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  15. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  16. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Aggie, what is the procedure that you go through in printing?
     
  17. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Donald,

    That question is brilliant enough to have it's own thread. It would be informative to hear everyone's routine.

    dgh
     
  18. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  19. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Aggie,
    Your procedure makes a lot of sense. I think that what works for anyone is the proper thing to do. I experience the sense of the proper amount of light visible on the easel, just as you do. I probably would benefit from cutting down 8X10 sheets into strips. I just got used to doing complete sheets for my test strips. I have a black and white densitometer and unless I use it for unsharp mask densities, it sits on the shelf for months.

    David,
    My procedure follows:
    I will usually make a decision early in the printing whether I will use split grade printing or whether I will use single grade printing. More and more of the time I decide to do split grade printing. When I do split grade printing, I will start with a Grade 1 filtration on my enlarger and do a test strip exposure for my upper value value. I will normally give at least a 12 second initial base exposure followed by test strips of 1 1/2 seconds. I try to get an exposure that lies about mid point in the test strips. If it doesn't then I do another test strip. The reason is that the percentage that 1 1/2 seconds represents in relation to 18 seconds, for instance, is quite another percentage when it is compared to 12 seconds. In other words, the margin of error decreases as the total time is increased. I dry this print in the microwave to determine the actual value when drydown is allowed for. Drydown effects all values on a print, but it really is apparent in the upper values.

    Once I determine the upper value exposure, I will then do an initial exposure at the upper value time followed by a low value test strip at Grade 5 filtration. I will normally give a 5 second base exposure followed by test strips of 1.5 seconds. Once again, I try for an exposure that lies about half way through the test strips. From this I determine my low value exposure time.

    My third test is the high value exposure and filtration followed by my low value exposure and filtration on the same sheet of paper. I process this print and from this I then determine my areas of burning and dodging and whether these must be addressed in the first or second exposure. I refer back to my highlight and shadow test strips to determine an approximate amount of time for burning and dodging.

    I then make a final print that is includes all of the times above. I process this, wash it, and allow it to dry.

    Sometimes I will make a further determination of whether the print would benefit from either unsharp or sharp masking of the negative. I determine what masking would accomplish. That decision comes after I have made a print, as described above, and allowed it to rest for a couple of days to as much as a week, to see whether I come back to it, how I continue to feel about it, whether my initial impression remains the same. My initial impression is sometimes the one that I stay with. Sometimes I feel quite differently after a period of time.
     
  20. lee

    lee Member

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    what I find intriguing is that while Donald starts his split filter grade printing with the value that controls the highlight, I start at the other end and do the shadow value first. Photons are photons and they don't care. I too find that I split print ALL the time now. I have the Aristo VCL 4500 head and I find that getting the proper contrast is much easier that way. Like Donald said, by the third test I am at the work print. I also find that with this method I don't have to burn and dodge as much with larger format negs. With this method I don't begin to know what contrast grade the print is at and I really don't care as long as print sings.

    lee\c
     
  21. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    I have two distinct workflows:

    For enlarging:
    1) Softest possible contrast test on the full image. I discovered a few years ago that when I use the whole image and not a strip, I get it better faster. Maybe it's because I notice things in the whole image I don't on a single strip. I don't know.

    2) Hardest possible contrast overlaid on the the softest area where densitity was just barely peeking through.

    3) Full print with both, no manipulation.

    4) Usually there is some adjustment because of the overlain hard and soft values. Often skin is a tad darker than I wanted.

    5) Manipulations. Almost always burn the edges just barely, to help keep the eye in my frame. Sometimes burn with hard contrast around the eyes of a portrait to make them appear a bit sharper.

    6) Neutol or Ilfobrom (either Agfa or Ilford paper) for two minutes. Stop for a few seconds, fix for about 30 seconds, water hold, fix again, tine only if I want deeper black, but not usually.

    7) I always use a metronome. I learned this either from an AA or a Fred Picker video, I can't remember, but I find that counting seconds works better than a light fading to off, and it actually creates a rythm with which to work.

    Contact Printing
    1) Whole sheet, 30 seconds (I have a fixed light in a fixed position, so I find that with a single 30 second exposure I can guess where to go next pretty easily. And I can guess contrast grade since I have to use graded papers for contacting.

    2) Whole sheet, new guess, or whole sheet at 30 secs. new contrast, if necessary.

    3) Third guess, if necessary. It usually is.

    4) Manipulations. I am usually down to this by the fourth sheet, max, unless I guess wrong on contrast grade.

    5) Amidol +/- water for 1 minute, stop for as long as I can stand it, fix for as long as I can stand it, water hold, fix again, fix again, tone, wash for 60 minutes.
     
  22. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    One other thing. Drydown. I use a drydown compensating timer on the enlarger, so I have gotten pretty good at not having to dry a print first. Only very rarely am I surprised. With the contact printing and Azo, if I leave some highlight just the wrong side of blown out, it all seems to pop into the right tones after the paper is dry.

    dgh
     
  23. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    David,

    Since you use a drydown timer, what percentage drydown do you factor in for Azo? I have not encountered anyone who has used this type timer with Azo before and your experience is new and helpful to me. Thanks for your reply.
     
  24. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Donald,

    I don't. I use it on the enlarger, and of course I cannot use Azo with the enlarger. For Azo I keep some highlight just on the wrong side of blown out, and somehow everything works when the paper dries.

    Sorry for the confusion.

    dgh
     
  25. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Donald,

    Do you use Azo? What's your workflow?

    dgh
     
  26. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    David,
    I understand now. Thank you for alleviating my confusion.

    I think that it would be a wonderful thing to have, though. You raised an interesting idea for me. I do have one of the Zone VI compensating timers that I had purchased for a cold light application, but I never used it. I wonder if a person could obtain the photocell from Calumet (I understand that they are still available). and fashion a retainer in the light path of the light source for contact printing?

    What is your reaction to that idea? Would it work? Please give me your thoughts on the matter. Thanks.