As someone fairly new to darkroom, perhaps I can help. How are you getting your exposure times on the enlarger? test strips? I started doing this and found trying to learn the relationship between exposure time and contrast grade when printing different negatives with different densities a real steep learning curve when you have an inexperienced eye. In fact I decided my eye was so inexperienced that I bought a machine to help - the RH analyser pro. One of the revelations of this is that it allows you to take the "readings" and then adjust contrast and exposure time - seeing how changing one affects the other and the relationship between them is a true education in itself. I have found that with different negs putting highlights where you want them and blacks where you want them is still a skill even with technical assistance - but I'm getting better.
My guess is wrong contrast and underexposure. Are you re-using paper developer? I do find it lasts a week re-bottled, but fresh is best. Also, I found I was taking prints out too quickly at first.
I think talk of toning is to some extent "running before you can walk". I haven't started toning yet, as I am still learning the basic processes to get the best image I can from standard tools. FWIW I am all Ilford - HP5/Delta/FP4 into LC29 then multigrade paper dev onto RCIV paper, and I find following the Ilford "cookbooks" precisely works for me.
BTW, I now find that for most prints, - those that are OK images, but aren't really "special", I get it right first time using the analyser pro - straight to 8x10 which is mostly what I print. I very rarely waste paper these days, and never do test strips except when I have something special I want to refine.
If your enlarger uses a quartz halogen bulb, replace it with a new one. The working life of these things is often 25-50 hours, after this the "quality" of light gradually changes and you find that the harder grades can't be reached.
I started out with an LPL C7700 enlarger and was never really happy with the results. Changed the lamp and was stunned at the change in my prints.
- Use test strips for determine the minimum time for maximum black. Then you have a real black in your image. Your highlights may still be muddy.
- Increase paper contrast until the highlights look fine. The minimum time fpr maximum black remains the same, if you don't change contrast too far. Now you have a real black and white highlights.
- Make some minor changings in the exposure time, look more at the highligts. You get even better higlights then.
I can appreciate the OP's feeling. When I was on a B&W course we used to develop prints in communal trays so everyone else's stuff was in there and without exception all looked more contrasty than mine. The difference was simply that I had chosen Pearl paper and the rest Glossy.
Try Glossy and see what difference it makes before doing anything else. This may be all that's wrong. Different surfaces suit different tastes and different scenes. Ilford Satin for instance is great paper for some scenes but looks very flat even at the same grade compared to Pearl and will never look as contrasty as Glossy no matter what you do with it.
Originally Posted by DF
Good light (at exposure) = good contrast.
You've posted no examples, but I take this opportunity to remind folks that it all begins with a properly exposed negative as visualized for the scene by you. All that subsequent stuff you've enumerated then becomes purely consequential. Read The Negative (Adams).
when the paper dries ,it often loses some of the sparkle and brilliance it had when wet. you can get some of that back with selenium toning, or by starting out with an extra bit of print contrast. switchingpaperswill not help all papersbehave very similar this way.try any selenium toner for 4-8 minuts,and pull from the tonerwhen it loks ok to you. be aware ,there might be some after toning in the wash. wash prior to tonin as well to avoid toner stains.
I humbly suggest forgetting about toning for now. That is a subtle effect. I suggest the following checklist to rule out darkroom problems assuming the answer isn't as simple as using a higher filter:
-Old/bad chemicals (developer ok? Correct dilution?)
-Do a proper safelight test
-Check enlarger for light leaks - also check for reflective surfaces around enlarger
-Check darkroom for light leaks
-Make sure enlarging lens is clean
-Are your filters ok? (they can fade with use over time)
If all this is ok, check your negatives for sufficient exposure and contrast to print "normally".
Switching to a glossy paper will give you more contrast.
The mistake that many people new to printing make is that they pull the prints from the developer too quickly. Watch the print and not the clock. Continue developing for 30 to 60 seconds after the image has come up to get the best contrast.
Make sure that your negatives are developed to the correct contrast index CI or β. You shouldn't need to tone your prints just to get more contrast.
Have you printed these negatives before and had satisfactory results? If so, it could be old paper or fog. Otherwise there are a couple of possibilities that haven't been mentioned. The first question would be whether the negative has enough contrast. A surprising number of people underdevelop their negatives. (They also often underexpose them, which creates an impossible situation.) To some extent you can correct this my printing at a high contrast grade, but there are limits. Another possibility is that the print is not being developed sufficiently. Prints need to be developed pretty much to completion - between 90 and 120 seconds for most developers at standard dilution.
Gerald - I've allways known more development time meant increased contrast, but, you're saying that I can leave the print in the developer for an additional 30-60 seconds longer!? I leave/gently rock it in there for one minute.
O.K. I'll start "experimenting with longer development times. I think that's where the problem could be.